Ep. 12: Doubling Down on Diversity and Inclusion

7 min read

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

Speaker 2: Hello and welcome to this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. I am Toby Mildon. I'm joined by a fantastic guest today, his name is Stephen Frost. And Stephen is the Chief Executive and the founder of Frost Included which is a leading Diversity and Inclusion Consultancy that helps to build inclusive organisations through addressing D&I strategy, data, governance, leadership, and systems. Stephen was the Head of Diversity and Inclusion for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. His responsibilities included diversity across a 200,000-person workforce, procurement of 57 delivery functions to inclusivity in an 11 million ticket program, and accessibility at 134 venues.

Speaker 2: Before that, he established and led the workplace team at Stonewall, and after the Olympics, he founded Frost Included. And headed up diversity and inclusion at KPMG, the global professional services firm. Stephen also teaches and writes about diversity and inclusion. He teaches inclusive leadership at Harvard Business School, Singapore Management University, and Sciences Po in France, and is the author of three books on D&I. The most recent being Building an Inclusive organisation: Leveraging the Power of a Diverse Workforce. So Stephen welcome to the show.

Speaker 3: Thanks, Toby. Great to be here.

Speaker 2: Great. So, Stephen, we're recording this episode, almost at the height of the pandemic. And in the UK, we've just passed the height or the threshold. So how do you think that the current pandemic and the economic downturn is affecting diversity and inclusion in businesses? 

Speaker 3: So first of all, this is a tragedy. And whatever we're about to go on to say, I don't wanna denigrate the fact that it's a tragedy, many people have lost loved ones and we're gonna lose more. So that's the first thought. So in terms of how it's affected diversity and inclusion, for me, it starts and ends with people. And we've lost people, so it doesn't really get worse than that. So the quick answer is, badly. However, I think when we get onto the diversity and inclusion as a practice in organisations, what we're seeing is a real bifurcation, it's a real kind of mixed bag. On the one hand, we're seeing some organisations cancel, de-prioritize, downplay. And that diversity and inclusion that's probably always been compliance-driven or marketing-driven in a relatively superficial sense, is now often gender, and that's the real shame because this is the time when we need it most.

Speaker 3: However, on the upside, what we are seeing as well is some organisations doubling down on their D&I efforts in organisations. And we're seeing it really come into its own and being part of the strategy that's gonna get us through this crisis. And so it's sort of a mixed bag, I think, on the one hand, unfortunately, it's off the agenda for them. In other cases, it's even more important, and obviously, we want to be trying to grow that second group of organisations to think about the diversity and inclusion, not simply as a nice-to-have-this type but as a key methodology for how we can emerge more inclusive and stronger from this crisis.

Speaker 2: Yeah, I mean, some of the conversations I've been having with my own clients is the impact of unconscious bias. So there is a lot of interest around unconscious bias in business, a lot of organisations do unconscious bias training. You talk about it in your book, I talk about it in my book as well. And some of the questions my clients have said is. How do you think unconscious bias has changed or are we still prone to unconscious bias during the pandemic and the economic crisis as well? How do you think unconscious biases are being affected? 

Speaker 3: Well, massively. I think unconscious bias is a natural, normal, part of the human condition. So at any time or day of the week, we're all undergoing bias, it's part of being human. But I think that at times of fear, crisis, or stress, we know that often a lot of biases are accentuated and activated and heightened. So particularly at the moment, we're seeing confirmation bias and affinity bias going through the roof, because when people feel stressed or under pressure or fearful or vulnerable, they tend to hunker down to what we already know, and that means the people we already know, affinity bias and preferencing them over people we don't know like our out-groups, and also confirmation bias, sticking with what we already know rather than being curious about what could be or a different way of doing something or experimenting. And of course, if we just hunker down and stick to what we know and who we know, we limit the kind of options that are available to us to solve this crisis. So I think that unconscious bias is really important at this time. I think it is massively playing out, but it's about making people aware of that and then we can take mitigating action.

Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things I've been talking about recently, is the, a space, the shift in the role of a diversity and inclusion leader, that during the current situation, it's almost business is not as usual for the usual D&I leader role, and it's almost like they're having to become inclusive crisis managers. How do you see... How do you think organisations should be responding to the crisis in an inclusive way? 

Speaker 3: Well, let's start from, I think the organisations that I've got most respect for right now, frontline NHS health care providers. If doctors and nurses on the frontline who are probably under most stress, most pressure in life and death situations right now, if they can carve out time two, three seconds to just grab some fresh air, go to the corridor, run to the cubical and reset their brains from system one, thinking fast to system two, thinking slow. If they can do that, then we can all do that. And so I think worst of all we should be playing... We should be taking a lead from those who are most on the front line right now and working back through all of our organisations to say, what's my job as a leader? 

Speaker 2: So what do you think about in terms of the more business infrastructure side of things? So organisations are having to put people on furlough, or they might be letting people go. The way that we're working is changing. So a lot of people are working from home. What do you think organisations should be doing because of these business changes? 

Speaker 3: But this is not interesting that because I think it's such an [07:07] ____ in-press in the territories in it. And so, organisations that had a clear plan before are suddenly like, "Okay, what do we do right now?" From talking to loads of clients, loads of organisations, loads of colleagues, I think there's a few things that we should be doing. I think one, is starting with the basics. Like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Start with the basics. And in terms of are our people safe, right? Are our people safe, are we doing what we can for our people? And I was quite struck actually by the letter that was published from Airbnb who are making, I think, a quarter of their workforce redundant. And I'd obviously don't wanna comment too much, but in more ways to make publicly available, I was struck by the fact that the CEO started with really caring about the people. And so for example, ensuring that lots of benefits and so forth can remain with their people as long as possible. So they can keep their laptops, they can have access to mental health services and so forth.

Speaker 3: So I think one is starting with that. And I hope that that's the case already for lots of companies. But if it's not, I'd like us to get back to those basics. I think the second then is, to truly try and think about the post-COVID world. What is this new normal actually gonna look like? Because while there's so much we don't know, what we increasingly do know, is that this is gonna go on for quite some time. And that means that people are gonna have to work in a different way, in a different place. And so, some people cope better with change than others. And I think when one variable changes, we can kinda cope. When multiple variables change at the same time, it can be discombobulated, Right? People can feel very unsettled. And so actually how do we give people the space and the empathy to just acknowledge multiple variables changing at once, but then to practically help them find their way through? So number one: Where do I work? Maybe that's changing, maybe that's changed forever. Or maybe it's the middle-class privilege that we can work at home. But whatever workplace is, the concept is changing.

Speaker 2: That's a really, really good point. What are your hopes and predictions for inclusivity when we bounce back from the pandemic? 

Speaker 3: Let's start with the negative before we can bring ourselves up again. I think the negative is that for some it'll be off the agenda. So for some who don't get this, who are listening to Mildon's podcast right now, they'll be like, "Alright, cost an item, gone." And that's a tragedy, for the reasons we've said. But to positive, for those where it is very much part of the mix. I think it's gonna be more profound than ever. And that's a good thing. Because rather than just being a diversity week, a few awards, a program over here for a group that the majority and the power don't even know about. Hopefully, we'll see much more profound, in terms of, we've all been through this collective experience. We've all been through a collective grieving experience. And people are gonna be wanting more from their jobs because they're questioning more about life. So I'm not gonna be satisfied with a job and a paycheque and, "Thanks very much." I'm gonna be wanting, "Well, hang on a minute." We've experienced death, we've experienced tragedy, we've experienced real loss and fundamental changes in the way we live our lives. So if I'm gonna work with you, I want more out of it than my paycheque quite frankly. And that's been a trend that's been on the horizon for quite a while, hasn't it? 

Speaker 3: But I think this really forces the issue. And so I hope Toby that... To answer your question, that the inclusion that does survive, really thrives. And is profound in the sense of impacting the design process, or the hiring process, or the marketing process, that is really in the fabric of the business. And the counter-factual there for me is that at the moment we're seeing some relatively superficial stuff, from some companies. Which we can call Coronawashing. In the same way, there's pinkwashing, there's Corona washing. It's like... Yeah, it's great we clap for our carers, but are we paying fundamentally decent wages with proper working conditions? Are we tackling bullying, harassment, which is based often on discrimination? So are we really profoundly, including people in our organisations? And are we going beyond just kind of pinkwashing, Coronawashing type stuff? 

Speaker 2: Yeah, I suppose some of my hopes and predictions are; we've been in lockdown for more than 30 days, and it takes 30 days to change a habit. And I think that when we go back to the new normal of working that our habits in the workplace will be changing. So I do think that more people will want to do flexible or agile working. And I think it will be a lot more acceptable in businesses. I've talked to some of my clients who... They admitted that they had a kind of two-tier approach to flexible working. They said on one hand that they really supported flexible working, but on the other hand, there were certain individuals in the company that couldn't be trusted to work flexibly, or they thought the role couldn't be done outside of the office. But they've realized over the last two months actually, those people that they couldn't trust, can absolutely still deliver on their jobs, and they can still do their work outside the office. So I do think that people, there will be more appetite to do flexible working, which will help people with all sorts of conditions. It could be caring responsibilities, health conditions, all that kind of stuff.

Speaker 3: I think like you say, Toby, it's probably something that a lot of us have been asking for, for years. And suddenly overnight there we go. "Actually, oh! It can work."

Speaker 2: Yeah. And I think also that if we look at things like I don't if you read it, but the Business In The Community did a good report a couple of years ago called equal lives. And they said that one of the major contributing factors to the gender pay gap was the men not taking as an active role in caring responsibilities. And if men did take more of an active role that that would go some way to closing the gender pay gap. And I think... I mean, I hope that also changes because we've got families that are working from home and they're having to share caring responsibilities, and perhaps that's something that they want to continue going forward as well.

Speaker 3: I hope you're right. I think, again though, the evidence just is going two ways, right? So some blokes are kind of at-home and thinking, "Crikey, get me out of here." And they're not used to it and it's actually reinforcing the gender stereotype, division of labor. Where women and men have got jobs to do, but women are taking more of the burden of the child care on. I've had many, many female clients telling me they've got three jobs right now, their job, their parenting, and their teaching. Whereas fewer male clients have said that, fewer male clients have been locking themselves away and getting on with the work. But to your point, maybe more men will experience this stuff and then hopefully some will want more of that and not simply revert to type. But yeah, interesting to see how that plays out.

Speaker 2: So what do you think organisations should be thinking about right now in terms of having more inclusive workplaces, once we get through the pandemic and we bounce back from this? 

Speaker 3: I think it starts with the basics, again, doesn't it? With defining, "What is the workplace?" Let's say the workplace is physical, that it's an office, right? Making it accessible. A lot of people are gonna be cutting down their office requirements now. They don't need as much space, so if you're moving or [15:00] ____ you're down assignment, make it accessible. Start with the basics. But I think also thinking about things like... Well, if now the child care situation or parenting care responsibilities are fact, should there be more on-site child-care facilities? Should we be have more of a flexible approach with start times and end times? Should we be thinking about how people get to work? So, all kinds of things I think that we need to think about is the workplace itself. Then there's actual work itself, and how you talk about before to that, how work gets done. And clearly remote working, use of technology is here to stay and hopefully grow and embed. What does that mean for line management, performance reviews, bullying and harassment, disciplinarians, team working? All that needs to be thought about too, so I would encourage organisations to... Again, not with some of the tragedy that's going on... To see the silver lining, the opportunity in this crisis, to experiment and dry run, test run things which you've always wanted to do but never got around to or were not sure of. Because try them now or they might then work in the future.

Speaker 3: Two examples of that. One, I'm working with a tech company right now; a tech company that had a really present year in culture. And it was a major barrier to them to becoming more inclusive. But this, of course, to your point, has thrown that out of the water in the sense of, how can we be present at the moment? What does present mean, being online 24 hours a day? So it's suddenly opened up a lot of opportunities about how work is done. And the other, I guess, was like back in 2012 with the Olympics and Paralympics that I worked on. In that crisis, we, in that immovable deadline, that pressure, we have to try things that we previously perhaps not bothered because you could kick it into the next quarter or the next committee, whereas you couldn't. It was, "Are we gonna do it or not?" And so thinking into that mentality, let's give it a go, try it, and then we've got something new to use in the next chapter.

Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. So this is The Inclusive Growth Show. The reason why I talk about inclusive growth in both the book and this podcast is that I really wanted to reframe diversity and inclusion conversation for businesses to make it really strategically important for them to have the ear of a chief executive, so that we start to see diversity and inclusion as really strategically important to an organisation, and something that enables organisations to grow. Growth means different things to different organisations. So for an insurance company, you might want to sell more insurance premiums. But if you're a police force, you might want to have better relationships with members of your community, or if you're recruiting police officers, you might want to do that in a diverse way. But, from your experience, what does inclusive growth mean for you and how have you seen this kind of approach to D&I playing out for your clients? 

Speaker 3: So. Toby, I couldn't agree more about inclusive growth. I guess it's like a growth mindset as well as economic growth as well. It's about generally expanding the possibilities and the value that you've got available. I think, in a few ways, we work with quite a lot of pharmaceutical companies. And for them, this is by innovation. So, if you include diversity in the R&D and clinical trials, you'll end up with medicines and drugs that serve more patients, save more lives. If you don't, it's the opposite. So, for innovation in pharma, it's a no brainer. In tech, I think in tech with tech clients, it's really around in the design progress, design processes, and de-biasing algorithms. So we know that example, there's a Georgia Tech study done about four years ago where driverless cars were bumping into black folks more than white folks because the camera-based AI technology wasn't seeing darker skin tones. Just ridiculous, right? 

Speaker 3: So again, think about diversity in the design process, that we produce goods and services which will work for all customers. And then I think, besides healthcare and tech, and obviously, the one will be finance, where growth in finance is literally money, you need to have better decision making and you need to de-risk groupthink and silly decision-making as we've seen in the past, in the crunch or crisis 12 years ago. So there it's about actually encouraging new perspectives and thoughts to de-risk decisions and to ensure sustainable decent growth over the long-term. So I think I'm with you on the inclusive growth thing. I think in all those examples and more we can see how it actually impacts decisions that are made now, which generally improves the possibilities open to us down the line.

Speaker 2: Brilliant. Well, Stephen, thank you ever so much for joining me on this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy day to talk to us, and thank you ever so much for listening to this episode and I hope you can tune in for the next one coming up shortly. Thank you and good-bye.

Speaker 3: Thanks, Toby.

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.