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Festival of Work 2022: day two round up

The CIPD 2022 Festival of Work returned to Olympia Kensington for the first time since 2019 featuring keynotes from Elizabeth Day and Ruby McGregor-Smith.

HR magazine's editorial team has rounded up some key lessons from the final day of the hybrid conference (16 June).


Put the social in ESG

Environmental, social and governance (ESG) was a strong theme of the second day’s presentations.

Speaking during the opening keynote CIPD president Ruby McGregor-Smith said she believes it is time the social element of ESG took centre stage.

She said: “The ‘S’ in ESG is the thing which we can change, and we can do it rapidly. We shouldn’t stand for tokenism anymore.

“We talk a lot about the gender pay gap for example, but it hasn’t moved.

“What’s going to happen to retention and attrition rates if people don’t feel included and don’t feel they can really progress in their organisations? The workplace needs to change and be more accommodating of the people that work within it.”

In a later panel discussion on including ESG in people strategy, 2021 HR Most Influential practitioner Harvey Francis, executive vice president and chief HR officer at Skanska, said to make real progress with social responsibility, HR needs to forget about process and do what is right.

He said: “In HR we like to put things in boxes. We’re very quick to try and put a framework around something [in diversity and inclusion], but we have to get more comfortable with leaving that out.”


Diversity doesn’t always equal equity

Though keen to highlight diversity and inclusion initiatives, companies don’t always stop to assess what they actually mean according to Marcia Williams, director of diversity, inclusion and talent at Transport for London (TfL).

Williams said that having a diverse workplace isn’t a guarantee of equity.

“Diversity doesn’t equal inclusion," she said.

“You can clearly have organisations where there are people coming from a variety of backgrounds, and their experience can be one of hostility, bullying, microaggressions and many other things. Many of those things can occur notwithstanding that the workforce itself is diverse.”


Uncertainty has bred anxiety

The pandemic has turned work routines upside down. This uncertainty has turned into anxiety for many people said Sara Tate, CEO and co-author of The Rebuilders.

She said: “When we’re in an uncertain state, we get anxious and we get burnt out. At work, people might be worrying about a host of things potentially happening, which is causing more stress than if those things actually happened.”

Tate’s tips for how to deal with this stress included how to manage anchors – the things which bring a source of comfort while everything around you changes whether its your work life, home life or social activity.

She said: “Endure anchors that should always remain, evolve anchors that need to be replaced, and eject anchors to be cut free or they will hold you back.

“When everything changes, you shouldn’t change everything.”


Worker retirement is not insurmountable 

This week Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) research showed early retirement as the main driver behind people in their 50s and 60s leaving the workforce. 

Advising on how to retain this age group, or bring them back, Margarita Echeverria Rengifo, global head of assessments resourcing at Vodafone, said engagement is vital. 

She said: “It’s about being visible as a business and out and about in the community. Be prepared to be flexible in its truest sense. It’s about understanding their drivers to make different employment decisions.” 

As the skills in the tech sector can quickly become obsolete, Echeverria Rengifo added that rethinking job requirements has also been invaluable for the company.

Rather than technical skills she said: “We are very clear that what matters is the behaviours that really drive our purpose. People need to have those in order to grow with us. 


Embracing failure is a strength 

The closing keynote from Elizabeth Day, author, and presenter of the How to Fail podcast, left delegates with a fresh perspective on how a good attitude to failure can create a more positive work culture. 

Recognising it can be counterintuitive for managers to admit they don’t the answer she said: “Actually, all that does in my eyes is makes you a better leader.  

“It's the ultimate act of bravery and courage to take that risk. And I think that fosters a much safer attitude and atmosphere for everyone who works with you and alongside you, because you are encouraging people to show up as their full selves.” 

It is also helpful, she added, for HR to be aware of how failure can impact disadvantaged groups.  

“If you are a marginalised person, a person of colour, someone who has a chronic illness, someone who struggles to make a living every week, the chances are that if you encounter failure, you might run the risk of thinking: ‘Well, that's it. That's me as a product. I'm a failure as a person,” and [you] internalise it much more.” 

In his closing remarks CIPD CEO Peter Cheese reiterated Day’s comments and added that now is a pivotal point for business. 

He said: “You have to take this as an opportunity, an opportunity to drive something better. 

“We all have agency; we all have a role. I believe, very profoundly that in our profession we have as big a role as any, to help to drive towards this better future.” 


Check out more highlights from the 2022 Festival of Work here.