Focus more on intersectionality, organisations told

A panel at EUROUT conference spoke of the need to think about the person as a whole and about the challenges and opportunities of setting diversity and inclusion targets

Many organisations still celebrate diversity in “pockets” and need to become more purposeful on intersectionality, agreed a panel speaking at LGBT+ business conference EUROUT.

“We have been very siloed in our thinking and approach historically, as we’ve needed to be, but now we have the opportunity to bring the strands closer together and have richer conversations,” said Beth Clutterbuck, VP global head of people at Deliveroo.

“People are like parfait – everyone has multiple layers. If someone is part of one group they might also be part of three or four other groups. So we need to think about the whole person and how we can help the whole person.”

She went on to explain that we “need more debate and discussion on intersectionality”, whether that is “sexuality and parenthood, sexuality and mental health, sexuality and ethnicity, or sexuality and neurological diversity”.

Tim Lum, head of data and insights at Virgin Atlantic, added that “organisations don’t celebrate people as a whole” but still celebrate diversity and inclusion in “pockets”, for example during Pride or Divali. He questioned how organisations can better push for intersectional inclusion.

At PwC this involves getting all 17 of the firm’s employee networks or groups to meet once a year to plan events together so that all networks hold events jointly with at least one other network.

“So we run intersectional events on say LGBT+ and faith,” said Jon Terry, partner and diversity and inclusion consulting leader at PwC, emphasising the important role employee groups play in driving intersectionality.

Also speaking on the panel, Karina Govindji, group head of diversity and inclusion at Vodafone, shared Vodafone’s strategy of having intersections within employee networks, such as part of the women’s network being dedicated to lesbian colleagues.

“I know some L colleagues didn’t feel comfortable being part of the LGBT+ network in the beginning, but they did want to be part of the women’s network,” she explained. “It’s about making colleagues feel they can belong to all or some or none of these events and networks. It needs to be led by individuals.”

The panel agreed the importance of employee networks and groups in ensuring diversity and inclusion isn’t just checking a box. Networks enable individuals to “talk about common concerns, especially if employees are in environments or countries where there are different levels of acceptance”, but they should be “employee-led as groups of individuals who support each other with like interests”, said Clutterbuck.

According to Govindji, the other key thing groups need to do is “celebrate” diversity. Education is also critical, continued Terry, pointing to a need for “those not in these communities to be educated about issues” and to become LGBT+ allies and ambassadors.

“Very few senior leaders are 'out' in businesses so it’s critical heterosexual senior leaders are passionate, roll their sleeves up and are allies to the community,” he advised, giving the example that almost half of the employees in PwC’s LGBT+ network are straight allies.

Targets were also discussed as being key to driving diversity and inclusion. “Targets are the only helpful way to put pressure on the system as unconscious biases are deeply embedded from childhood,” said Govindji.

However, there can be downsides to setting targets, said Terry. “They can distract senior managers from what actually need to be done,” he said. “Also it might sound odd but so many organisations set targets without getting the data and analysing the data and figuring out what these targets should be.” He gave the example of firms who have set gender targets as part of the Women in Finance charter who arrived at figures without knowing what the targets should be. “If you make sure you’re aware of the downsides though, targets can be good,” he added.

“Targets are really good for diversity but not so good for inclusion,” said Clutterbuck, adding that Deliveroo’s targets focus on “balances” not “outputs” as if there is more representation, outcomes are more balanced as a result.

As well as setting targets and measuring diversity, organisations should also measure inclusion, added Terry. “When we look at engagement very few measure inclusion,” he said. PwC now has an inclusion index and measures inclusion alongside diversity.

“It’s about how people feel, so all measures need to focus on engagement,” he explained. But if the business is going to be able to measure this it needs to “know your population and people”.

“We need to know whether our LGBT+ talent is being promoted the same as our straight talent and we won’t know unless we know who our LGBT+ people are,” he said. Terry called on organisations and industries to come out of the “dark ages” and “get on top of self-identification” so that they “get to grips with issues”. While employees can be initially unsure about what self-identification data is going to be used for, when concerns are put to rest the data can be used to drive progress, agreed Clutterbuck.

Pointing to Vodafone research that 41% of people go back 'into the closet' at work, Govindji also called on organisations to think about the anxiety their internal processes can cause to LGBT+ employees.

“Think of the average graduate who has anxiety moving into the job world and amplify that for an LGBT+ graduate who has been out and has to decide whether to be out or go back in the closet,” she said. The graduate scheme where the employee faces that decision on each rotation creates more anxiety, she added.

“The rate of change of people feeling safe to be out is too slow – we need to do all we can to reduce the anxiety,” she said.