Event recap: how to create an inclusive environment in a technical organisation

In May, UK Government Communications Department’s Women in Technology (WiTTY) and KPMG’s Women in Aerospace and Defence networks delivered a joint event to discuss “how to create an inclusive environment in a technical organisation”. This topic is very close to department’s heart and critical to ensuring that they continue to make the UK a safer place. They asked KPMG to collaborate with them and to share their breadth of experience, given their own inclusion journey so far and the work that they’ve done with clients around the world.

This interactive session was jointly facilitated by experienced and inspiring leaders from across industry, including government department director cyber, Sally, KPMG’s global head of technology, Lisa Heneghan, and the director of bioscience valuation, Dr. Sabine Bernotat. Sabine represented the HBA, its core values integrity, engagement and commitment to gender parity and business networks. These facilitators worked with the audience of 50 delegates from across the communications department to identify the key challenges they’re facing, share approaches that have worked in other organisations, and what the participants could do to make a tangible difference to their organisation.

Government Communications Department have made big strides forward in terms of diversity in recent years, but this event was to begin a change in conversation towards inclusivity. The key was to ensure that everyone left with measurable and tangible actions, and that everyone had the opportunity to share experiences and learn from each other, regardless of their home organisation.

Kirsty, WiTTY’s chair, and Alastair Loasby, from KPMG’s Women in Aerospace and Defence network, helped to organise this event, and were interviewed by Dr. Sabine Bernotat. If you’d like more information, please contact Dr. Sabine Bernotat or KPMG’s Women in ADI network.

Government Department have made significant progress towards improving the diversity of their workforce, including improving the representation of genders, ethnicities and disabilities. There is now the desire to create a more inclusive working environment. Why is inclusion important?

Kirsty: Inclusion and diversity is critical to our mission success. A more diverse workforce means a greater breadth of perspectives, experiences and ideas, whilst inclusivity allows that workforce to be at their best. If the environment is inclusive, we will all feel comfortable enough to genuinely contribute fully and to be more creative. To put it simply, maximising inclusion and diversity means that we’ll maximise our impact on national security.

Alastair: I completely agree with Kirsty. The benefits of inclusion and diversity have been proven time and again. For example, McKinsey’s Diversity Matters paper showed that UK companies with 10% higher than average gender and ethnic/racial diversity on management teams saw earnings 6% higher than average. The same can be shown globally and regardless of industry because of the power of diversity of thought.

What inspires your leadership to take ownership of this next step?

K: At our department, we’re lucky that our leadership understands the need for inclusivity. Over the last few years, there has been more education, and diversity and inclusion objectives are now part of their annual performance reviews as a result. The challenge is to help them live those values and to ensure that the rest of the organisation is just as engaged.

A: Some of the comments from senior leadership really impressed me during this event. They clearly want to see a more inclusive and diverse organisation, and they lead in a really authentic way. Unfortunately some said that may not necessarily be a reflection of the rest of the workforce. We talked about lots of possible solutions to this, but the change has to be owned and driven by the leadership before many of the staff will get engaged. For example, inclusion and diversity is a regular agenda item for KPMG’s ExCo board, all of our diversity initiatives are sponsored by a partner, and everybody, from the senior partner to our newest apprentice, is measured against our values from their first day.

How will the leadership engage across the organisation during these times of significant change?

K: During this event, we agreed that everyone is a leader. If nothing else, we all lead and manage ourselves and inspire our colleagues. That means that we all need to act as champions for this change and we all need to be committed. If each person takes ownership and is inclusive, the organisation will be too. Change starts with you.

If you’re at the start of your career, you can make a big contribution to the inclusivity of your team by acting as role model, praising positive behaviour and challenging the negative. More senior managers have committed to publicly advocating their support through events and blogs, by mentoring key individuals, and by holding their teams to account for their behaviour.

It’s been shown that women benefit from formal networks to share experiences and address concerns. How is this supported at Government Department?

K: There is a lot of support of all our different diversity and inclusion initiatives – networks or otherwise. The leadership really buy in to this agenda and are happy to allocate us a budget and allow us time to make the difference that we need to see. Inclusivity will only become a reality when we all pull in the same direction, but having a leadership, whether of a team or the whole department, which drives that agenda from the top is critical and hugely valuable.

How would you describe the change that you’ve seen since this event?

K: As we said, this event was only ever designed to change the conversation, and we’ve certainly seen that. Since last month, we’ve held a cross-department Open House that encouraged people who don’t normally come to diversity events to come along and ask those questions they’ve never felt comfortable asking before. Our Diversity Officers have written a series of blogs on the definition and impact of inclusivity. Our Government Department Director also asked to see a write-up of this event, and is now leading a piece of work to refresh our values, which we have all had the opportunity to contribute to.
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