Diversity Includes Everyone at the Business Growth Fund

In this episode, I talk to Darren Duporte from the Business Growth Fund about the impact of the work we’ve been doing with the business, from workshops and developing the internal diversity action group, to individual coaching.

For this conversation, I was joined by one of my clients, Darren Duporte, who works for a company called the Business Growth Fund. Darren is the Talent Acquisition, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Lead. I’ve been doing several projects with him over the last few months, so I thought it’d be a great opportunity to bring Darren onto the podcast. I asked Darren to share what he does, how the Business Growth Fund or BGF have been advancing in its diversity and inclusion journey, as well as chat about some of the things that we’ve been doing together.

Before we got into the thick of the discussion about our joint projects, I asked Darren to share a bit more about himself, his role and what the Business Growth Fund is all about.

‘Absolutely. I work in BGF’s HR function, which is based out of London. I’ve been there just over a year and my mandate was to help BGF build high-performing teams, cultures, and environments by leveraging equity, diversity, and inclusion. That work is both for the business and how it functions but thinking about how that can transfer into investing into high-growth potential businesses and helping them to be able to reach their potential.’

One of the first bits of work that Darren and I did together was rolling out our Diversity Includes Everyone Workshop. We’ve been doing that as part of the BGF Leadership Development programme and as part of the diversity and inclusion network. We talked a bit more about the network later on but first of all, I asked Darren why he had asked Mildon to come in to deliver a workshop and what were some of the things that were covered.

Darren said, ‘When you’re fresh into a business and you’re looking at EDI, holistically, you’re trying to understand where the business is with it. So in a business such as BGF where you have 15 offices across the UK and Islands, they are all different sizes, with different functions and obviously the communities they’re in are also very different. From what I could see, perhaps like many businesses, they probably started from a point of compliance and unconscious bias training, things of that sort. I was keen to move their level of maturity on a little bit to understanding that this isn’t just a morally right thing to do or a thing that you shouldn’t get wrong in case you get into trouble but actually being able to understand the value add and how this can help us set both commercial goals as well as employees being happier with the environments they’re in. The approach Mildon takes to inclusive growth aligned with a lot of the values of the business. I think it embodies an adding value approach rather than taking just a compliance approach.’

I agreed with Darren that it was a perfect alignment because the company’s called the Business Growth Fund and the business is all about investing in and growing businesses, and my book is ‘Inclusive Growth’. So, I think we were on the same page in that a more diverse, more inclusive culture can help businesses thrive and perform better and ultimately grow.
And my background of working in companies like Accenture, the BBC, and Deloitte has definitely helped too since I understand how corporates work and how to effect change in an organisation.

Darren added, ‘What was also similar is that the Inclusive Growth philosophy aligned with our values. And yes, your background meant it was easier to speak the language of some of our audience – people who tend to come from accountancy-type backgrounds, banking, investment banking and corporate finance. I guess that track record of delivering this sort of stuff to similar sorts of audiences and professions, speaks directly to what we are trying to do here and how we can go about doing that.’

Another key point and I’m pretty open with these sorts of conversations, is my background. I’m a fairly young mixed heritage person. A background like yours, Toby, means you are able to cover some of the unknown spots that perhaps I have. Then I know the rest of the business. A lot of the lenses that are looked through traditionally in most businesses tend to be pretty similar, like gender. I guess with my lived experience, maybe from socioeconomic background and ethnicity and then we could add your experience and perspectives. I thought that was powerful and made it a more rounded conversation.’

As Darren said, the Diversity Includes Everyone workshop that we did was trying to move away from compliance like Darren was saying. It was all about helping people understand that diversity really does include everybody. It’s not about those people over there at arm’s length distance which I think can often lead to people feeling like, well, this just isn’t a topic for me or it doesn’t apply to me.

It looks at how managers create and role model the behaviours that create inclusive work environments for teams. Once we’ve had that conversation, we do a deep dive into what we mean by bias, privilege, and micro incivilities or microaggressions. Then we finish off the conversation by asking questions like “How does a more inclusive culture help your organisation grow? What does that growth look like? How does it align with and support your stated values?”

I was curious to learn from Darren some of the early signs or results that have been seen from that workshop having been rolled out a few times.

‘One of the early signs was seeing different demographics that hadn’t engaged before leaning in. To be perfectly honest, I’ve seen this across many businesses and BGF is no different. I guess you can get White men, especially if they’re heterosexual or just fit in, that feel they’re excluded from the conversation or it’s not about them and they don’t have a voice. I guess understanding better that diversity includes everybody and everybody has their differences helps everyone to feel they are part of it all. It helps them understand they have an important role to play and their voices do count. I think that is helpful.

I think also holding up the mirror a little bit too. Take where we talked around words like ‘privilege’. A lot of people tend to be quite scared of those words because people think, “Well, my life hasn’t been easy and I’ve worked hard to get where I am. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth.” There are all these misconceptions about what privilege is and people get quite defensive. But once you’re able to break that down like in the workshops, people understand the context and what it means. It touched on some key points around equity. It allowed for real discovery and quality conversations where we could move beyond that initial point of resistance.’

I’m glad to hear that some of those conversations are starting to happen within the company. The other bit of work that we did together for BGF was working with the relatively new diversity network. I asked Darren to explain a bit about what that network does and why he wanted Mildon to come in to work with the network.

‘BGF has had 15 offices across the UK and Ireland with around 184 people that work for us. I understood quite quickly that the ERG network model probably wasn’t quite appropriate because of the size and separation in terms of geographies that we have. There was a lot of passion and interest in moving the dial around all things diversity and inclusion, so, we created a diversity action group. It probably acts more like a committee than a network. And I guess from my previous experience, both with networks and committees is that you need to bring people together in terms of a new group so lots of different people and functions are represented.

The way it’s created is through function so that we can build ED&I by design into our everyday ways of working through systems and processes. When you bring in such a broad group of people, bringing Toby in, helped support that bonding. Aligning everybody on their why, in terms of engagement, all of this stuff that you’d expect as a new group, but to also focus the mind around what we wanted to achieve and the objectives within that group, grounded in reality.

Because there are different people and you have to meet them where they are. They hold different expectations. You get some people that think that we can solve it in six months. Others perhaps don’t think it’s something that really can be achieved. Getting everybody aligned to one mission and equipping them with some baseline tools and resources helped us to go out and enact this change. Those few sessions that Toby originally ran made a big difference.’

To recap, we got the whole action group together and we spent a couple of hours together one morning. I know we did lots of different exercises. Some of it was about envisioning why the group exists and looking at the purpose of the group. We went all the way through to some of the practical stuff, asking “What does an effective group look like? What does an effective group do, before, during, and after its meetings to have the maximum impact?” Having run some of these sessions with the diversity action group, I wondered what are some of the early success signs Darren might be seeing.

‘I think trust is the big key one, right? Sometimes there’s a mistrust that questions whether people do believe in this stuff or do they just align themselves to it because it looks good. Those early sessions really kept the group together. You could clearly see the kind of personal connection that people have to this stuff and why it’s important to them. That trust was built quite early, which I think has helped with the running and chairing of the group. I think the focus on impact and the synergies between actions across the group and businesses helped because this is not a group that is just talking about stuff generally. It’s not just about HR and recruitment, it is about facilities, marketing, the deal cycle – everything we do.

It’s been great to see advancements across all of those areas. I’m aware we’re moving at slightly different paces and requiring support from different areas to be able to realise that progress. It’s probably only been about four months or so, but I think the group is functioning very well. Motivation is high and we’re already starting to enact some change, which is slightly quicker than perhaps we anticipated.’

It was good to hear that feedback from Darren. I’m glad that the group are making an impact because when I met them, I felt that they were a highly motivated bunch of people who want to make a positive difference in the firm. Now, the last bit of work was some one-to-one coaching. It’s a bit of a leading question, but I wanted to know how Darren has found the coaching as an HR professional himself.

‘It takes a little bit of adjustment, right? In a lot of the jobs I’ve done, I’ve tended to be in these standalone roles. You have to try to figure it out, with people coming to you as the person that is the sole source of information and guidance and advice. It’s been liberating to have somebody else whom you can throw ideas around with and get their advice and views to sense-check the way that you are going about stuff. It was nice to feel that you have somebody else on your side that can help advise and guide you. Sometimes that’s confirmation, sometimes that’s pulling you back a little bit and giving you time to really think and reflect. So for me, it’s been really helpful as a great use of support and my own development.’

I suppose my coaching style is that I lead with coaching but then at a point, I’m happy to share my personal experiences and thoughts. Having worked in different organisations and in my work with lots of clients across lots of different sectors, there is lots of best practice that I can share with my clients. Coaching is very powerful because the premise of coaching is that everyone already has the answers somewhere within them, they just need somebody to help pull those solutions out and I can share some best practice afterwards too.

Darren said, ‘I’d add that Toby has a good balance between support and challenge. Again with the space I am in where sometimes you’re seen as the all-knowing source of information, you don’t get many people that push back too strongly. It’s nice to have somebody that can do that because there are times where that’s necessary.

I like the reminder to meet people where they are. I guess sometimes when you’re entrenched in this stuff and you’re having similar conversations or challenges over and over again, sometimes you can feel that this stuff is self-explanatory. I guess there’s almost an element of impatience, whereas I think Toby’s been good at helping me to step back at times by saying, “You have to meet people where they are and it shouldn’t be a given that this is obvious. Taking a bit more time to reflect or to let people come on that journey could be beneficial in the long run.” It’s been helpful to get that perspective. Sometimes when you’re so deep into something, sometimes you lose that.’

Darren makes a good point. I do think when we’re working on diversity and inclusion, we get so ingrained in the detail it’s very easy for us to take for granted that we know exactly what we mean when we talk about bias or privilege or anti-racism or you name it. It’s easy to forget that other people in their day-to-day work just don’t think about this stuff day-to-day. It is important that you meet them where they’re at and then hold their hand on that journey going forward. I wondered if there was anything Darren had learned from the work that we’ve done together, whether it the Diversity Includes Everyone Workshop, the work that we’ve done with the diversity action group or our one-to-one coaching.

‘The learnings and feedback from the Diversity Includes Everyone kind of workshops was interesting. Delivering that across a number of different levels in different groups, it was interesting to see how each of those groups interacted with that stuff differently. I guess some of the polls and stuff around how people felt or their experiences or their engagement, were insightful in terms of how we build a cohesive ED&I strategy for these different groups. Again, it highlights the need to not have a one size fits all but to take a tailored approach because it says a lot of these demographics and people have different views and experiences and will have different needs. So it was just interesting to see, especially as somebody externally coming to do this stuff, where naturally that relationship is quite different from us trying to get that information as an internal HR function. There were lessons taken away from that around some things that perhaps we didn’t think were as much of an issue or challenge, whether it was knowledge or people’s perceptions, that was really helpful.’

We wrapped up with me thanking Darren for making time to talk to me in what I know is a very busy work schedule.

Darren concluded by saying, ‘Toby’s help and support has been priceless in our journey and we’ve got a continued relationship with the coaching and other training. I’m sure Toby will be able to help us achieve our goal of being an inclusion and diversity leading light in the private equity and financial services market.’

If your company has a great diversity and inclusion strategy, an amazing work culture where productivity is peaking, where all the best talent in your industry are working for you and all your employees are happy and feel included, then feel free to stop reading now. But if you feel that your company is lacking in any one of these areas, 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, as well as many other businesses that want an outstanding inclusive culture. To accelerate your company’s diversity and inclusion strategy in 40 minutes log on to Toby’s free webinar at http://www.mildon.co.uk/free-webinar

Alternatively to arrange tailored support for your organisation’s diversity and inclusion journey, then please do reach out through the website, which is www.mildon.co.uk.

Diversity Includes Everyone at the Business Growth Fund - Mildon