In this interview Leigh Wilson, Head of HR & Customer Engagement at Strategic Imperatives explains why Diversity matters.
CBM: Why does diversity matter to you?
Leigh Wilson: Whilst the topic of diversity isn’t new, it is frequently assumed to be an exclusively social issue. Yet, recruiting and retaining the best talent is undeniably an essential ingredient for the success of any business, particularly those seeking to thrive throughout a period of rapid and transformative change, like the Channel. It is essential to consider diversity and inclusivity as critical business requirements, as opposed to a surface-level corporate responsibility.
Traditionally, the topic of diversity emphasises the importance of eliminating bias or discrimination based on visible traits like age, gender or race. Although there is still much work still to be done across these areas, the need to extend discussions to the deeper level of background, expertise and mind-set is growing. These additional dimensions are yet to be sufficiently addressed in the march towards a truly diverse workplace culture.
We strongly believe that a healthy dose of fresh thinking is integral to the success of our business and the productivity of our employees. Without actively seeking out those with perspectives, experiences and outlooks that differ from our own, achieving this would be an impossible task.
CBM: What is your company policies around recruitment and apprenticeship schemes to try and attract more diverse talent?
Leigh Wilson: When hiring, we cast our net wide both geographically and socially to find only the best for each role and always make sure they share our values and commitment to innovation. We are conscious not to exist in isolation, and embrace a broader talent pool, looking beyond the Channel bubble when seeking to employ individuals and collaborate with organisations. Through partnerships with universities we identify students to work with us on a variety of projects, bringing a fresh approach to our thinking and encouraging young talent to learn more about the industry.
Internally, we make significant investment in our people and in-house training to ensure our team are always armed with the skills they need. We pride ourselves on creating a working environment that caters for those with the right skills, but who require an understanding environment that cater for their particular challenges. We review and improve our policies around flexible working practices, including return to work schemes, and social circumstances on a regular basis to ensure any barriers or restrictions to diversity are identified and addressed. We pride ourselves on not taking an overly hierarchical approach to the way we operate, instead focusing on fostering and rewarding an open and transparent relationship between senior leadership and all employees. We work hard to ensure that each team member has a voice that is heard and feels positive and comfortable in their working environment. The rewards are huge, our team is a formidable force that consistently delivers truly outstanding solutions with exceptional results.
CBM: Is just another bandwagon trend which will ultimately fade away?
Leigh Wilson: Beyond its place as a regular feature in business news, workplace diversity discussions began with the 1964 US Civil Rights Act. Since then, significant efforts have been made to build the business case for a global workforce that embraces diversity and inclusivity.
Companies that view diversity and inclusivity as a temporary trend place themselves at high risk of significant disadvantage, particularly those operating within industries where a creative and innovative workforce is particularly essential for business growth, like the Channel. In the UK, government initiatives designed to attract fresh, diverse talent to pursue careers within STEM subjects have been in place for more than a decade, demonstrating a critical need to address the skills shortage identified in essential sectors including technology in order to drive dynamic economic growth.
Increasingly, individuals seeking new opportunities are looking for companies they believe to be inclusive and offer diversity policies that align with their own values and beliefs. For this reason, simply paying lip service to the concepts of diversity and inclusion in the short term is no longer enough to attract and retain the best talent.
CBM: How would you encourage others to become more diverse?
Leigh Wilson: In our experience, authenticity is the key to fostering a diverse and inclusive culture. Taking the time to understand which policies are most important to your employees and committing to ensuring they remain fit for purpose spans beyond the responsibility of the HR department, to every individual within the business.
Like all core business strengths, diversity and inclusivity should be clearly communicated both internally and externally. Research shows that when searching for new positions, the majority of applicants actively assess a potential new employer’s diversity and inclusion policies, and increasingly, so are prospective customers! If you are striving to become a more diverse company, attracting talent and customers that share your values is a huge step towards achieving this.
A one-size fits all approach certainly doesn’t work when it comes to diversity, and the greatest differences are made when the whole team understand the value that can be gained, not just at a leadership level.
CBM: Will we ever see a truly diverse Channel?
Leigh Wilson: On one hand, the Channel is an industry that inherently lacks diversity, yet on the other it is a cutting-edge, transformational sector that is a vital element of the global economy both today and in the future. We have reached a pivotal stage in the evolution of the Channel where it is impossible for both of these statements to remain accurate.
The industry is experiencing an exciting period of high growth and rapid technological advancement, which brings fresh opportunities and challenges to the telecoms arena. As new technologies transition from innovative concepts into market realities, a major barrier to their successful implementation is the shortage of the skills needed. Competition for talent within the industry is already tight and the demand for new skills and specialisms is growing. Looking beyond the ‘traditional’ talent pools for creative and innovative candidates, as well as investing in upskilling and retraining existing talent, is essential to harness the true power that these technologies have to offer.
At a time of significant evolution for the Channel, the need to embrace a truly diverse culture can no longer be considered a nice-to-have extra. Those that choose to ignore the proven business benefits will struggle to adapt with the pace of change, as new technologies continue to place greater demand on the industry.
Diversity is not just about culture, but about breaking the barriers surrounding circumstances, prejudices and physical disabilities that have prevented those with so much to offer from contributing for far too long.
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