Ep. 5: Diversity and Inclusion as the golden thread


10 min read

S?: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business, by creating a diverse workplace.


Toby Mildon: 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 Peter Cheese. He is the Chief Executive of the CIPD, which is the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and the CIPD is the professional body for HR, and people development. So, Peter, welcome to the show.


Peter Cheese: Thank you, Toby, it's good to be on.


Toby Mildon: Great. So, I actually interviewed you for my book, Inclusive Growth, where we had a great conversation. Where do you think diversity and inclusion has been over the last couple of years? And what progress do you think has been made in D&I? 


Peter Cheese: I think the quick summary is that diversity and inclusion definitely has made progress in recent years, there's been so much more discussion and focus on it, in organizations, I think, of all sizes and obviously increasing legislation in several, so there's definitely been progress. I think the real challenge is all is, has it been enough? And I think the answer to that is not. You can look at, of course, diverse because many different protector characteristics, and you never take the simplest one which is around gender. Yes, there's been progress and you can look at it from lots of different aspects, obviously, the push on things like more gender balance at the tops of companies, the gender pay gap reporting and so forth, which is really trying to be encouraging in some cases, provoking organizations to think much more about gender balance, and I think the language and dialogue has changed, but the sad fact is the progression of numbers, in terms of... Even if I take gender balance is arguably not being fast enough.


Peter Cheese: And then, of course, if you go into other aspects of diversity, ethnic diversity, different abilities, experiential diversity, so social mobility for example, still real challenges in terms of progress, and I think the things that constrain us, and it's interesting also to reflect on these as we talk about a crisis we're in at the moment, have been cultural, they've been lots of sort of mind sessions that have had to happen, but also I think, have we have the right insights the right information because at the end of the day, as I've always said, about diversity and inclusion, to me, you have to start, with why this is really important for business? There are lots of reasons why having inclusive workplaces is really important for business. First of all, your access to all the skills and talent, knowing that innovation comes from different experiences and backgrounds, knowing that you want an organization that's properly reflecting the customers and societies of communities of which it is truly a part, and those are very, very powerful drivers for inclusion.


Peter Cheese: But also if we don't have the data and insights necessary, if we're not really understanding either what is the makeup of our organizations today in terms of diversity, or what of the inhibitors and accelerators for inclusion, all the way from recruitment and bias and all these other things, and how we properly train our managers, then we won't really make the promise that we need to. So as I said, I think, in summary, yeah, but it's been very encouraging, so in recent years, so much more discussion about diversity and inclusion, it is a genuine business theme and topic and it's certainly a very cool one for our profession of HR, and we're asking more regulation as I said, but we still have some way to go.


Toby Mildon: Absolutely, we're recording this podcast episode in lockdown for the coronavirus. We're recording it online, so we're using technology to our advantage. In fact, we may... I can hear the birds in the background where you are, and I'm recording this in my bedroom. So how do you think the coronavirus is affecting diversity and inclusion in businesses right now? 


Peter Cheese: Yeah, I mean, obviously a really important question, Toby. I don't think it's any hyperbole to say that this crisis is an era-defining crisis. I mean, people have equated it in terms of the great era-defining crises of the last century, like the great wars. Obviously, this is different in its form, but its impact could be as big on societies, on economies, on jobs, and, of course, it's driven from this global health pandemic. And it was... Everybody could say, well, it was very hard to predict, and it has been talked about as one of the greatest threats. So, humanity would be some kind of big health epidemic, and that's clearly what we're in the midst of. The health epidemic and pandemic is led very, very quickly into significant economic challenge. We're already seeing massively increased numbers of people who are unemployed and no matter what government subsystems teams exist, that is continuing to be one of the impacts and we know that it's gonna drive an awful lot of uncertainty for some time to come, in business behaviours.


Peter Cheese: Now, what that means to diversity and inclusion, to be honest, I think is going to be challenging because when we see crisis of any kinds, but particularly economic crises that affect businesses, then one of the first things that tends to happen, of course, is businesses can become more risk-averse, they go back to saying, "Right, I just gotta manage down my cost in order to maintain my profitability and short-term financial sustainability," and in doing those things, and of course, we're seeing businesses taking many, many actions in the moment around managing their costs and of course for the vast majority of businesses that people costs are amongst the biggest costs and what they would tend to see as their most controllable costs.


Peter Cheese: And the actions that organizations are taking do range from redundancies, obviously, there are other mechanisms and channels like these following schemes, or putting people more on to part-time working or extending leave, and all these sorts of mechanisms, but if they're only being driven from a cost dimension then it is quite easy to lose sight, of some other really important business imperatives, and sadly I think that we are seeing too many stories of diversity and inclusion, therefore, getting rather pushed to the side in the pursuit of just simply trying to manage down my costs. So what does that tell us? Well, first of all, what this crisis should tell us, and what I fundamentally believe will emerge from it in positive ways...


Peter Cheese: The humanity, compassion, well-being, human-centred thinking will and must emerge from this even more profoundly. So whilst there's some, very clearly some short-term challenges that we've already outlined, I think it really will cause a profound readjustment of what is important in business. Well, yes, of course, your financial stakeholder's important, but, oh my goodness, your workforce as a stakeholder group is equally important, and those two things are not diametrically opposed. If you look after your people effectively, if you create inclusive workplaces as I've already said, then you can create very positive economic and business outcomes.


Peter Cheese: So the idea of what's sometimes been called, multi-stakeholder capitalism, which is the idea that businesses should not just be driven by maximizing profit for the sake of maximizing profit. They should be driven by, yes, of course, you have to be financially sustainable, but you must be doing it in the context of behaving ethically and responsibly, looking after your people properly, looking after your customers and suppliers properly, being part of a responsible business within communities which you are also part of. And let's not forget also that there was leading into this health crisis, there's an environmental crisis as well. And that's another part of what a responsible business does, is it looks after its environment.


Peter Cheese: So, I think, what, as I said, we're seeing is that on the positive side is absolutely the centrality of people, of their well-being, of our duty of care and whether it's how we're operating to support people with their mental health because let's face it, working in these ways, in very much more confined environments, is very challenging, particularly out without... With all the constraints on our normal social connection. So mental health has got a much bigger focus at this time. And we need to carry these ideas forwards as positive learnings post the crisis.


Peter Cheese: But to come back to, as I said the inclusion theme, I think yes, I and others are worried within this context of, "Oh my goodness, I've got to manage, down cost of my workforce," that we lose sight of inclusion. So what does that mean in the short term? In the short term, it means that we must keep a diversity inclusion lens on all the actions that we're taking and if we are having to reduce working hours or even reduce the size of our workforces, let's for heaven's sake, make sure that we're doing them through an inclusion lens and not, unconsciously or otherwise, finding that we have reduced our workforce to that has disproportionally affected certain parts of our workforce.


Peter Cheese: So those are obvious things for us to think about. We also have to think about it coming out of the crisis as we begin to return to our workplaces. What are reasonable adjustments that we may need to make for all segments of our workforce, but particularly those who are more vulnerable? And that should be part of our duty of care to our employees and our workforces as well. So, as I said, much as I'd described it, coming into the crisis, this crisis will change many, many things. I think it will and can and must drive some positive outcomes as well but we really, really have to watch out that in these very difficult intervening periods as we're going to the heart of the storm as it were, the eye of the storm as it were, that we do not lose sight of inclusion, that we understand that actions we're taking are being done through an inclusion lens. And that we can then reinforce many of these positive ideas about well-being, which have inclusion at their very heart, and what we need to make as reasonable adjustments and how we support all segments of our workforce should be outcomes that we, as I said, really do now push for as we begin to look at the upcoming weeks and months which will be about some sort of staged return to perhaps some form of new normals and workplace working.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, 'cause I've been running a whole series of webinars for D&I leaders called "D&I Leadership in a Crisis," and I've developed this concept called, Inclusive Response, Inclusive Regrowth, and what I'm saying is that, as we're going into the economic downturn and we're dealing with the crisis, the role of a D&I leader has changed from D&I leader to inclusive crisis manager, and they need to be there to support the business, to really focus on the business-critical response. So if you're having to re-direct a lot of employees to work from home, making sure that everybody has the ability to work from home in an inclusive way, or if you are doing furloughing or making people redundant, making sure that you have that inclusive lens over it. But then the regrowth is as we go... This could be a year and a half or two years from now, as the economy picks up again, and it will take another perhaps six, seven, eight years to get back up to the top. This is a really good opportunities for inclusion and diversity people to support the business to make sure that businesses are re-growing in an inclusive way. So it could be that some new innovations have come out and they could do that inclusively.


Peter Cheese: Yeah, no, they will, there's this great expression of necessity being the mother of invention, I think we're all having to adapt and learn and innovate very quickly in these circumstances. No, but I very much like the way that you position it, Toby, because at the end of the day, we have to be able to describe that any interventions that we're doing in the workforce, in the context that it is supportive of the business agenda. Which is why within our profession, as we teach and obviously accredit and so forth around HR capabilities. At the very heart of that, there's an understanding of business because HR and all the things we're talking about, including diversity and inclusion also needs to be seen as a business capability and a business function.


Peter Cheese: So you then have to... And as you, exactly as you describe, I like the way described it, you have to think of diversity and inclusion as part of a response to the crisis the businesses are facing. And it should be thought about in those terms. And that's very important because I think sometimes we have, in the past, fallen into the danger, not just with diversity and inclusion, but many subjects around how you treat people positively and engage in their well-being and so forth, sometimes fall a little bit too much in the trap. It can be seen as a, well that's nice to have, is all a bit pink and fluffy, and it's all very sort of social and all of that, but how's it helping my business? And that's why, as I said, putting into the context of business always is a really, really important thing we have to do.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, and some of my hopes and predictions going forwards is I think that men in business will want to take more of a caring responsibility because if they are in... Sorry, not in isolation. If they are working from home with their family, they have maybe taking on more care and responsibilities at the moment. And the research that business in the community has done suggests that that will help towards closing the gender pay gap. So Peter, why do you think that diversity and inclusion leaders and HR directors need to be talking more of the business language? This is something that we covered in the case study, and now in the book. And why do they need to be speaking more of the business language? 


Peter Cheese: Yeah, so the other aspects of what is really important. So we'd link diversity and inclusion of course to, yeah, financial sustainability and things of that nature. Ability to try to retain the right people. But there's also another really important part of it which is brand and reputation. The fact is, and I think again, the crisis will reinforce this, that businesses that can show that they're inclusive, treat their people fairly, have organizations and workforces are representing by the communities and so forth, will prosper, they will be held to account if they're not doing these things. So I think that's the other really important part of the inclusion debate, is it is very much in my mind now linked to the idea of trust, of reputation, of businesses that are doing the right things. And that, again, I think will be very much emphasized through this crisis. And the businesses that will thrive and prosper are the ones that are inclusive, treating their people fairly and well worrying about their well-being and all these other things. And that will bring these ideas much more again to the centre of the business debate.


Toby Mildon: So I'm thinking about all those senior executives who are frantically trying to save their businesses and just keep them going, and still continuing to deliver products and services and make sure that their employees are safe and able to still continue working. But when it comes to D&I what do you think boardrooms should be doing to take responsibility for D&I given the current environment that we're in? 


Peter Cheese: I think they have to maintain hopefully what we were seeing more of, which is this is part of what makes a good business, and what makes a responsible business, and so forth. So they should be holding the executive to account, or are they continuing to maintain the ideas of inclusion? Can they demonstrate through how they report back to boards through the sub-committees, but to mainboard agendas about how an organization has responded to the crisis? What its thought about in terms of its culture and how that shifted has maintained these critical dimensions of things like inclusion? So I think, yes, it's tough and you're absolutely right. There are many, many businesses, which are in severe financial trouble and difficulties at this point in time. You're hearing stories in sectors like hospitality and tourism, things like that where 80% plus of their workforce have either been furloughed or made redundant.


Peter Cheese: They're at very, very tough times. But it does not mean to say that we should lose sight of the things that which we would all regard as important, and we've already talked about. So I would say to any board that they should continue to talk about these issues of strong and inclusive corporate cultures that if you do those things that will maintain and sustain you as we come out of this crisis. And even if you've had to let people go, they will be the things which will allow you to attract the talents and skills that you need in your workforce and retain them in the future. So, of course, you should keep a focus on them. But it does come back then to our responsibility as D&I practitioners and HR leaders and so forth, to make sure we have that lens on the organization, that we can continue to report back and encourage the dialogue at board levels of accountability that they should hold the executive of those organizations continually responsible for about these good and inclusive corporate cultures.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So this is the Inclusive Growth Show. So what does inclusive growth mean for the CIPD? 


Peter Cheese: Yeah, for us, of course, we think about in several dimensions, I mean first of all, really being part of an encouraging this wider debate about diversity and inclusion, and yeah, Toby, you've spoken on our platforms. I speak on many, many different platforms about diversity and inclusion in all its different forms. So continue to advocate and share the research and backing, and policy and all these other things that we do on diversity and inclusion more broadly. Secondly, of course, teaching through the profession about what are good diversity and inclusion practices, and as we've more recently launched a new profession map with all these sort of core skills and capabilities think about things differently, and now developing all the new qualifications behind it, be reassured that diversity and inclusion is a golden thread with everything we teach.


Peter Cheese: Because I think, that again is being part of the challenge of diversity and inclusion too often in the past being sort of a... Not a sideshow, but it's not necessarily being seen as integral to everything that we do in HR. And it should, it should be a golden thread, whether we're talking about resourcing, recruitment, [18:37] ____ or anything else and learning and so forth, so that's also a very big part of our responsibility, to make sure that we are teaching diversity and inclusion throughout our thinking on HR practices. And then of course, how we thirdly how we encourage the profession to be more diverse is again, if I'm really honest the profession itself, the HR profession itself has not always been sufficiently inclusive or diverse. And so that's also something which of course we wanna promote and encourage more, and so HR, can be the change it wants to see. And to be quite candid. And I think it is true, it should be the change it wants to see. And for the HR professions, advocating for inclusion that lets show that we as a profession are also inclusive.


Peter Cheese: And finally, also what we as the CIPD represent. I'm always extremely mindful of when I go out and talk about all these different aspects of what good organizations are, and how you treat your people and so forth, that we can demonstrate that to the organization itself. And I'm proud of the fact actually that across the CIPD we can represent inclusion in all its different forms, all the way from the board through to every level of the organization, and we continue to champion these ideas, we continue to measure and understand how diverse we are as an organization. And as I said, I think, generally speaking, I'm pretty proud of what we do accomplish across most of the protected characters that... Or characteristics of diversity.


Peter Cheese: We have all the internal networks on these things and so on. So, we hold ourselves to account as an organization, which also allows me then, to talk with a degree of credibility on platforms to say, and if people ask me and say, "What are you doing?" I can say, "Yeah, we're doing these things as the CIPD. And I'd want to hold us up as a reasonably, positive exemplar of all these ideas.


Toby Mildon: Great. Well, thank you. Thanks ever so much, Peter, for joining me on the show today. Before we go, if the person listening to this episode is interested in learning more about the CIPD, first of all, what does the membership at the CIPD involve? And how can they get more information? 


Peter Cheese: Yeah. Thanks, Toby. And first of all, as you said at the beginning, we're the professional body for HR people development. And we've been around interestingly just over 100 years. Another interesting fact about our existence is we started out as what was known as the Welfare Workers Association, and they did what it said on the tin. They worried about the welfare of their employees. And it was born out of, interestingly, often Quaker run businesses, which are still around today. Like Rowntree's, Cadbury's, Lever Brothers, which of course now is Unilever. And at the very heart of their thinking was this idea of welfare of the people. And they knew if they looked after their people, they would also be productive, and engaged, and all those other things. So, over the intervening 100 years, we've grown a lot. We're close to 160,000 members, we have international presence in Singapore, Dubai, UK, and Ireland.


Peter Cheese: So, we have international reach, international membership. And we really do exist to promote the profession, to promote the practices and thinking of the profession, but also to engage, as I said, in policy and governmental discussion on the future of work, and employment legislation, and jobs in market understanding. So, if people want to learn more about us, the obvious thing to do is go to the website. There's huge amounts of information about what we do. We've also been providing a massive amount of support during the coronavirus crisis. Our website traffic has tripled. We're seeing very positive support for what we are doing because the final thing to be said in that regard, is that there is a lot of stuff out there, isn't there? Both on how you respond to the coronavirus or any subject, including diversity and inclusion. And I'm proud to say that we are recognized as a trusted source, which we should be. We run as a charity, we're not for profit, we are a professional body and we should be a trusted source. And I think that's part of what we're seeing now.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Excellent. Well, thank you ever so much, Peter, for joining me on the show today. And thank you for listening to this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. And I really look forward to seeing you on the next episode. Until then, thanks very much.


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S?: 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.