Navigating the potholes and driving inclusive practice!

18th December 2018 by Catia Neves


After such an inspiring day at the Global Equality and Diversity Conference with so many bold and positive takeaway thoughts, we wanted to re-live some of the key messages Pam Blackhurst (Office for National Statistics) and Atif Choudhury (Diversity and Ability) shared in their session ‘Driving Inclusive Practice and Navigating the Potholes’.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has an important role to play in providing the evidence and data that guides decision-makers across the UK in making better decisions. John Pullinger the UK National Statistician at the Office for National Statistics, shared his insight into the role the ONS plays in shaping national policy, and why diversity is absolutely vital in ensuring everyone across the UK is fairly represented, ‘it’s absolutely crucial that we have, ourselves, a diverse workforce that reflects the communities we’re trying to serve through our statistics’.

Pam Blackhurst, Head of Equality, Inclusion and Well-being, is tasked with the job of creating and retaining the diverse workforce needed at the ONS to enable the organisation flourish, where diversity of thinking is so valued. Given the size of the organisation, which employs more than 3,300 people, this is not without its challenges. Within her role, Pam has to negotiate various ‘potholes’ such as change management, institutional caution, company culture, uniting disparate departments and enabling organisation wide shifts, in order to build an inclusive environment that works for everyone.

Through collaborative initiatives with Diversity and Ability, Pam has gained a keen insight into what is involved in navigating the different hurdles that come with being the D&I head and implementing inclusive change. She shared her valuable experience, the lessons learnt and her top tips to overcome challenges.

The Potholes

Navigating People Managers

The first ‘pothole’ is learning how to navigate people managers effectively, so they can support the role out of inclusive practices. People managers are often busy with many different responsibilities, so creating changes which might be perceived to be adding to their workload can be met with resistance. There might also be an element of fear around ‘getting it wrong or saying the wrong thing’, which is often rooted in a lack of knowledge around neurodiversity and disabilities. However, reminding managers, that the changes don’t necessarily have to be big or hard to implement, and might just involve a team conversation or attending some training will help create ‘buy-in’.

Some key take-away tips in working with managers to support inclusive practice would firstly be to ensure they’re embedding an anticipatory approach in the way they manage their team. That means creating an open and respectful atmosphere in the team, giving people the confidence to discuss hidden differences and ensuring their team members are given any reasonable adjustments they might need. Encouraging the manager to be an ‘ally or role model’ is also a great way they can engage with their teams to reassure them they are being listened to, supported and are more approachable. It’s also really important that managers take ownership over any action they are taking, that they connect with the logic and value in creating an inclusive workplace. That way they will champion inclusion in a way that is authentic and powerful. After all, an important aspect of being a people manager is making sure their teams feel included, supported and motivated, so they should recognise their personal responsibility in creating positive change.

Sharing the message

The second pothole to look out for is ‘sharing the message’- how to get the message out and embraced by a wide cross-section of the organisation. The communications around D&I initiatives are crucially important in raising awareness, stating the aims and value in inclusive initiatives and enabling the culture shift you’re working to build. Pam believes a cumulative and varied approach is key, seizing every opportunity to convey your message! So, be creative in choosing how you will spread the word, whether that be via the intranet, blogs, notice boards or even using the power of word of mouth. It’s important to review your communications at regular intervals and be ready to listen to the feedback. For example, if you’re conducting staff surveys be sure that you are responding to the priorities presented in the data. Above all it’s vital that you are able to create a safe space for people to ask questions and start conversations. One way to achieve this is to create allies, for example, connecting with staff network groups that can help further the message and be additional touch points to provide information and champion your aims. Remember, culture change takes time and certainly doesn’t happen overnight. Your ‘message’ might be new to many people in the organisation so allowing time for it to snowball and take form will require patience and perseverance.

Using Technology

The final pothole to think about is how your organisation can be using technology to enhance inclusion. Traditionally assistive technology is associated with people with disabilities and is therefore often only provided to ‘them’. This automatically creates an ‘us and them’ attitude without taking into account the diverse learning and working styles we encounter across the organisation, where a broad range of people would benefit from the same technologies. If specialist technology is only made available to those who seek it, you are reliant on people disclosing their disability or hidden difference, which is heavily reliant on them having had a formal diagnosis or needs assessment (which often is not the case). You are therefore also assuming that everyone knows such equipment is available and could help them.

A more inclusive and wide-reaching approach would be to network useful technologies across the IT system making them available to everyone. That way everyone can benefit from them without any anxiety around disclosure or stigma. In terms of choosing what kind of technologies you want to make widely available, these decisions will be informed by understanding the potential barriers your workforce might face in their roles. Then a tailored selection can be made available, which along with careful signposting and training can be embedded into people’s workflows in a sustainable and longitudinal manner. The team at Diversity and Ability supported ONS with the implementation and roll out of inclusive technologies that work for everyone.

You can find the slides from the presentation here, which summarise the key potholes:

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