As always, a panel of highly established and well recognised professionals were invited to speak at the event to share their experiences and knowledge with the elite of the health and safety world. After some energetic networking and brief introductions, delegates took to their seats to learn more about the topic at hand – diversity and inclusion.
Diversity refers to any dimension used to differentiate people from one another and moves beyond gender and ethnicity, also referring to age, disability, sexual orientation and religion. So why is this important to consider in the workplace?
Organisations employing a diverse workforce will have access to a range of skills and experiences, with employees offering unique talents and ideas that are adaptable to fluctuating markets and demand. Many high profile organisations in the UK (such as Crossrail) have embraced diversity and inclusion and have publicised the improvements and benefits they have seen as a result. The event enabled attendees from both the HSE Leaders Connect network and Women in Health and Safety Forum to learn more about this topic, how and why it can benefit them and their organisation.
An introduction to the event was made by the evening’s illustrious host and Director of HSE Recruitment Network, Chris Rowlands. Chris spoke of the success of HSE Leaders Connect and WIHS groups, referring to the achievements made in their respectfully short lifespans of just 12 and 18 months. As highlighted by Roz Sanderson (editor at UBM and brains behind WIHS), the partnership between these two groups has proven to be a great success and enables professionals to not only learn more about their industry but to encourage diversity in the workplace and challenge themselves to be better leaders.
First to speak was Joel Blake, advising his audience that when it comes to diversity and inclusion “it starts in the mind”. Joel started his career as a diversity consultant, gaining more than 15 years’ experience and has since been recognised for his entrepreneurial work, recently rewarded with an OBE. Joel strives to get people to think outside of the box when it comes to all aspects of diversity and inclusion and he certainly invited attendees to do so with his very first question:
“What do you think my ethnicity is?”
A room of more than 70 professionals fell silent for a moment and as some began to quietly make suggestions – some right and some wrong – it became obvious that Joel’s point was that diversity is about perception. The way in which we perceive each other is based on our own personal experiences and the conditions in which we’ve developed as human beings. Questions such as this aim to strip away our ideals and to open our minds, which is a concept that is equally as applicable to entire organisations in order to develop a diverse and inclusive culture. Which in itself raised the following question:
“When will diversity and inclusion become the norm?”
First we must recognise that the world of business has changed. Organisations are no longer simply next door to their biggest competitor – we are competing with diverse organisations on a global scale and competitors are often not who you’d expect them to be. So, how does this impact diversity? Changes within the economy, in agriculture and in technology directly impact diversity by the ways in which an organisation uses them – each of these acts as an enabler and creates opportunities.
Joel advised the delegates to recognise vulnerability as a strength, to have a clear vision for their organisation, to encourage honest conversation and to ensure commitment to deliver the strategy, achieving a truly inclusive and diverse workforce. We must embrace change, as “change is critical but not changing is fatal”.
Joel’s final quote led us seamlessly to our second speaker for the evening, an advocate for change within the health and safety department at Crossrail. Pamela McInroy is the Diversity and Inclusion Specialist, specifically embedded within the health and safety function in order to “create a work environment where all persons are represented equally”.
Pamela explained the relevance of this type of role specifically within the health and safety team, as many ask “how can diversity impact your health and safety?” Unfortunately, there was an incident close to home that was the tragic result of issues around language barriers – an employee at Crossrail spoke very little English and was not aware he was in a ‘no access’ area.
This highlights that we are all affected by risks and should benefit from effective health and safety management, therefore it should not be exclusive to those with rights and privileges as this fails to keep minorities within a diverse workforce safe.
This a key reason for making diversity and inclusion a focus area within a health and safety function and within her role at Crossrail, Pamela has recognised the extensive theory and policy behind this and has utilised the information at hand to drive cultural change. This has included the Bradley Curve:
The Bradley Curve is a model that shows that by enabling employees to take ownership and responsibility not only for their own but for their team’s safety, they will strive to proactively take steps to minimise risk and will see ‘zero incidents’ as a choice rather than an unrealistic aim.
Pamela and the team also developed a matrix and climate survey, using tailored questions that allowed them to gain the experiences of the operatives working across an entire project. These models included criteria to address minorities and concerns around health and safety, such as how excluded do they feel and what would make them feel safe on site – for example, female construction workers expressed specific concerns around their personal safety as a minority on site. When results were collated and implemented on site with the required changes made, performance improved and there was a clear positive change in culture. Pamela makes a strong argument for the need to embed diversity and inclusion within a health and safety function, as there is very much a place for it – if not a genuine need for it.
Joining Pamela for the lively Q&A session was Aaron Reid – a sustainable procurement and EDI specialist with an extensive history of senior roles within the field of equality, diversity and inclusion. He is currently the lead on Balfour Beatty’s UK Sustainable Procurement Strategy and its award-winning supplier diversity programme and has previously worked with blue chip organisations to adopt good practice in equality, diversity and inclusion.
Aaron highlighted his experiences as a specialist in this field, particularly in reference to his time within the construction industry and has worked with well established organisations such as Balfour Beatty and Carillion. In his experience, diversity and inclusion is effectively implemented and established within an organisation that takes the time to get to know and understand the workforce.
When asked, “how do you know when you’ve achieved diversity and inclusion in your organisation?”, neither Aaron nor Pamela could provide a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer – unfortunately. Achieving this can essentially be recognised by the leaders within the organisation and those that have been empowered within the workforce.
In the Q&A session and throughout the evening, the speakers echoed the message and importance of EDI being influenced and implemented by the people within an organisation – not just those at board level but at all levels within the workforce. It is the responsibility of each individual to be open-minded and honest when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
The event was yet another great success and was a fantastic way to bring 2016 to a close. 2017 looks to be an exciting year for the team at HSE Recruitment Network and we look forward to the continued growth and success of HSE Leaders Connect.
This article was originally published by HSE Recruitment Network.