Agility in Mind

In this episode, Toby spoke to an existing client, Michelle Meakin, Business Services Director at Agility in Mind. We covered the organisation’s approach to developing a DEI charter and bringing those values to life every day.

Usually, I interview Diversity and Inclusion thought leaders and business leaders for these podcasts, but I’ve approached today’s conversation differently. I thought it would make a nice change to sit down with some of the organisations and clients that I’ve been working with, just to explore what they are doing about diversity and inclusion. So in this episode, I’m joined by Michelle Meakin, who is the Business Services Director at Agility in Mind.

I met one of the founders of Agility in Mind years ago, when I was working at the BBC as a project manager. He was instrumental in an accessibility project that I was working on and also my training as an Agile project manager. We kept in touch and, it’s funny how these things kind of come full circle, I then ended up working with Agility in Mind, providing diversity and inclusion advice and support.

We got started with me asking Michelle to tell me a bit more about who she is, what she does and what Agility in Mind is all about.

‘Thank you for welcoming me along to talk on the podcast, I have to say it’s the first one I’ve ever done, so slightly nervous, but we’ll see how it goes. As Toby said, I work as the Business Services Director at Agility in Mind. I’ve been with them since 2014. My role has evolved significantly since I started working for them, and now I’m responsible for what you would consider business services side of things, including finance, administration, and supporting all of our coaches and trainers in what they do day-to-day. It’s a busy and varied role, but I thoroughly enjoy it.

With regards to what Agility in Mind do as a business, we love and exist to work with ambitious businesses to help them achieve their plans for growth. We provide services that deliver clear outcomes for impactful change, which shifts the mindset of individuals and leads to new behaviours and actions. As part of that, we use Agile principles and practices that give people the confidence about changing the way they work.’

One of the reasons why I wanted to bring you on to the podcast is that Agility in Mind is a boutique consultancy, and yet you’ve invested in the diversity and inclusion journey for your organisation. So this isn’t something that only big businesses do, small boutique companies can do it as well. Why did you want to invest in diversity and inclusion for your organisation?

‘Well, that’s a great question. If I can start with a bit of background. So Agility in Mind has grown and evolved since its inception in 2010. And as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been part of the team since 2014. There’s always been a mindset that every member of the team has a part to play and their views and opinions are important. However, more recently, circa 2019, we started to question how he could become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organisation, because we believe building an inclusive workforce is the right thing to do. And they are definitely more effective.

When you think about organisations and that diversity of thought and looking at problems from different perspectives, it will lead to greater innovation within organisations. So when you think about what it is we do as an organisation, people sit at the heart of what we do, so it is essential really that we are a people-centric organisation that supports and works effectively with everyone. Embedding and incorporating DEI into our workplace has become an essential requirement that’s necessary and beneficial.’

A lot of the work that I do with clients is in medium and large-size businesses. Since Agility in Mind is a boutique consultancy, we put together a tailored package because a standard approach wouldn’t be quite the right fit for the organisation. One of the first things that we started to do was the Diversity Includes Everyone workshop with the team. I asked Michelle to explain how that workshop worked out for the business and what the team got out of doing it with me.

‘Before we’d got to that whole team workshop, we had talked about diversities for everyone. We’d gone through some activities in terms of putting together a diversity charter, looking at our organisation as a whole, looking at our values. So we’d done quite a bit of work before we got to the point of coming on that training and offering that whole training to all of the team.

It opened our eyes, for want of a better expression. We’d like to have thought that our DEI initiatives and everything we were doing were good, but I think you can still learn and there are things that haven’t been thought about. There was great feedback from all of our team in terms of that workshop. It gave us food for thought. What we should be doing differently. What we weren’t even thinking about.

We use a turn of phrase, one of my colleagues in particular, “You don’t know what you don’t know”. So until you start to explore things and talk to people like yourself, there are things out there that you’ve not necessarily thought about that actually you can change and get better at and evolve. So, for us, it was an eye-opener. It’s made the organisation think as individuals and as a group, how we work, and what we’re doing on a daily basis and it led to some individual sessions with people. There’s been some updating of policies. Just a whole different way of working, I guess. Ultimately, we think differently now, following the sessions.’

I’m glad that was one of the outcomes because if it does shift the mindset about diversity and inclusion, that’s really good. I suppose one of the objectives of that particular workshop is to help people understand that, as it says in the title of the workshop, diversity includes everyone. It’s not about those people over there at arm’s length, it’s something that we all need to take responsibility for, particularly if we hold power and privilege within an organisation.

As Michelle said if it opens up people’s eyes, we can then explore things like bias, privilege and micro-aggressions and understand how different behaviours can help you grow as an organisation and how it aligns with your values. One thing I’ve really enjoyed about working with Agility in Mind is that after we’ve done these activities, the organisation has then gone off and done some great things. One of the first things on the back that happened from that diversity inclusion workshop was Agility in Mind created their diversity charter. I liked that because it was setting out what diversity and inclusion means for the organisation.

I was keen to explore this a bit further because I think it’s such a powerful tool. If you are reading this, imagine a wheel which is split into three sections: empowerment, respect and belonging. I asked Michelle to explain more about the process of how that wheel was created.

‘We work together as a whole team, so it was important to us that we got everybody that works at Agility in Mind was involved in that whole discussion and we gathered views and opinions. We started by the creation of a mural board and got everybody’s thoughts and ideas onto the board. Then we thought about different areas and what’s important to us which narrowed it down by categorising things. So for empowerment, we’ve got two sub-headings; one is that we provide safe working environments for our team. The other is that we support our internal and external members to do their best work. We went through that process for each of the three areas on the wheel we, looking at everybody’s views and opinions and then trying to categorise them. So yes, very much a team effort and involvement in its creation because it needs to be ongoing. It’s not just a tick box, as if we’ve done that, we’ve done our DEI bit. We do need to be living those values. In our everyday activities we need to be reflecting on what we’ve said and what we’ve committed to, not just to ourselves as individuals, but us as a company, all of the employees, and then all of our stakeholders as well, so customers and the like.’

It was a good process to go through to make sure that the whole team was involved because it was inclusive. I think it’s important that if you’re creating a diversity charter you do so in an inclusive way. I like how it’s structured. As Michelle said, at the top level, there are three areas: empowerment, respect and belonging. Each of those has got two subsections. So, for example, under empowerment, there’s a commitment to provide safe working environments for our team. And what is cool is that you’ve set certain behaviours that are expected within that domain. For example, there are statements like, “We are comfortable sharing our views without fear of being judged, and we respect other people’s views even if we don’t agree”. I think it’s a powerful tool.

Michelle agreed. ‘I often go back and reflect on what’s in there as a reminder of what it’s about. As I said earlier, it’s not there just to tick a box to say we’ve done that. The important thing is now we need to be living that so it’s very much embedded within our culture. As we bring new people on board when they join the team, we make sure they are fully aware of our DEI charter and know it sits alongside and complements our values. It’s what we believe in and how we want to be as an organisation. We make that explicit right at the start of new employees’ journeys as well. It lets them know that this is us as a company, and we want to be a great place to work. We want to be fully inclusive, so we need all employees to be on board with this fully.’

As well as creating the Agility in Mind DEI Charter, the workshops were also a springboard for further discussions in the business. I remember a follow-on session looking at how there might be bias within the way that projects are resourced. We had a couple of conversations about the process, from when a potential client makes an approach, through who gets involved with the bidding process and ultimately who gets assigned to a client project. We mapped out that process to see whether that helps advance their careers, where there could potentially be systemic bias and how we could improve things as well.

Michelle recalled sitting in on another workshop that looked at recruitment and the whole employee journey from the early recruitment stage all the way through. She said, ‘We looked at how we place our ads. During that review, we thought there was unconscious bias, which wasn’t something that we thought about until we had those sessions. now we’ve gone away and reviewed our ad and tweaked it, so it has become more inclusive. Whilst there was no intent to not be inclusive, through some of the language that we’d used might exclude certain people. For example, if we’d asked for five years’ experience, Toby’s workshops highlighted that some females may look at something and think, Well, actually it says five years’ experience, so that’s what I need,” whereas somebody else might go, “I’ve only got three, that’s sufficient.” So, we’ve reworded certain documents and things on our website to make sure that they are more inclusive than they were. But it was great, as I say, to have those sessions very much opened our eyes to what we can be doing better.’

For me what’s interesting is the things that were identified through the workshop process were small tweaks. It wasn’t about overhauling the whole recruitment process. Agility in Mind is a small organisation and doesn’t need to recruit hundreds of people every year, but those small adjustments have quite a big impact.

Another thing we did together was to create the Inclusive Growth Playbook, which is out there for anybody to download from the website if they want to. I asked Michelle if she could talk about why Agility in Mind wanted to create that playbook.

‘Well, it was to help us as an organisation and other people understand what’s going on out there really. We worked with a research house to conduct a study with 250 businesses to understand what they’ve got in place with their DEI initiatives and what help and support organisations may need to become truly inclusive.

Some of the results were surprising, I guess, and some less so. But what it was a springboard for us to think about, “Okay, where are these organisations on their journey? What could they be doing? What could we be doing to make sure that we have become more inclusive?” That data and thinking with you, Toby, about what we could do led us to set out some steps for change as part of that Inclusive Growth Playbook.

Organisations could go to it as a free resource and have a look at the ways that they could start their change for more inclusivity within the organisation. It’s interesting data that we captured and it’s a really good read, the Inclusive Growth Playbook.’

If you want to get your hands on the free-to-download Agility in Mind Inclusive Growth Playbook a comprehensive report with some great strategies for organisations to think about, just click here. It’s freely available on the Agility in Mind website for anyone and you don’t even need to put in an email address.

Hopefully, you’ve taken away some interesting information and hints and tips that you can start to put in place in your organisation. Over the next few weeks and months, Toby will be sitting down with other clients to learn more about how they’ve got on, what they’ve been implementing and some of the best practices that they’ve unearthed within their organisations.

Does your company have a great diversity and inclusion strategy, and an amazing work culture where productivity is peaking? Are the best talents in your industry working for you? Do all your employees feel happy and included, don’t read on.

But if you feel that your company is lacking in any one of these areas, then your employer reputation is taking a hit. Toby Mildon is one of the UK’s leading diversity and inclusion experts, who has helped top companies like Deloitte, the BBC, Sony Pictures and Centrica who want an outstanding inclusive culture.

To go further in your diversity and inclusion journey, start by logging on to Toby’s free webinar and accelerate your company’s diversity and inclusion strategy in just 40 minutes. Alternatively, reach out to the team directly through the Mildon website.

Agility in Mind - Mildon