Building an inclusive and diverse business that is ready for the future

Jos Opdeweegh and Jane Storm discussed the advantages that an inclusive and diverse team of colleagues can bring to an organization.

STEVE: Jane, we’ve just launched a new Diversity and Inclusion strategy at Connect Group; can you give us a brief overview of what it is and how it’s going to work? 

JANE: Enhancing our culture is one of our strategic priorities here at Connect Group, and part of that is living our core values, alongside diversity and inclusion.

We’ve got a renewed focus and commitment on diversity and inclusion from all areas of the organisation and we want to ensure that Connect Group is a great place to work for everyone, tying into our ‘Everyone In’ focus. 

So, we’re currently working through an approach to create a diversity council, to offer an encouraging space to listen and speak to managers more about understanding differences. In doing this, we open the door beyond simply tolerating diversity, to actively embracing diversity and using our characteristics to help serve our customers better. 

JOS: Yes, the way I always think about everything we do is, does it tie in with our core values? When you think about some of our values, such as creativity, trust, fairness – these are each in my mind just another word for inclusivity. 

Being a diverse organisation fits with all of our core values. A diverse organisation is an organisation that by virtue of its diversity will be a creative environment and empathetic environment. 

Jane, you mentioned customer centricity, which is an excellent point; customer centricity is nothing other than showing empathy for the needs and requirements of your customers. If you have a group of people who come from different walks of life and different backgrounds, they will automatically be much more able to empathise with the needs of customers. 

That is why diversity is such an important element, and that is why inclusiveness and diversity are so tightly linked to our core value set.

STEVE: Building on that, one of the questions that comes up around this is, it’s clearly a socially responsible thing to do; it feels like the right thing to do, but don’t diversity and inclusion also provide genuine commercial benefits?

JANE: Absolutely, we know that attracting and retaining the very best talent in Connect Group is going to make a real difference to our business performance and how we serve our customers.

We believe that an environment in which people have an opportunity to look around them and see people at every level that’s different than them helps prevent “group think”. We are encouraging people to think differently and have creative and different conversations. For us, that’s the ultimate benefit of this.

JOS: Yes, of course, so the more different opinions you have around a table. The larger the degree of openness or inclusiveness, the larger the ambition of the organisation to build a true meritocracy, and in turn, the more creative an organization will be. 

The more creative you are, the better you’ll be at finding the most cost-effective solution to run your business. The more creative you are, the better you will be at finding the best possible solution to delight your customer. That’s the way all of this ties together.

STEVE: In terms of an approach, we’ve spoken a little before about trying to get a process across the business of people being different like me, rather than different from me; what does that mean? How do we explain that to people? How would that manifest itself?

JANE: We fundamentally want everyone to be themselves here at Connect Group. We’re not looking to create one type of manager, we want different types of managers, and people to feel welcoming and happy with that.

JOS: Yes, of course that’s the right way to think about it.

STEVE: That’s the key advantage as we carry it through, if we look forward three or five years, or some point into the future, what are the key differences that we would see across the business?

JANE: I guess the real test for us is going to be in our leadership. So when we look at our depot managers across our networks, they will need to look different. They will lead in the way that they think, the way that they operate, and of course in terms of the more obvious things, whether it be gender, age, we’re going to see more difference going forward in the future.

Fundamentally, we want to see colleagues stay with us because everyone believes they’ve got an equal opportunity to progress, and that mindset is going to make a real difference to us in the future.

JOS: Yes, I agree. Coming back to the topic of “different like you.” What that means, in my mind, is that we are all different, and we embrace those differences. 

Because you are different from me and I am different from you, we embrace those differences because we believe that diversity in thinking and diversity in background builds a sustainably better business.

This is what it’s all about: building a sustainably better business where people feel at home, where people are being listened to and where we honour the best possible idea. overall that’s what the diversity and inclusion initiative is all about.

STEVE: It’s a very exciting long-term strategy for us as part of our culture enhancement. It will be interesting to see the demographics of the business now, from our ‘What Matters’ survey, I imagine we’d want to see that looking very different in five years’ time, wouldn’t we? 

JANE: We would. It’s all about reminding ourselves that diversity in its truer sense is beyond the more obvious things, as I said on gender and age, but it is about the way we think, our different educational backgrounds, our different work experience, all of those things are going to really count to make this a successful business.

And of course, the start of our journey will be in managers really starting to understand those subtleties. So how do I behave, how do I operate, how do I recognise the people that I associate with? 

Therefore, we’re just genuinely more inclusive and aware of our bias, our unconscious bias, because we all have it, and if we’re not aware of it, it’s really hard to do something about it.

Of course our awareness training for managers is going to start to talk about unconscious bias, it’s going to understand the concept of ‘different’ – I am different like you are – and really helping managers to start having conversations in their teams about how does it feel to be in this team, and what’s really going on, and how can we make it feel inclusive?

JOS: Or differently, but we want to build a business that is more culturally intelligent, and that’s really what the future looks like.

STEVE: Excellent, thank you very much.

JANE: Thank you.