Here, HR magazine rounds up three key elements learned from day one of the conference.
“Allies in senior leadership are critical and we need more leaders speaking up on uncomfortable issues. Getting it wrong from a place of trying is better than staying silent” said Winston Ben Clements, advisor on inclusion and culture.
Clements spoke candidly about his experience as a disabled person of colour and why companies ought not to just encourage diversity, but also work to retain it. Referencing the current Black Lives Matter movement, he said the workplace needs to make its employees feel connected and safe and leaders can play a fundamental part in this.
“Uncertainty as I've seen directly creates opportunity for leadership in a way that's rarely possible when times are stable. The only certainty is that we know we're in a difficult era.” For Helena Morrissey, financier and founder of the 30% Club, the coronavirus pandemic has presented leaders with a real opportunity to transform the way things are done.
Though she recognises many people leaders may feel fearful due to uncertainty in the current climate, she said she wants HR to feel empowered about what can be achieved and actively making a difference within their organisations. One key aspect of this, she describes, has been the transformation of communication strategy.
She said: “We've talked about the need to listen more because we're in uncharted territory [...] And I think many of us have seen this already in the past 10 or 12 weeks of being locked down that actually there has been a step change In the level of communications, particularly from leaders, and that's great, but let's not make that just something to adopt in the crisis.”
“What I want to say is not about what I think will happen without any interventions [post coronavirus], but what I would like to see: taking the opportunity to reduce the length of working hours and particularly to share out the work at the top end,” said Jill Rubery professor of comparative employment systems at the University of Manchester.
In response to a question about the change to the working day when people return to work Rubery described a paradox that currently exists in which people with higher earnings have too much work, and those “at the bottom” have too-low earnings and too little work.
Employer’s response to the pandemic, she said, could have real potential to improve social mobility: “One thing I would hope is that those people who have been in very pressurised jobs working very very long hours, might have experienced less pressure and actually want to continue with that. And I would like to hope that more employers might actually try and work-share at the top end, not just at the bottom end, so we can upgrade the workforce and have more people in skilled and higher level jobs.”
Further reading from Festival of Work: