Ep. 25: Taking a team approach to diversity


7 min read

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


Toby Mildon: Hello, and thank you ever so much for tuning into the Inclusive Growth Show. I'm Toby Mildon. And today, I'm joined by a brilliant guy, Andy Barrow. He's a triple Paralympian. He now works as an access consultant and runs his own business. Andy, welcome to the show.


Andy Barrow: Hi there. Thanks, Toby. Really pleased to be on.


Toby Mildon: It's great to have you. Andy, can you just let us know a bit more about your Paralympic career and what led you to becoming an access consultant and setting up your own business? 


Andy Barrow: Yeah, sure. I think the common thread through my story is probably actually rugby. Growing up, I played a lot of sport, fascinated by team sports, and my favourite sport was rugby. I did all the daft jobs in sport, so I was wicket-keeper at cricket, I played in goal for football, and I played in the front row at rugby. And unfortunately, that came back to bite me when I was 17 years old. I sustained a spinal-cord injury in a game of rugby which left me permanently paralysed from the chest down with limited use of my hands and arms. And from there, obviously, my life took a huge turn, but I always think even in your darkest moments, you can take positives, and one of those positives was finding a sport called wheelchair rugby.


Andy Barrow: You may think I'm mad to wanna get straight back into some form of rugby, but for me, it was about experiencing the camaraderie of the team again. So I started playing. I got good at wheelchair rugby. The long and short of it is it took me around the world, and I was lucky enough to represent my country and captain my country. I played in three Paralympic games, retiring after the 2012 Games in London. And then I started working as a speaker. So I was speaking in schools, doing inspirational speeches for young people, speaking to corporates about teams, teamwork, performance, and performance culture. And then I started speaking more widely, not only across the UK but internationally, and worked at a [02:20] ____ of international schools. So during my career in rugby and during my speaking career, I got to travel a lot, specifically within aviation. And so I kinda learned inside out the processes around assisted travel within that industry and had a fair amount of experiences as a world traveller, of the pitfalls you can get into travelling with a disability, whether it... Go on.


Toby Mildon: Yeah. You and I can probably swap a few war stories about travelling on planes, trains and buses in a wheelchair.


Andy Barrow: Exactly, and you do find yourself in some scrapes. And by virtue of that, I started doing some work with an access handler that worked out of a few of the UK and airports further afield around the world, a handler called OCS. And then that kind of bridged over into the train industry. It's a funny story. I had a disappointing experience with a train operating company, and I very much believe that any kind of... Anything that goes wrong, any failure, or any kind of pitfall, it's just a moment in time, and it's more how people deal with things that sort of give you that broader view on whether it was overall a bad or a good experience. So from that initial bad experience, I got in touch with the access team, and essentially said to them, "Look, I don't like how this was handled initially. I think mistakes happen. There you go. I think I can do some work with you." And that's how I kind of got into working in the rail industry along the same lines as the work I was doing in aviation. And that kind of brings us neatly up to the present, really.


Toby Mildon: That's really cool. Obviously, Southeastern is one of your current clients. What are you doing with them? 


Andy Barrow: So what we're doing at Southeastern, we look at all the processes that a customer goes through when they undertake a journey, and we look at all the processes from the staffing side, and we make sure that we give our staff the best possible opportunity to give the customers the best service. But then, I look behind that as well at the culture behind assisted travel, because I believe you can have the best set of processes in the world, but if the staff don't understand the importance of what they do or see the greater purpose in what they do, then they're not really gonna feel tied to or engaged to the processes or want to excel at what they do. So that really is a kind of an education piece that sits behind giving them that perfect set of processes to adhere to, so that they can help everybody to the best of their ability, and so that when issues crop up, they can resolve them in a timely, respectful, dignified manner.


Toby Mildon: Yes, I think you and I are basically singing from the same hymn sheet, so to speak, because I talk about in my book, the importance of creating inclusive cultures. But then the central chapter of my book is called Colleague Experience and Design, and that is really much about the processes and the structures and the systems that employees travel through. And I talk about removing speed humps and road blocks that prevent people from completing a journey or slow them down on a particular journey. What are some of the kind of inclusivity concepts and principles that you've uncovered in the course of working with your clients, including Southeastern? 


Andy Barrow: I think before we sort of hone in on inclusivity in organisational culture as a whole, I think organisations don't train enough. That's coming from an elite athlete angle. If you think about the elite athletes, they train 99% of the time to compete for that major tournament, for that world event, that Olympic Games, Paralympic Games. And so they spend their life doing the stuff behind the scenes for that one moment. Now, I'm aware that in business, we can't do that, that's not financially viable, but we seem to spend 99% of our time competing and only trying 1% of the time. So I think businesses as a whole need to train more and understand that it's not a waste of time to get out and talk about what's happened, to analyse their processes and systems, and spend time looking at how they can improve them, and actually put a nice package of review and debrief around those things.


Andy Barrow: So training more is one thing, but with reference to inclusive culture and inclusivity, first, I think you need to pull on people with lived experience and expertise, the classic "nothing about me without me" piece. That's really, really important. I think when you have those people, whether they're end users or whether they're consultants that come in and help your organisation, you need to respectfully ask the questions you need to know the answers to, and then listen to those answers. This all sounds really, really simple but it's something we just don't do. There is this stigma about asking people, certainly around disabilities, about what impairment they have and how it impacts their use of that particular service that we're trying to find out more about. It's not prying into somebody's private life. Anyone has the right to turn around and say, "I'm not comfortable talking to you about that." Fair enough, that's where the respectfully ask the question piece comes into it, but you do have to ask those questions. You do have to demystify, de-stigmatise disability. So I think that's important.


Andy Barrow: And I think the third thing is really to leverage the internal experience that you already have in your organisation. That's the employees, again, with their permission and respectfully, that you don't know, they may have a sibling or a partner with a disability. They might have lived experience of bringing up a son or a daughter with a disability, or any other area of minority. Leverage the expertise that are already within your company, is what I'd say.


Toby Mildon: Yeah. They're all really good points, and I really liked your earlier point, actually, about how as a Paralympian, you're training 99% of your time for that 1% competition or that big moment. And in business, we're not effectively practicing or rehearsing enough, are we here? It's like... And the work that you do with people that work on the railways or provide assistance in airports, you're working with people who work with disabled customers or passengers, helping them get to and from the train, helping them get on and off the train in a safe manner. And actually, I don't think a lot of practice goes on. I've spent a lot of my time travelling on trains and I've met some... I've had some kind of horrific moments where I was on one train where the train manager came up to me and he said, "Can I see your Disabled Railcard?" And I said, "Actually, I'm sorry, I don't have it on me." And he said, "Well, I need evidence that you're disabled." And I was like, "But I'm sat in a wheelchair that's 144 kilograms and costs £6,000." And then he said to me, "But anybody could go out and buy a wheelchair." And I'm like, "Well, somebody would spend £6,000 to get a 33% discount on the railway ticket? I don't think so."


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Andy Barrow: It sounds like an awfully elaborate fancy dress costume, Toby.


Toby Mildon: I know. I just think, if he had more training, that might have helped a bit, but it's...


Andy Barrow: No, absolutely. Just teaching people to see the wood for the trees with things like that, to actually... When you bring it all back, you have somebody in front of you who is asking for help. And then through all the training that you've had, there's this temptation that we can... I want to see more training but I don't want people trained to death in such a rigid framework that they struggle to get out of it and use their own common sense, and actually just look at somebody and think, "Why, it's obvious this guy is disabled. Come on, just use your common sense."


Toby Mildon: I think maybe reviewing and doing a retrospective is quite helpful because before I got into diversity and inclusion, I was in software development. And the software engineering team and I would work in sprints of three or four weeks at a time, but at the end of each sprint, we would get together as a team and we would go, "Okay, so what went well? What didn't go so well? And how are we going to improve things for the next sprint?" And I'm making a big assumption here but I'm assuming that when you and your teammates play the game of rugby, you do the similar kind of team review about how the game went and how you would improve your game the next time around.


Andy Barrow: Absolutely. When you come from sport, it's... This is all based around communication, all based around feedback. And when you've played sport all your life or play sport for a living, feedback is immediate. You know when you train, you know how your body feels, you know how well you did. As you get more experienced, you get a better idea of your perceived performance versus your actual performance. Your coach will let you know how well you did, your teammates will let you know how well you did. You'll review your fitness program with your SNC coaches. And it's when you get into business, that feedback moves so much more slowly in comparison. And I'm aware again, I say we can't have that ratio that we do in sport, but we can move some of the way there, and what you did with the software company sounds perfect. You do your section of work, you don't stop every single minute of every single day, "Was this sentence I wrote correct?" Or you get that kind of option paralysis, you never get anything done, but you say, right... Like you say, we're gonna do a week or a month's work, then we're gonna talk about it. And these companies are often reticent to spend that money on having that review session. And more importantly, debriefing that review session properly, with what you said, with the "what went well, even better is, even better if, what we're going to do next time." And if you don't do that, it's just false economy.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. So I'm just conscious that the person listening to this episode may not work on the railways, they may not be a Paralympian, either, and haven't got that sporting background like yourself. But the work that you have been doing in sport and with your clients, what are some of the common concepts or principles that the person listening to this interview could apply in their own organisation regardless of what industry they're in? 


Andy Barrow: I think put in some kind of training structure into what you do, and the thing is, you must start this in a kind of a light touch fashion. If you're gonna start a training structure, it's gonna be, "Okay, we're gonna stick out... Make a line in the sand. We're gonna have a review session and we're gonna find out what we need, and then we're gonna gradually hone that." I think you have to start somewhere. I don't think you can just implement a world-beating training system to your organisation from nothing. Incremental changes are really important. It's spoken about a lot in sport, marginal gain, the idea of making a tiny change. What can I do to make my organisation 1% better? I think a lot of the principles of engagement, setting aside a purpose for your organisation.


Andy Barrow: When we spoke about rail, for example, we spoke about getting people on and off the train. We didn't think about why. Why are you getting on and off the train? This could be crucially important. It's several of the big stations I work in in London are extremely close to major hospitals. So you're not just getting on the train, you may be taking your son and daughter to an appointment with a cancer specialist. Or start thinking about, you may be going to see your grandma for her 90th birthday. These are things that are far more kind of visceral and important than just getting on and off of a train. So establishing purpose, assigning roles properly, and having integrity and accountability for those roles, do the things you say you're gonna do.


Andy Barrow: And as employees, creating a space where employees feel like they can be heard. And for managers, making sure that managers are seen. Making sure that they put themselves out there and are accountable, because when you do that, you start getting more honesty into your organisation, and slowly, you drive down the whole idea of covering up failure and blame culture. One of the things we must learn to do is eradicate the fear of failure, because we only learn through making mistakes.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely, I really love what you're saying because it applies so neatly to what I talk about in diversity and inclusion. So you were talking about the why. Somebody's not just getting on and off a train, that there's a reason behind it. And I talk to my clients about why diversity and inclusion is important to them. I want to get my clients to think beyond the kind of the normal canned responses that I often hear, saying, "Well, businesses that are more diverse are profitable because that's what the three McKinsey reports have now evidenced." And I go, "Yes, that's true. Diverse organisations do outperform homogenous organisations, but why is it important to you and your business and your customers that you're there to serve? Let's make it personal for your organisation and let's not rely on those kind of canned responses that we often hear." But also, what you're saying about those leaders being out upfront, leading by example, acting as role models, again, we need leaders to be leading in an inclusive way as well and demonstrating how to do that and setting the example, setting the tone for the organisation.


Andy Barrow: Absolutely, I think it's a key consideration. I think it's a key consideration as we go forward into the future, and people have a greater aspiration for what they want their work experience to be. The nine to five is kind of dead or dying. There's that much more accountability in work, you're asked to carry a phone with you and field emails late at night. And so we're getting in a situation where young employees are wanting that classic interview question of, "What do you wanna know from me?" Well, do you know what I wanna know from you? I wanna know what your policy is on inclusion. I want to know what your policy is on charitable giving and CSR. I want to know if there's any organisations within your organisation where I can socialise, because my work is far more than just pick it up and put it down now. And I need to... I want to be living my principles.


Toby Mildon: Yeah. Absolutely. So Andy, this is, of course, the Inclusive Growth Show, and I'm interested in hearing what inclusive growth means for you and the clients that you work with.


Andy Barrow: I think for me, I might pinch your thing a bit, actually, 'cause I wrote down "no barriers". So [18:36] ____ removing those speed bumps. No barriers, no physical barriers, no cultural barriers, and we're gonna come back to the old sort of equity, equality thing, treating everyone individually in order to engender an equal opportunity for all. But I think beyond that, it's about people having understanding. Again, I'm probably gonna harp back to a team environment. The more you understand the people you work with, the closer you become as a team because you start understanding why people do what they do, what's important to them, what their motivators are, and it brings you closer than just simple work colleagues. So, for me, inclusive growth encompasses all of that. It encompasses bringing people together so that we get into a situation where our work is more of a vocation than just a chore.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, and if we think back to your Paralympian days, basically, working together as a whole team inclusively gets you medals.


Andy Barrow: Yeah, it does. That's the end result. We always used to talk about performance and result, and we talked about result being byproduct of performance. So, you focus on the culture and how you're gonna do things, your net results that are gonna happen as a consequence of that, are gonna be that hike in engagement, that hike in productivity, that overall increased level of well-being around the organisation, and that general glow that we associate with organisations that are performing well.


Toby Mildon: When you were captain of the rugby team, what is one thing that you did as captain to bring the team together to get really great results? 


Andy Barrow: We met a lot. I guess you could call that [20:32] ____ we met to discuss the day, discuss the week, discuss what had happened. And I acted as a conduit between my team members and the management structure. So I could pass on, I could let people have their gripes and moans, of which there were plenty, so they felt heard. I could pass on the stuff that was useful, and make sure that I reported back on the results of that. Another thing I did with my teams, I set about making sure that everyone knew each other a bit better. I asked people to do one-to-one show and tell presentations on subjects that I knew that were dear to them but I didn't necessarily think that their teammates may know about. So they all knew and understood each other a bit better. And they crossed from very arbitrary subjects into quite in-depth, big, meaty subjects, things like the culture people were raised in and their general outlook and politics and stuff like that.


Andy Barrow: I'm not necessarily recommending that for every organisation because to my point of incremental improvement, if you go in tomorrow and you've never had any engagement with your fellow employees and all of a sudden, we're talking about politics and race and everything else, people might not necessarily be ready for that. But just to work towards it with something more light touch, hobbies, interests, maybe family if people are happy with it. The caveat to all this is it has to be with permission and it has to be with trust, because otherwise, people will be suspicious of what you're trying to do, and they'll see these kind of exercises as a punishment rather than a genuine opportunity to grow.


Toby Mildon: Excellent. Well, Andy, thank you ever so much for joining me on the show today. If the person listening to this interview wants to get hold of you, how's the best way of doing that? 


Andy Barrow: The best way is by going directly to my website, which is www.andybarrow.co.uk. And if you look in the News section, you'll get a little flavour of what I'm up to on a week-to-week, month-to-month basis. If you want to contact me directly, all my details are on there but you can email on andy@andybarrow.co.uk.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Thanks ever so much, Andy, for joining me today. And thank you for tuning in and listening to my interview with Andy today. I hope you enjoyed our conversation. Please do tune in on the next episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. Until then, take care and I'll see you next time. Thanks very much.


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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.