Time to get gritty with diversity and inclusion

I don’t know an organisation that doesn’t have targets. Whether it’s a charity setting a fundraising target; the NHS determining acceptable wait times for operations; start-ups aiming for market penetration – every enterprise sets goals to drive long-term sustainable performance.

As seasoned HR professionals we have plenty of well-researched evidence to prove the business case for a diverse and inclusive business – greater customer satisfaction, better performance, better market position.

We have been champions of setting employee engagement targets for decades. And yet, so many of us avoid setting targets to increase the diversity of our workforce or to improve measures of internal inclusivity. Why is that?

I’d count myself as one of those HRDs who, over the years, have done things in the recruitment space to ensure processes were not inherently biased and developed campaigns to improve diversity, across gender, ethnicity and disability.

I’ve challenged unacceptable discriminatory practices, dealt with individuals and invested in unconscious bias training. I have personally championed certain innovations for example an accessible checkout design to provide employment opportunities for those in wheelchairs.

But, until this year, I have never really buckled down to examine exactly what is going on in my organisation and then drawn up a clear equality, diversity and inclusion strategy, including setting unambiguous and stretching measures.

It is natural to be cautious about setting stretching targets. Think of it in a personal context. If I say that I want to lose weight and/or get fit that is received by others as a good but generalised intention. But if I declare I want to lose 8kg by a certain date or sign up to run a 10km race, that is inherently more ‘risky’ for me because I will publicly either succeed or fail.

At Thames Water over recent years we set ourselves strategic objectives and largely these have been achieved. We have received several awards and accreditations including becoming the first water company to be disability confident leaders; jumping over 100 places to rank 189th in the Stonewall workplace equality index; signing the Race at Work charter; and achieving silver in the Armed Forces Employer Recognition Scheme and becoming Carer Confident.

Our employee base is now more reflective of the communities we serve. We’ve seen a year-on-year increase in ethnic minority representation at senior leadership level, an increase in the proportion of women in operations and year on year decrease in our gender pay gap. We’ve also had a significant improvement in our people recommending us as an inclusive and great place to work.
But the next step is to get gritty.

This includes moving from worthy intentions and ‘badge collecting’ to setting and achieving stretching targets. To make truly meaningful change happen we also need to learn from other leading organisations, in the utility sector and beyond.

We must actively collaborate with bodies such as the Greater London Authority National Infrastructure Commission on Diversity and Inclusion and the Energy and Utility Skills Diversity and Inclusion Forum.

And we need to work with leaders and members of diversity networks to craft what we want to be and by when.
As John F Kennedy said: “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.”


Lynne Graham is HR director at Thames Water.