Leading the way to prosperity for all

Business, diversity and addressing social inequality were important themes at the Confederation for British Industry’s (CBI) annual conference in London.

Leading the way for prosperity for all
Relocate Magazine January 2020
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Business has a role to play in supporting local communities, providing opportunity for all sections of society, and increasing diversity and inclusion. That was the message from key thinkers to delegates at the CBI’s 2019 conference in London.“Business is fundamental in fixing a broken society,” said The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, appearing as an expert panellist. “Business has to make a proper return, but no business exists for itself alone.” He cited Timpson as an example of a business that deliberately employed ex-offenders and had a programme of training that is transformational at a local level within society. He added that business needs to get better at representing people at all levels. “We are still failing around disability and BAEM.”

Business success is more than financial

Chief financial officer at BP, Brian Gilvary agreed with the Archbishop that businesses and their shareholders are now looking beyond pure profit and shareholder returns when analysing business success. He talked about how BP has work to do to ensure gender equality across the company.Mr Gilvary cited his own background, having grown up in a council house in the north of England. His father worked as a boilerman in the town's docks and his mother worked on the production lines of a local biscuit factory. “Business needs to represent the society where it operates in terms of gender and ethnicity,” he said. The BP board is now 50% female, he added, but acknowledged that there is still more work to do, as the executive team is still male-dominated. “You get a better result with a diverse team that reflects the society where you operate.”He said that BP had not set targets, but had set goals instead, as that was a better approach. In the company as a whole, two-thirds of the employees are male. By 2020 he aims to have 25% of the top leadership female, but “we need to hire people disproportionately in order to get there”.

Are minorities properly represented in business?

Ruth Harrison, UK MD at ThoughtWorks, said companies need to ask whether women and minorities were well represented throughout the company. “Do they feel a sense of belonging?” she asked. “Do they feel comfortable in your organisation? It is not just about the board – this is across all layers of the organisation.”She also warned that the use of technology and big data could herald a new form of inequality. “If the basic algorithm is built with bias, even unconscious bias, then it is just as dangerous,” she explained. It is vital that we take care to avoid bias when building technology – for example, facial recognition. Companies need to make sure their workforces are fully representative in order to avoid unconscious bias, she added.

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Denise Wilson, chief executive of the Hampton-Alexander Review into female representation in boardrooms, said it was important to de-bias systems in order to “create a really fair and equal place where people can thrive. We need to start changing the language around how we think of a leader. Leaders can be 5ft and Asian and female.”She added that everyone in the workplace has his or her part to play. “The step-change we need is for everyone in the workplace to see this as their issue.” That means men calling out inappropriate behaviour from other men, not tolerating ‘banter’, which people find offensive, and modelling inclusive behaviour. “It’s about creating a workplace where everybody fits,” she said. “Age, disability, LGBT and ethnicity are all big issues.”

Mental health in the workplace

Another big theme for companies is how they can support the wellbeing of their employees – and that includes taking steps to promote good mental health at work. Alastair Campbell, the former Director of Communications at No 10 Downing Street under Tony Blair, challenged bosses at the CBI conference to employ people who are open about their own mental health challenges.He said that if employers were deciding whether or not to hire people who admit they have had mental health issues, they should consider hiring them – because those applicants will bring great “honesty and resilience”. He added, “Employers have to lead the way.”The issues around mental health are being talked about more openly now, thanks to the #Everymindmatters campaign by the NHS and the willingness of high-profile personalities, including Prince William and Prince Harry, to talk about it.One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. The social conversation around mental health and the role that business can play in supporting employees dealing with this is growing, but there is still more to do.Business can play a part in prevention by creating the right culture and recognising the signs. Training can help staff to manage their own health and encourage them to seek help when they need it.

Promoting good mental health

One of the industries with high rates of death by suicide is the construction industry. Gregor Craig, CEO of Skanska, explained that the construction industry has had to change its focus to look at mental health, as so many construction workers suffered problems and suicide rates in the industry are high.“The construction industry has one of the largest issues in terms of mental health. You are six times more likely to die from suicide than by a fall from height,” he said. “Up to four years ago, we did nothing to address this.”Skanska and other companies began to look at the reasons for such a high rate and found there were a number of contributing factors. Employees, who were mostly men, were working away from home, away from friends and family and without a support network or access to their local GP services. They might not be eating well and they were lonely.Skanska has taken action to train staff in spotting potential mental health issues, encouraging employees to talk about the issues, and giving managers training in suicide awareness. “One-third of the workforce has done some mental health training,” he said.
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Pamela Thompson, chair of Eversheds Sutherland, a global law practice that works with corporations, said that mental health was “part of the inclusivity and diversity debate.” She said there were practical steps that could be taken, including supporting staff in the workplace and taking the stigma away from talking about mental health. One clear positive action was for executives to open up the debate by telling their own stories, so that other people in the workplace could admit their own vulnerabilities. Eversheds Sutherland has also made systemic changes in order to reduce the amount of stress that staff are under. “We consciously changed our appraisal process because it was brutal and not sustainable,” she said. “It was quite hard-edged.” Instead, an element assessing wellbeing was introduced. “To have a sustainable legal profession, we are all going to have to engage as a business community,” she added.David Hyman, CEO of Bupa, said that the vast number of enquiries that Bupa received from corporate customers were about mental health. “Ninety per cent of calls to our employee helpline are around mental health and 25 per cent of those calls are for family members and children,” he said. However, he said there was still a difference in the way physical and mental health are viewed.

Fostering diversity and inclusion

Case study: Advanced

Advanced is one of the UK’s largest software and service providers. It has introduced a new recruitment process, which has dispensed with CVs and instead now tests candidates on a range of abilities including mathematical and cognitive skills. It also has three women on the board – a situation that is still relatively unusual in the male-dominated tech industry.Sally Scott, chief marketing officer, says the company is keen to live its values, which include “acting at pace” and doing the right thing. “If the board was all-male, it would have a different perspective,” she explained. Alex Arundale, group HR director, added that the assessments are testing “people’s potential for the future – it removes all bias and gives us a very clean result that is not linked to what university you went to or what your social background might be.” She said that the company has been successful because it welcomes “different thinking” on the board and is willing to listen to all feedback, even when it might be challenging.Advanced uses a wide range of channels to find new employees, including social media and LinkedIn. CEO of Advanced, Gordon Wilson, said, “We do assessments and if candidates pass the test, even if they have never worked in IT, we will employ them.” The tests involve assessing mathematical skills, logical thinking and sequencing. As a result, Mr Wilson said that Advanced is recruiting in a more diverse way.“We have blind CVs for management,” he explained. “Some people can be unconsciously biased by name, as it tells a lot about ethnicity. We believe diversity is so important at all levels of the business and at a time when there is such a skills shortage.”

Read more articles in the Winter Issue of Relocate Magazine. 

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