Ep. 14: Nurturing high-performing and inclusive teams


5 min read

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


Speaker 2: Hello, and welcome to this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. I'm Toby Mildon, and I'm joined by an amazing guest today. His name is Colin Campbell-Austin. Colin, welcome to the show.


Speaker 3: Hi, Toby. Thanks for having me.


Speaker 2: So, Colin, you and I met a few years ago at Channel Four when I used to go in and do some coaching with managers there. And we've since worked out that our paths may well have crossed even before then when we both worked for British Airways. So can you tell me a bit more about your career background and how you got into your current role? 


Speaker 3: Okay. So from a very young age, I knew that I wanted to travel and I wanted to experience different cultures. And I remember seeing an advert for British Caledonian on the TV. And saying to my mom, "This is what I want to do." And the advert had female cabin crew lined up on the steps of an aircraft, and the passengers were singing, "I wish they could all be Caledonian girls." And my mom said, "Don't be silly, you can't do that. That's a job for girls... Caledonian girls." And I remember thinking, "That's not fair." And it's the first time that I remember thinking, "Gosh, I'm excluded from something and I'm not able to do that." Anyway, I stuck to my guns and got a job as cabin crew with British Airways. And I absolutely loved it. A few years later, what I realized was what I loved more about the job, apart from the travel, I was actually meeting people from all over the world, from all different walks of life. I realized that people operate within bands and I could... I quickly identified this within seconds.


Speaker 3: What I also realized is there's no problem around people that can't be solved as long as you connect with them, talk to them, listen to them, there isn't anything that you can't do to make somebody happy. I've always been really good at reading people, and I think that's due to my upbringing. I'm mixed raced, so I knew from a very young age that I was different. And I felt that I had to read people and understand people and adapt my behavior to suit different people. I also knew that I was gay from a very young age, but I didn't really know what being gay meant. On TV, gay men or presumably gay men were... They were funny, they were loud, they're outrageous, they were witty. And I wasn't really like that and nor did I want to be like that. So, through media, growing up, I wasn't quite sure how I fitted in or where my place was. So, I chose my friends carefully, and when it came to my career, I selected companies deliberately where I felt that I could just be me. And I thought that connecting with people during those interviews and asking them the relevant questions was really important.


Speaker 3: At British Airways, I had an amazing manager, Diana, and she asked me to apply for cabin crew manager. I got the role and was given a team of 450 people at Gatwick. After about 11 years, I got to that point where I felt that I wanted to do something different and I wanted to move on. And media sprung to mind straight away. And the reason that sprung to mind was because growing up, TV... I never saw myself reflected in that, and it really affected my early career. So I wanted to move into media, so that I could help change that. And I got a job at Channel Four, where we met. While I was there, I was responsible for learning and development and running entry-level programs for fresh talent. And I really loved it because it was all about people. Inclusion and diversity, I feel comes quite naturally to me. And what I realized really quickly was that if you interweave that into recruitment, learning and development, inclusion and diversity, it all goes hand in hand. An opportunity came up for me to join the Telegraph Media Group, and I jumped at this. I absolutely loved being at Channel Four, but I wasn't sure whether I was being drawn by the values of the channel, because Channel Four is all about diversity and that different voice or that alternative voice. And the Telegraph wasn't known for diversity. So it was a challenge that I really wanted to take on.


Speaker 2: Brilliant. So let's go back to your time at BA. When you got promoted to be a team leader, you developed this thing called the "Talent Garden". Can you tell me a bit more about what the Talent Garden is? 


Speaker 3: Yeah. So when I was given my team, they were actually considered to be the worst performing team in the business. Not having done anything like this before, I decided that I'd take the same approach as I did onboard the aircraft. And that I would go out and meet all of them and connect with them. And I refer to my team as my talent garden. I had my sunflowers, the obvious talent that would reach for the stars and just given a bit of nurturing, they would get there. What I quickly realized was at the bottom, I have my weeds, that I really, really did need to deal with. Because if I didn't deal with those weeds, they would actually bring the sunflowers down eventually. But my biggest surprise was my flowers in the middle. A huge band of people that came in to work, did their job, and went home. Being cabin crew, they're a remote workforce and they didn't feel that they were really part of anything. They didn't feel they were included. So I really focused my efforts on this group of people and tried to create an environment where people felt that they were included, that they were all working towards a common goal and how actually their role supported the company and everybody in it. To my surprise, I found that I had huge amounts of hidden talent within that team. And just giving them that extra support and being there for them meant that they could do really well. And that was the biggest surprise for me when I did that role.


Speaker 3: Subsequently, we went from being the worst performing team in the business to the top performing or one of the top performing. We were definitely the top performing team at Gatwick. And I think I did this by understanding the individuals in my team, treating them as individuals and connecting with them. Yes, I had policies and I had frameworks that I needed to work within, but I found that by being flexible with those and really treating people as an individual, you could help them in ways that I couldn't have done before, and by helping them I made them feel that they were part of something. And they want to then give back, which is good for them and it's good for the business.


Speaker 2: Brilliant. A lot of the work that you've been doing includes diversity and inclusion, what do you think of the use of the word diversity in organizations? 


Speaker 3: I don't like the word in the workplace. I feel... Diversity, the word itself means different. But when you say diversity to people, they automatically think of strands of diversity and people feel excluded. So I try to use the word as little as possible. I think that the good word to use is inclusion because the word inclusion straight away is about everybody, it's about everyone being included and working towards that common goal. And so I believe that diversity, it creates divides and it creates barriers and it does exclude a lot of people.


Speaker 2: Yeah, 'cause I do an introduction to Diversity and Inclusion course, which I call diversity includes everybody. And one thing I cover is that actually everyone is diverse because I talk to some of my clients and I've got white middle-aged straight men who say to me, "I just don't feel like I'm included and somebody else in the business is gonna overtake me." And I just think that's really sad and disappointing because diversity does include everybody.


Speaker 3: It's terrible, isn't it? Nobody should feel excluded from anything. The fact is it doesn't matter what your upbringing is or what your background is or who you are, we're all different and we all bring something to the table, which is why I feel that the word inclusion is... It's just a much nicer word to use because automatically people feel that they have a voice, which is important.


Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely, yeah. So a lot of businesses have employee resource groups or diversity networks, so what do you think the role of these networks are in organizations? 


Speaker 3: I feel that a lot of companies set up these groups because then they can use them in their advertising and they can say, "We're a diverse company because we have an LGBT group." Do I want to be in a group because I'm black? Do I want to join a group because I'm gay? No, I don't. Being black and being gay is who I am. I'd much prefer to join a group of people that have the same passions and interests as me. And by joining a group like that, you're going to meet different people with different experiences, from different backgrounds, and you can learn from each other. But what's gonna connect you is that passion for something other than who you are. Who you are is who you are. If you're gonna connect with someone, surely it's about what you both like and what makes you both happy. And regardless of your background, if you have the same interests, there's already a connection there.


Speaker 2: Absolutely.


Speaker 3: I believe that these groups are... I think they're good in the sense if they're very, very focused. If they're focused around recruitments, etcetera, there's a pure purpose for it, then I do think they work. But for a lot of companies, I'd also say, do your employees actually even want these groups? A lot of them are just set up because it's about ticking that box, but actually, I fail to see how that breaks down any barriers and brings people together, it creates more exclusion. And yeah, do they actually really want it? That's the question.


Speaker 2: Yeah, I think these networks are important in terms of creating safe spaces for certain individuals. So when I was at the BBC, I used to run the BBC Ability Network for disabled staff, and I think it did play an important role in being a voice for disabled employees, tackling some of the issues that disabled employees were facing. So when we were opening up a new office, looking at the accessibility of that office, for example, looking at the career trajectory of disabled employees. However, I do think it's really important that we bring in allies as well to... So that we support one another in an inclusive way.


Speaker 3: Well, see, that group that you set up there, it had a pure focus, it had a goal. And I think if you have those, then they work, but it's when they're just set up for the sake of ticking that box and saying that we're a diverse company, where does that really go? It doesn't go anywhere and it doesn't achieve anything. As long as you've got those focuses like you did around open up new spaces and how this will affect a person with disability working within that environment, that's where that they should be focused on. That's great.


Speaker 2: Yeah, this has been a large part of your career, hasn't it? In terms of implementing sustainable change in organizations like Channel 4 and The Telegraph, so what are your top tips for the person listening to this interview on how you can implement sustainable change around inclusivity for an organization? 


Speaker 3: Well, the first thing I would say to anybody that wants to create environment that feels inclusive is asking people what they actually want. Survey them. We... You and I could sit in a room and we could spend all day talking about what we think the business actually wants, but are we correct? No. The people that know what they want are the people that work in that business. So survey them, see what it is they actually want, then, say, pick two or three of the top things that are... That people feel need to improve or change, and then you need to work on those and implement them really quickly. When you do that, people will then feel that, A, they were listened to.


Speaker 3: B, you've taken onboard what they've said and you've taken action. And once you've done that, you're creating environment that's becoming more inclusive and you can build on that. Creating that type of environment, you should look at every stage of the employee life cycle, and it's about how you improve it and build on it. It takes at least three years to get this off the ground, it takes a lot of time, a lot of investment, but it doesn't stop there. Once it's all up and running, you know, you've got to adapt and you've got to change. The people in the business are gonna change, what do the new people want that are coming into the business? And the business itself will change, and what's its new direction and what does it need? So it's continually working on it and improving the environment so that people feel that they can be who they want to be at work. If you can achieve that, it improves productivity, your product, your services improve, you get a better customer base, a wider range of customers because you're creating an environment where people feel that they can input, feel that they're part of something, and feel that they can really change the course and direction of that business for the better.


Speaker 2: Brilliant! So this is The Inclusive Growth Show and I'm interested in understanding what you think inclusive growth is, particularly based on your previous experience of working at British Airways, Channel 4, and The Telegraph. And for those organizations, what does inclusive growth actually resemble? 


Speaker 3: So for The Telegraph, inclusive growth is around its readership. So if you have... Let's take Stella magazine for instance. Stella magazine are going to do an article about a cup. If you've got journalists working for that magazine but come from all different walks of life, from different backgrounds... You may have someone there that grew up in a village in the north of England, where that factory supports that village or that town. Suddenly, you've got more of a story there, 'cause yes, you can talk about how great the cup is and how pretty it looks, but then there's also that story that behind it about how that business is actually supporting a whole community, and how buying that cup and it being British-made and supporting that community that you're actually putting something back in when you buy it, so the stories become much richer. If you've got more input from people from different backgrounds, then it's going to appeal to more people, which then brings you a larger readership. So for The Telegraph, it's definitely around its readership and appealing to a wider range of people as possible.


Speaker 3: Channel 4 is similar in the sense that it's about its viewers. If you think back to me being younger, I didn't see myself represented on TV. I saw an advert for British Caledonian that made me feel that I love the advert and it was great and I wanted to work for them, but that advert made my mum feel that I could not apply for that role because it talked about girls a lot. So for Channel 4, it's all about people being represented, people seeing themselves on screen. And then, of course, you increase your viewership because you're appealing to a much wider range of people.


Speaker 3: For British Airways, obviously it's around their passengers and their customers. It goes back to what I said earlier: When you meet people from different cultures, different backgrounds, we're actually all the same, our needs and worries may be slightly different, but we're all people and we're all really similar, but if you understand that what may not be important to me is important to somebody else because it's part of their culture and by you solving that issue or dealing with it and making them happy is gonna have a huge impact on how they feel flying British Airways, how they see British airways and also how they see you. And it's gonna improve your quality of work life because you're gonna be happier because you're able to understand and deal with issues. So inclusive growth for an airline will mean that it will attract more passengers from all over the world, but those passengers will feel comfortable and they'll want to fly British Airways because they'll feel that they're being treated as individuals and that the cultural differences are being taken into account.


Speaker 2: Thank you, Colin. Thanks, I've really enjoyed our conversation today. It's been really enlightening as always to catch up with you. So if the person listening to this episode wants to continue the conversation with you, how is the best way of getting in touch with you? 


Speaker 3: I'm on LinkedIn and my profile is set that anybody can send me a message, so if anyone wants to ask me any questions, please feel free to drop me a line and I'll get back to you and we can have that one-on-one conversation.


Speaker 2: Excellent. Well, Colin, thank you ever so much for joining me on today's episode and thank you for tuning in to this episode with Colin. And I really look forward to seeing you on the next episode that's coming up shortly. Until then, goodbye.


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.