The Diversity and Inclusion Evolution of Reed Talent Solutions

This episode features Lee Gudgeon the Managing Director of Reed Talent Solutions talking about the evolution of the diversity and inclusion journey that Reed Talent Solutions is on. The conversation covers what he has learned along the way and the part that he’s played in his role as an executive sponsor.

Lee Gudgeon the Managing Director of Reed Talent Solutions joined me for this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. Our conversation will cover the diversity and inclusion journey that Reed Talent Solutions has been on, and Lee’s role in that. To get us started I thanked Lee for joining me and asked him to let me know a bit more about himself, his background and what he does at Reed Talent Solutions.

‘Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here. First of all, I am a husband and a father of three. That’s probably my primary role. Second, I’ve become a father to the six hundred people who work for me in Reed Talent Solutions. There’s a slight joke within that, but hopefully, we’ve got an inclusive enough culture and sense of belonging and that’s how I am here for them to support them in their growth is the message I’m trying to give. Reed Talent Solutions is a business of contingent and permanent programmes as well as consulting within human capital in whatever shape or form is the way I describe it.

Reed has several businesses, the online business and the agency business, but the Reed Talent Solutions business provides talent solutions, be they, contingent, permanent, or consulting right across the talent ecosystem. I’ve been in the staffing industry for 25 years, worked in New Zealand for seven or eight years and in the UK now for 19 to 2 years, with 14 years at Reed.

So having the international experience, probably having been exposed to some discrimination myself, and having seen how many organisations approach diversity leaves us well placed to run our own programmes within our own business but also within the permanent solutions and particularly in consulting. We’re well equipped now to support clients both from a learned and experienced perspective but also looking forward.’

Reed Talent Solutions has been on a diversity and inclusion journey which has been broken down into different phases. Lee has said to me previously that the business is currently at the evolution phase. I asked him, ‘What were the earlier phases? What did you do in those phases and what did you learn?’

‘The earliest phase was about women in leadership. That was very public in the press and, most people were focused on equity as part of the gender-inclusive characteristic. It set a bit of a model for how we might bring into focus the challenges that different, protected characteristics face and also an early model of how to drive success.

So what did we do? We went external for advice. We participated in many external and internal sessions and webinars. Then internally we set up working groups with leaders and ambassadors from the senior leaders, from the female groups to promote the work.

I would say my early learns was you need the whole population represented in those groups. So, if you’ve got a board sponsor and some champions and a whole lot of allies in a particular characteristic and you’re looking to educate people and take them on a journey about what people from certain characteristics go through, you need a breadth of people on that team. There’s no point in only women being on the women in leadership team – you need to have men on the women in leadership team to ensure they understand, they learn and they promote that within their business. Ensuring that it is part of the everyday conversation would be an early learn.

What did we do after that? We did originally set some targets, which I think was a mistake. It’s a mistake because you’re either looking to force people out of positions, but particularly in where we classified senior leader’s role, even your senior leader’s role, you haven’t typically got as much attrition as you might have in some of the more entry-level roles. I know that’s typical, rather than in every case, but we don’t have a high turnover in that population. So if you set yourself a target to have a percentage of people in place in 12 months, but not one person leaves to increase that percentage, it’s quite a challenge.

There was also nothing about quotas. The female population did not want quotas. They didn’t want percentages, they wanted to earn a job on their own merits and age. We saw some of our clients’ force situations on us where a percentage of people on the shortlist needed to be female, but the integrity kind of went away a little bit. You’ve got to get the attraction part right to get that. So I think one of the other early learn is quotas and numbers are forced. What you need to do when you’re talking about those types of programmes and ensure that the mechanisms that achieve the results are in place to ensure we can achieve that.

So how did we get there? What did we do? We did a lot of webinars, we had the various board sponsors, we had champions, we had allies and we made it an everyday conversation. Then from there, we then walked into all of the other protective characteristics. I’m going back maybe seven years now, but we then started with a much stronger focus on the race and ethnicity population, which was commonly mistaken by all sorts of companies as diversity. Diversity is much more than race and ethnicity, but it had such a high profile compared to the other characteristics that that it dominated a diversity agenda for some time.

There was a learn there and this is probably where diversity and inclusion became equity, diversion, inclusion, or equality, diversion, inclusion and then belonging came. Only yesterday I heard my first JEDI: justice, equity, diversity, inclusion. So diversity and inclusion continues to evolve from what I think those early stages were about where diversity was almost really about race and ethnicity. Part of that evolution in some way, shape, or form is being there for that continued education. However, the initial model that we set up for women in leadership was what we started to replicate for all of the other characteristic groups.

We had to think about it in two forms, what we do for our own working population and then what we do for our clients. But bear in mind that to be in a position where we can advise and drive programmes for our clients we have to have our own house in order.

I’m kind of pleased and I can say with authenticity that we were early adopters. I wouldn’t claim that we were pioneers, but we were very early adopters of all of the programmes that are needed from the board sponsors, allies, champions and the shadow board as well, to make sure that effectively we are driving EDI&B, which is our term.’

Following on from Lee’s reflection on being in the evolution phase of the journey, I asked Lee what the focus is on right now.

‘I am saying that we’re at the evolution phase and I’ll talk for ourselves first and then I’ll talk generally about what we do for our clients. But as an evolution phase, I’m saying we have a diverse workforce and that’s good. We’ve got over a third of our population that comes from an ethnic background. We’ve got greater percentages than all of the national averages in all the inclusive characteristics. So what I would say, evolution is from some of the original programmes – so women in leadership, maybe even race and ethnicity, and we had to reflect, “Okay, we’ve been doing that for seven years now. Things need to change.”

Everything evolves, right? If nothing changes, nothing changes. But also, the only thing that’s constant is change. So probably it’s a bit of a refresher of some of those programmes, which is why I say we have to evolve and improve what we’re doing. So that’s evolutionary. But I think the other major learn, which is probably a bit more transformational and potentially more complex is we now have a diverse workforce. So, if we’ve worked on our employee value proposition, which we have, if we worked on our ability to attract, engage and onboard a diverse team, how do you then get the best of the diverse team?

‘We’ll talk about inclusive people growth later on. But one of the major benefits of inclusivity is you should be able to grow your business more. Apart from the equity programme and the social governance that corporates have a responsibility towards, there is a lot of evidence that a diverse team drives growth within your business. So if you’ve got this team, how do you drive growth? How do you maximize that team to drive growth?

We think the biggest part we need to evolve is the ability of our leadership team to foster a multi-generational, multi-race, multi-sexual orientation, gender balance etc. for all the communities. How do you get the very best out of them? I’ll just give you some practical examples.

You’re 25-years-old and you’re a relatively new leader and you’ve got someone at 77 working for you. How does that work? Have you got the skills to do that? Because with their life experience and all the scenarios they’re going to bring to the table, you want to draw that out in an authentic manner, without feeling intimidated. How does a leadership team take on, let’s just say for argument’s sake, six different opinions and then bring that team together on one collective journey? That’s going to be a challenge.

So, I guess we’ve done the recruitment, we’ve done the branding and it’s about how do we now equip our leadership team to make sure that they can grow the business whilst everybody feels like they belong. That they can voice their opinion, but they’re also in line with the strategy. I think the other thing I’d say about evolution is whilst we’re on a journey of evolution, I think the general population needs to come some way to evolve as well. I think if we take diversity as a fact, as in, we have a diverse population, so ultimately that’s a fact that equity is a bit of a choice.

Inclusion is an action, but I think one will be bold enough to say is inclusion is an action for everybody. I think typically the responsibilities sort of sat on the white middle-aged male, typically to make sure they are more inclusive. If we’ve gone through the recruitment phase, then we’ve got a diverse team. I think that inclusiveness now has to fall upon everybody to make sure that they are also inclusive and that they are taking ownership of becoming part of the strategy and also taking on everybody else’s opinion. So, I think it’s a shift in responsibility from a certain population and the employer to people to also take ownership of being included. And then if everybody can do that and if we’ve got the right leadership team, we’ve got the diverse team, you’d like to think the outcome is a strong sense of belonging, which then drives growth.’

I know that Lee has been an executive sponsor for various groups over the last few years. I asked him, ‘What have you personally learned from being an executive sponsor and why do you think businesses should be enabling executive sponsors to support different groups of people within the workplace?’

‘I have been an exec sponsor and I have been a mentor. I’ve been an exec sponsor for the race and ethnicity group. I’ve been an exec sponsor for the disability group and I’m now an exec sponsor for age. I don’t just mean the 50-plus, which might be considered the ageing workforce. I think we now try and say age is something for everybody we know. Don’t discriminate against somebody who’s 19 going into a leadership role based on experience. You’re looking at all sorts of ages.

I’ve been doing this for a while now, so what have I learned and how long have we got? But if I were to summarise, I think to complement the learning, an exec sponsor has to go through the reverse mentoring too. I currently have reverse mentoring with a gentleman named Ian McLeod. He’s our champion for our LGBTQIA+ population. And he’s an expert in EDI&B. So the reverse mentoring and the board sponsorship, I suppose it just opens up your eyes to people’s perceptions of the reality. It also opens your eyes to some really basic things. One of my good colleagues who’s from the LGBTQIA+ community, he won’t always go to the same holiday destinations that I would pick because of the response he would get from some of the locals. The UK is a very progressive country. If you compare us to some of the Asian or Middle Eastern or African continents’ diversity and inclusion, we are far more progressed.

So you’d have to pick a holiday choice, which is not something I would typically have had to consider because of my sexual orientation. Maybe from a safety perspective, but not just for that reason, it goes right through to history since history does shape people’s thinking. If you look at the Black Lives Matter group, when I was early sponsoring the race and ethnicity characteristic, I learned an awful lot about Black history and Black Lives Matter because that emotion is really strong. It was powerful at the period of time when I was doing it as well so you learn a lot. You have to channel some of that emotion into the right areas, but it’s really, it’s putting yourself in other people’s shoes from time to time that gives you a real sense of some of the challenges that we have to face about how people feel. And then in turn, thinking what we need to do to make sure that everybody’s given the same tools and options.’

I asked Lee, ‘What’s happening next for Reed? What’s the next phase of activity for you?’

‘The next phase, as I said earlier, means we are equipping our leaders to get the best out of teams. It’s a different leadership trait. So aside from the fact that we expect them to be experts in AI, consumption of data and all of the available technology, there is then a shift to the humanity that’s expected from leaders and the workplace now in terms of mental health and wellness programmes. That’s as well as the values and the ESG agenda that you should have. Incorporating that into leadership has changed an awful lot in terms of what we expect from a leader now and the skills that are needed. The EDI&B program is big.

I think you talk about inclusive growth and there’s good reason for it. I think what we want to do is ensure that we are and remain authentic. Our chairperson got a CBE for charitable causes this week. You may know that ranging from 20% of our profits goes to charities, right through to our purpose being to improve lives through work. Because a lot of what we do is work in some way, shape, or form for people. I hope the outcome is that we drive a sense of belonging and that we equip everybody with the same tools, therefore it’s upon them to drive equity. But I think what we’d really like to do is become educators and help other organisations. We are delivering some fantastic results already. Some of our clients did win awards last year for the impact we’ve had with them on EDI&B. But we have been short-listed and we have won awards for it. We’ve got women in engineering programmes. We’ve got women in tech programs specifically for our clients. We consult and we drive for the employer value proposition from that attraction stage through to onboarding. So I think we’d like to be known for really championing this course and become educators and trusted amongst our clients. That’s the next phase I’d like us to be focused on.’

It’s brilliant to hear Lee’s goal of the company really being trailblazers, leading the charge and inspiring other businesses to follow their suit. Lee has mentioned a couple of times already how diversity and inclusion drives growth, but I was interested to hear more about his perspective on the topic and I asked, ‘What does inclusive growth mean for you?’

‘I’ll start with my own business and then I think that can translate to others. Within our own business, there is very little of our income that is written through an individual’s expertise. So the need to collaborate is really strong. If you have the skills and the culture to drive collaboration from multiple points, and I know that sometimes it becomes hard to make a decision, but if you’ve got an efficient way where you’re empathetic, people can voice their ideas in a collaborative fashion then your product range, it should appeal to the masses.

What we know as fact is we have a diverse population. So, your product range needs to appeal to a diverse community or global population, but in our case the United Kingdom population. So I think if you don’t have a diverse team, that inclusivity is part of, how do you make sure that you’re appealing to the entire general public to retail or sale or by whatever means your consumers consume information and your products? Without that how do you make sure you get that mass appeal? So I guess I would say collaboration, make sure that we’ve got inclusivity, so we’ve got the right range of products and the right appeal to as many people as possible. Through that way of working, we share the right products with as many people as possible. Therefore, we grow our business.’

To learn more about how Reed Talent Solutions can support your organisation visit the website at

If you’d like to talk with Toby and his team at Mildon about getting tailored advice on your organisation’s diversity and inclusion journey, then get in touch via the website.

The Diversity and Inclusion Evolution of Reed Talent Solutions - Mildon