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Getting Data Savvy about Diversity

Nicola Paul is a diversity and inclusion practitioner and founder of Good Work Life. In this interview we talked about good governance, looking at the same data through a different lens and personal actions around inclusion that everyone can commit to.

Speaker 1: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show, with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business, by creating a diverse workplace.

Toby Mildon: Hello there. Thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon, and today, I’m joined by Nicola Paul. Nicola and I met ages ago. She’s a diversity and inclusion practitioner. She’s worked in retail, she’s worked for an executive search firm and we’ve kept in touch and now Nicola runs her own consultancy practice. Before we get into the thick of the interview, I just want to apologize to you because you might hear some background drilling and banging because I’ve moved from London to Manchester, into this brand spanking new apartment, only to find… Well, I kinda knew this when I moved in, but the bathroom is not wheelchair-accessible so, I’ve had to rip out this brand new bathroom, which had these lovely marble tiles, and spend a fortune on putting in a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, and I’m just gonna labour the point for a moment because I think this is just a classic example of a lack of inclusive design, in the building industry. So, a lot of homes are not particularly wheelchair-accessible and quite often, people with disabilities have to spend a lot of money remodeling their new apartments to make it accessible. So anyway, that’s my ranting over but I just wanted to excuse any drilling and banging. So Nicola, lovely to see you.

Nicola Paul: [laughter] Lovely to see you, too. And, yeah, no, I think it’s a well worthwhile rant and from my end as well if there’s any noise here, it’s ’cause the dog is going to get the post from the front door so, we’ll see what we can do.

Toby Mildon: And so this is, obviously, like your dog barking and my drilling and banging, this is classic working from home during the pandemic situation that a lot of people are finding themselves in.

Nicola Paul: Exactly, isn’t it just.

Toby Mildon: So, Nicola, let’s just begin by, can you just let us know a bit about yourself and your background and what you do?

Nicola Paul: Yeah, thank you. And I love the phrase that you used, which is an inclusion and diversity practitioner, because sometimes, if ever people introduce, I’m sure you feel the same way as an expert, I always find that so interesting ’cause it’s one of the most far-reaching topics. I’d love to know anybody who could be an expert in absolutely every facet of the subject. And I know we give it our best stab but it’s quite wide-ranging, but it’s just a bit of background really is, yeah, I worked in retail for many years. I worked for John Lewis and Waitrose, naturally ran stores within the John Lewis Partnership, but it was becoming really apparent to me that there was this big relatively unspoken issue that was emerging for businesses, which was the fact that there was a severe lack of inclusion and diversity.

Nicola Paul: And I was very fortunate at the time to be working in a company that didn’t necessarily have a lot of diversity, but had a lot of good ethics and grounding about how it cares for its people. And so my paths led from there and I’ve got some good role models out there. And so whilst I’d been an in-house diversity and inclusion practitioner and as a consultant with Green Park, I looked to you, Toby, and saw, that’s really interesting, the relationship that you can have with companies and people by being independent. Instead, it’s a more intimate relationship and able to ebb and flow far more fluidly with clients and companies, and so, yeah, I set up Good Work Life, a year ago, next week, was when the company actually was registered, yeah.

Toby Mildon: Congratulations. It’s your first birthday.

Nicola Paul: I know, I feel like I should have some cake. [chuckle]

Toby Mildon: Yeah, yeah. But, it would have to be a virtual cake, ’cause, obviously, this is podcast so, or we can rely on the audio. Yeah, I’ll see if I can get a sound effect of cutting into a cake or something like that.

Nicola Paul: Champagne bottle, anything like that sounds good to me.

Toby Mildon: So one of the things that you’ve done recently is you’ve been studying at Henley Business School, and you’ve got an interest in corporate governance, so what peaked your interest and what have you been studying?

Nicola Paul: Yeah, it’s a really good question and I guess it’s one of the, again, the beautiful things of having a bit more thinking time over the past year for many different reasons, but also off the treadmill and now being able to focus on my developments in this space, in the areas that I think are important. And what I was hearing from the clients that I was working with, was that the conversation around diversity and inclusion was very emergent from the bottom up within organizations. We think about the sophistication now with employee networks. There was a good understanding of what needed to take place in the middle elements of the business, of course, within HR, but I was starting to see teams like procurement teams and commercial teams starting to understand what they needed to do. But if I’m honest, when I was having conversations right up at the top of the business, it seemed to me that the lack of confidence of the executives was that they hadn’t necessarily developed their understanding of how this integrates into their role as a board, which is really the environmental, the social, and the governance agenda, and the diversity and inclusion piece of the puzzle sits in the middle bit, the social.

Nicola Paul: And so, whilst I know about D&I, I was not as well educated around what makes a board function really well. So what I wanted to do was to go on a course that was gonna help to educate me in that, so I could join up a few dots. And so, I’ve known many people that had gone through Henley Business School for various different courses, and they run a board directors program, which isn’t just for people on boards. It can be for the people who might want to become a non-executive in the future or equally is going into a position or perhaps just wants to refresh their understanding of what it takes to be a board member. So, that’s why I went on the course was to join up my mental dots of my expertise with understanding what makes a board function really well.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, ’cause I’ve had a lot of people talking about ESG, Environmental, Social, and what was the “G”, sorry?

Nicola Paul: Governance, yeah.

Toby Mildon: Governance, of course, yeah. Environmental, Social, and Governance, and Diversity and Inclusion sitting within the social, or the “S”, of ESG ’cause obviously, you’ve covered the breadth of “E”, “S”, and “G”. How do you see it all fitting together ’cause, obviously, we focus on Diversity and Inclusion, but what is the relationship between D&I and social and then how does that link in with the Environmental and the Governance?

Nicola Paul: Yeah, it’s a really good point around that, and my least area of expertise probably lies in the environmental side of things, but when we start to think about the inequalities that come more on a global setting, I guess, so the ways in which companies and organizations pursue that agenda, you can start to join it up then, with the social and then also the governance side. The two that I’ve been mostly focused on, as you can imagine, are the social and the governance, and rather than the “E” and the “S” and the “G”, as you said, being separate things, they are totally intertwined. And it’s not across the board, but a bit of a gap, if you were to pick up annual report and accounts or any form of governance reporting that organizations do, what you can start to see is some organizations are really progressing well in their reporting on their diversity and inclusion, which enables shareholders, employees, and the board to hold each other to account for the work that they’re doing. But nonetheless, there’s still quite a lack of sophistication in that space, and also some of the statements aren’t particularly underpinned by facts and stats. They’re relatively broad.

Nicola Paul: And so this is some of the progression that can take places for organizations to think about where they’ve got such good analytics potentially when it comes to consumers, how can they transfer that into the employee base and to understand whether they truly are being diversity-inclusive using data instead.

Toby Mildon: So what are some of the things that organizations should be measuring and monitoring when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

Nicola Paul: It’s a really good question that because kind of as a starting point, it’s not new pieces of data, it’s actually looking at the data with a different lens instead. So if you really want to understand and if we just focus purely on the employee base, ’cause that’s the main crux of it, whilst, of course, there’s elements that you want to look at with your consumers, your supply chain, when it comes to D&I. If we just think about employees, measurements such as who gets a pay increase, who’s deemed to be your top talent, what are the engagement scores like of people, who is receiving disciplinaries, and when somebody appeals against the disciplinary, what is upheld and what is dismissed? These are all of the pieces of data that most organizations, or large organizations, at least, have tracked for a number of years now, but what you need to do is to shine a different lens on it and analyze that data by different demographics, so that you can understand basically, it’s the principle of proportionality. Is there a disproportionate impact or support for any single group of people, through those path of the process, so to put it simply, if we take something like pay, in the last pay review, did more men receive a pay increase than women, for example.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. This is the kind of things that I talk to my clients about and I think one of the struggles that my clients have, and I don’t know if you’ve come across this yourself, is that they are tracking things like numbers of disciplinaries or career progression, attrition, and retention, and things like that. But they’re not doing a very good job at measuring diversity, so they’re not able to have that diversity filter over the top of the data that they have got collected. Have you come across that? And any advice on how we can start to plug that data gap.

Nicola Paul: Yeah, I found the same thing as you, and some of this is my intuition as opposed to fact, but I do think that often there’s a nervousness about what the data might show, and the minute that the data is produced, then what would people be able to request? Over the years, you’ve seen a greater transparency around all of these types of reporting for pay, for talent, for engagement, but even if you just take engagement scores from a company, organizations can be a bit nervous about saying, “This is how our employees feel.” Even if they were a homogenous group, to then start to show that the feeling about whether they’re engaged within the company or not differs by demographic, I think there’s a real nervousness about uncovering that information, so I think that’s one starting point.

Nicola Paul: The other thing that this conversation has probably been had by many people that have joined you for a chat, Toby, is also, the point around how do we gather the data. I know it’s an overused buzzword term at the moment, but the psychological safety that’s required for people to know that they can give their demographic data to their organization in order for it to be monitored and tracked, and of course, you only ever do that on a macro level, you wouldn’t want to start tracking an individual and start to understand, “Well, what’s their demographic and what are they doing.” But this point around trend analysis can only be done if people give their data up in the first place, and so if a company doesn’t make people feel safe, they are far less likely to give over their demographic information, one that is fostering a culture of saying, “When we gather your data, we do right by it, and we deal with it ethically.” They will be far more likely to get hold of it and then they’ll be able to do this type of analysis. Is what I think my experience has been.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, my experience of working with a client was, I think, they did two things really well. So first of all, they had a very good internal comms campaign weeks before they actually asked for the data, to prepare people. And they addressed a lot of the concerns that people had in FAQs, so things like, how is my data going to be used? Is my data safe and secure? Can I be identified by it? And things like that. And then the other success factor, I think, was that they used an external data collection company. So I think one of the main concerns is that if the data was being put into the HR system, that that data could get into the wrong hands or be used against somebody. But there was an element of trust by using this kind of trusted third party, and the agency that they used is a very well-known data collection agency, so I think people have a high degree of trust with it.

Nicola Paul: Yeah.

Toby Mildon: But I think one of the challenges that a lot of my clients have is, on one hand, you are collecting diversity data, but on the other hand, is then, how do you marry that data up with things like attrition, or career progression, performance management, and that kind of thing? So getting the data to talk to each other.

Nicola Paul: Oh, exactly, and that’s where it’s so interesting, you say, about using the external organization, is that that’s really good for like a snapshot piece of analysis, isn’t it? That moment in time, almost like more of a census-style. But as you say, is that, unless, and gosh, I couldn’t pretend to understand what it takes for Oracle or nSage or any of these companies to write these HR systems and all that sits behind it. But if you could store information in a blind way on the system, so it’s attributed to an individual’s code, but not visible to anybody who could access the system, you could then start to track pieces of information like this, ’cause it is important to understand the journey that somebody has through a business, as you say, right away from hiring to when they leave. And unless you can attribute that to an employee’s code, you’re only ever gonna be able to get snapshots of information as opposed to the reality of their experience.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, it’s a really good point actually. Maybe this is where the blockchain can help us.

Nicola Paul: I think so.


Toby Mildon: Right. So how do we equip boards then, to get a bit more savvy, evidence-based around diversity and inclusion? And also, you mentioned at the beginning of the interview about working with the senior leaders of an organization to just boost their confidence in the topic.

Nicola Paul: Yeah. And just starting with that one, it’s such an interesting place to begin, isn’t it, about their own confidence and literally around a good functioning board that’s able to provide brilliant scrutiny on any given topic. So not just about D&I, but how can they have inclusive and diverse conversations about any of the topics that come to their table. You need to have a board that’s got a good team dynamic and a good behaviour towards one another. So if there isn’t that respect and trust in the boardroom, how are they gonna be able to table any conversation and get the best of their thinking out? So I think that this investment in their development as a group is something that, whoever’s got the responsibility to do that, often an HRD will be given like the overview to see that training through. I think it’s a really important investment, inclusive behaviors around the board table as opposed to the kind of behaviors that we see in films on TV and think, “Oh my goodness, is that really what goes on up there?” And then I think our job is really, in the best way possible, is that, gosh, when you look at some of the complexity of what you do, Toby, to audit organizations and to help them to understand things, we need to distill this down for boards so that they can understand what are the identifying factors of a company that they should be looking for, so what measurements should they be casting their eyes on?

Nicola Paul: We should give guidance over the cycles by which they should scrutinize that information. So we’ve already got the annual cycle now of the gender pay gap reporting as an example, but any company can then decide to extend that out and say, “Well, what other information and over what frequency should we be reviewing that makes sense for our organization? But what I think has been really interesting as well because of doing the course and then a bit of my own research was that I hadn’t also appreciated that the corporate governance code for listed companies was actually updated back in 2019, it was, to talk about how vital it is that the board have got engagement with their workforce and other stakeholders, and they actually advise that there are three different methods to really get that temperature check. So rather than just constantly measuring diversity but actually, how can they understand about the inclusivity of their business better, and they actually recommend that one of three things, or even better, all three, which is to have a director appointed from the workforce.

Nicola Paul: So they have a position on the board, and there’s somebody who’s just out there doing their day-to-day job, but that they’re equipped to sit around the table and share the views of the employee base. That you might have a formal workforce advisory panel, which is kind of like what we see with employee networks, often companies create like that network of networks, don’t they? And then they can speak to the board and say, “Here’s our feedback on topics.” And then also that they might designate the role to one of the non-executive directors ’cause of course, they’re independent, to constantly research and gather opinion and make sure it’s given over. So there’s some quite clear guidance there on what it is that boards can do to listen better and get that temperature check on inclusion. I do wonder how many have put that into practice.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, ’cause, actually, I think one of my clients, and I think this is kind of an example of some good practice, have created an employee advisory panel. So one of the things that they look at is diversity and inclusion, but they also look at other things like well-being, career progression, the direction of the firm, and that kind of thing. But I think that’s such a vital resource that the chief exec and his senior leadership team can tap into. And it’s really well-structured and organized as well. So employees sit on this advisory board for six months and then they rotate off and then somebody else comes on, so they’re always getting fresh perspectives coming through. But they also make sure that that they’re very conscious of making sure that that advisory board is diverse, so the leadership team can benefit from diverse perspectives and opinions and things like that. So yeah.

Nicola Paul: Yeah.

Toby Mildon: So, Nicola, what does inclusive growth mean to you? ‘Cause this is of course the Inclusive Growth Show.

Nicola Paul: Yeah. Absolutely. And, well, it’s an interesting one ’cause I kind of look at it from two perspectives, as you do as well, which is I look at it from the growth of businesses and just how vital this is for any high-performing, credible, and ethical business of the future. And so for me, this point around a business being inclusive helps to mitigate risk, and so it makes the business more sustainable, it makes the business more professional, and ultimately, companies that can do the things that we’ve been describing of good analytics and really being comfortable with gathering insight to back up their intuition, I think brings it to a different sophisticated level. So I guess that that’s, when I think about organizations, that’s what it means to me. But what it means to me more personally is it’s the epitome for me about self-growth. We all read all these help books and we’re constantly thinking about life-long learning and all of this kind of stuff, but in actual fact, this point around, to be an inclusive person is to constantly be understanding the perspective of others, gathering different views of the world, understanding inequalities and working out like literally on a day-to-day basis, what it is that we can do to just be one degree more inclusive, one degree, more aware and conscious of other people’s perspectives.

Nicola Paul: I think that’s the kind of golden thread for me is, yes, there’s all these big change programs or big light bulb moments that we can have, but it’s far more subtle. For me, inclusive growth is just day-to-day working out, “Yes, I could do that differently. Yes, I could think about the way I’m speaking to that person. Yes, I could include that person more in my thinking, in my life, whatever it might be.” So yeah, it’s lovely to be asked the question ’cause it gets really quite deep and it’s actually very therapeutic to think it through as well.

Toby Mildon: No, that’s cool. Thank you. I think that’s a really great way of looking at it. And I like what you’re saying about that kind of taking that personal responsibility, ’cause obviously, I wrote the book, “Inclusive Growth”, and it’s really about how organizations can grow by being more inclusive and through diversity, but actually we can grow as individuals as well. And I think that’s really important because it’s individuals in an organization who are managers and team members. So yeah, that’s really cool. Before we go, what is your call to action for the person listening to our interview today?

Nicola Paul: I think my call to action is something that’s become a little bit more into my mindset over the last 18 months or so. It’s been a bit of a, “Huh, this is definitely something that I need to do, and this is forming a lot of the conversations with companies that I’m speaking to, which is, If you aren’t deliberately and consciously being inclusive, you’re probably not.” And I don’t mean that that means that anybody who’s not thinking about this is horrible and it’s all going wrong. But at the same time, this point around more people worrying about what’s unconscious to them, I’m just trying to get people to flip it around and say, “Actually, yes, you should be worried and trying to pick up on some of the unconscious biases you may have.” But actually a far better way is to be proactive and think about how you can be consciously inclusive because being passive isn’t gonna work and it’s nobody else’s job to D&I you, you’ve got to do it for yourself. And so therefore, that would be my call to arms. Be deliberately and consciously inclusive.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, I think that’s really good ’cause I do, obviously, I do unconscious bias training and unconscious bias training, I think, has got a bit of a bad reputation. And I do actually say in the training that I do that unconscious bias training doesn’t work, ’cause training is not enough to change unconscious behaviors, ’cause we’re born with our biases in terms of the way that our brains are wired and then through the impact of social conditioning and things like that. But yeah, I often talk to my clients about how can we flip it. How can we take a bias, so like, something like, we have a similarity bias, like we’d like to hang out with people that are just like ourselves, and so, you can be conscious about that. You can say, “Now that I know that my default is to want to hang out with people that are just like me, that I can consciously just chat to, reach out to people that I don’t normally reach out to.” And I don’t know if I should admit this, but when I go to conferences, and you know you’ve got that kind of big networking thing in the middle of the day and everyone’s in this like massive room, I find that quite terrifying to be honest with you ’cause, yeah, I’m quite introverted. But I do this thing with myself where I try and spot somebody in the room who scares me, and then I will go up and talk to them. Yeah, I don’t know if I should have admitted that or not, but, yeah, it does do the trick sometimes.

Nicola Paul: So if you walk up to me in a room then I’ll know what’s going on.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, If I come up to you, then you’re obviously terrifying.


Nicola Paul: I’m terrifying. [laughter] I love it. But do you know what? It’s a really interesting one, isn’t it? ‘Cause like you say, “Do you want to admit to it?” But it’s a really good example of challenging our own emotions, isn’t it? So much of this is what you feel, either fear or nervousness, and then on the positive side of things, that warmth, that ease. And so, exactly, if you can challenge yourself to think differently about who you gravitate towards and just switch it up a little bit. It sounds a bit cheesy almost, doesn’t it? To kinda go, “Oh, that’s what I do,” but I think it genuinely works.

Toby Mildon: Yeah, it does. It does work. Nicola, thank you ever so much for joining me on the show today. If somebody wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way of doing that?

Nicola Paul: Oh, and thank you so much for inviting me on today. We always love talking, so it’s lovely to be able to do it and hopefully, other people find it interesting. Well, yeah, so I’ve set up my consultancy, but it is just me. But one of the nice things when you do that is you get to think about an organization name. And so because I work in the field of ethics as well, my company’s called, Good Work Life. That’s what we’re all trying to do, is have a better and good working life. And so my website’s goodworklife.co.uk, and as you introduced at the start, I’m Nicola Paul, and you can find me on LinkedIn as well.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Well, thank you, Nicola. It’s lovely to see you and I can’t wait to catch up with you in a Starbucks, and have a chai latte, with you.

Nicola Paul: That would be perfect.

Toby Mildon: Cool. Brilliant. And thank you for tuning into this episode with Nicola today. I hope you found it interesting, and please do check out all of the other episodes on all of the major podcasting platforms. And I look forward to seeing you at the next episode that’s coming up shortly. Until then, take care and thank you very much.


Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to the Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website at mildon.co.uk.

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