Getting intentional about Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Laura Scott Sahadev Joshi

By Laura Scott, Sahadev Joshi

As part of our Business Psychology Forum webinar series, we invited senior leaders from Heathrow Airport and Jacobs to discuss why Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) deserves a priority slot on the boardroom agenda.

Forward-looking organisations recognise the deep importance of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), but can struggle to turn intent into actionable, measurable success.

To unpick the complex challenges of EDI, Adam Sunderland, Head of Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion at Heathrow Airport, and Tendayi Munyebvu, Director at Jacobs shared their viewpoints. In a webinar facilitated by Nigel Lowe, Partner at PA, our guests were joined by Reg Kheraj, PA’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion, and Alison Gregory who leads PA’s work on people programmes for clients across the defence sector.

The conversation unearthed a number of core themes, including the need for a strong business case, intention, authenticity, and relevant data insight. Another important consideration was what happens when people get things wrong, and how to put the right guidance and support in place so that everyone, understands their role in creating a thriving EDI culture. Here, we summarise the key discussion points from the webinar.

The meaning and evolution of EDI – do words matter?

Panellists agreed that the language around EDI can be ambiguous, and identified the importance of being specific about what certain terms mean and how they relate to day-to-day work. Equity, diversity, and inclusion are all different words with specific meanings. When people talk about diversity, for example, they are likely to be referring to protected characteristics, both visible and invisible, but often overlook the importance of ‘diversity of thought’. The words aren’t always used consistently or accurately – nor are phrases like ‘unconscious bias’. EDI and related terms need to be well defined and tied to organisational strategy so that everyone is on the same page.

Panellists recognised that there is work to be done to improve visibility and understanding, while also celebrating progress. This included the flourishing EDI networks in their organisations, such as Heathrow Airport’s diversity networks focused on gender equality, LGBTQ+, disability, and culture and ethnicity, and Jacobs’ Employee Network groups. These networks feed into the evolution of EDI, amplifying diverse voices. They help to form policy, and quality assure initiatives and progress.

Serious about EDI? Delve into data

One word that resurfaced throughout the conversation was ‘intentionality’. Being intentional about EDI means understanding the gaps, challenges, and sticking points. This requires data, and the ability to act on the insight it provides.

Each touchpoint across the employee lifecycle creates valuable data that can be used to measure success and flag areas for attention. This might include demographic data, recruitment data, training data, and promotion data. Gathering and understanding this data helps long-term tracking, enabling action to close the ‘say do’ gap.

Another crucial source of information is employee surveys, which show the experience and impact of EDI culture. Asking questions such as ‘how fulfilled do you feel in your job?’ enable a more human, experience-focused understanding. From here, organisations can look at the experiences of people in different demographic groups. However, feedback and survey scores may not accurately reflect experiences. Even in anonymous surveys, it’s hard for people to speak out. So, it’s important to draw from a range of data sources, cross-referencing where appropriate. For example, if survey results suggest a positive onboarding experience for staff but HR data shows high attrition during onboarding, this calls for investigation.

How to manage missteps

In fast-paced environments, the focus is understandably on service or product delivery and not EDI. This can lead to slippages in how organisations would like EDI policies to play out. A suite of EDI policies doesn’t correlate to positive experience – what matters is how these intentions are embedded across the geographies, functions, and levels in the organisation. Again, this links to intentionality. Is the right education in place? Do line managers and leaders embody the right values and ethos? These answers dictate whether EDI moves from page to practice.

When missteps are made, panellists advised looking at where people are in their journeys and making sure that the right coaching is in place. Frank conversations, grounded in values, help people to see ‘mistakes’ as learning opportunities. When extended across the whole organisation, this helps to imbue honesty and drive the motivation to do better. The ability to speak openly and honestly about progress (or lack of) ties into psychological safety. Genuine psychological safety is formed when a plurality of views co-exist in an ethos of mutual respect, and it provides a foundation for EDI success.

The business case for EDI

Organisations with successful EDI cultures recognise that EDI has to be authentic. It’s not just ‘nice to have’ – it’s crucial to attract and retain both customers and employees. Consumers, clients and regulators are more conscious than ever, and demand that organisations create a better world.

On top of that, workplace culture is a key differentiator, and gives you access to a broader, deeper talent pool. There are proven links from team wellbeing and diversity to performance – workplaces that embrace EDI are likely to be more productive, more collaborative, and more innovative. At a tactical level, creating this culture means embedding EDI awareness and action at the highest levels of decision-making and understanding how these EDI benefits positively impact each organisation uniquely. This impacts every aspect of ‘the way we work around here’ and should be shared throughout the organisation with impactful communication and storytelling.

Share stories, and make them personal

Storytelling is a powerful technique that helps to drive change, creating the connections between sometimes abstract ideas and the human beings they impact. How are these stories told and cascaded? Is there dedicated space for EDI stories, told by people from diverse backgrounds, and amplified across the organisation? Networks play a huge role in raising awareness, and influence understanding.

Alongside networks, newsletters and events help to share stories and create spaces where people can ask questions and spark conversations. Panellists spoke about the importance of allyship, where people who might not experience discrimination or bias commit to break down their entrenched beliefs and encourage others to do the same. Panellists also called on leaders to recognise and reward people who step forward and get involved.

Another element of storytelling is joining in with wider initiatives and events. This isn’t ‘jumping on the bandwagon’, it’s about engaging fully with a range of diverse celebrations (such as Ramadan) and thinking about how they may require adjustments to peoples’ working lives.

Be curious, dig deep, and understand the ‘why’

Creating a thriving EDI culture is a journey – one that, when done right, permeates every level of an organisation. This journey doesn’t end; it continues to evolve, asking new and challenging questions as more layers of misunderstanding are stripped away. As with any major change programme, the challenge is to unpick the entrenched structures that stand in the way of progress. The advice from panellists is to be curious, dig deep, and think about the ‘why’ behind a strong EDI culture. Draw on data, and focus on lived experience – because the true measurement is in the result.

About the authors

Laura Scott
Laura Scott PA people and change expert
Sahadev Joshi
Sahadev Joshi PA people and change expert

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