Diversity & Inclusion
June 24, 2021

Toby Mildon: Building a culture of diversity & inclusion

June 24, 2021
Citi Private Bank
Group meeting

Toby Mildon is one of the UK's leading diversity and inclusion architects and author of Inclusive Growth. He helps organizations develop action plans to help them make a lasting, positive difference in the workplace.

What does inclusion mean to you?
Inclusion is about ensuring that everyone has equal access to opportunities and can participate. In the workplace, inclusion is about creating an environment where people can be their best selves and thrive. In such an environment, employees don’t have to hide any part of themselves or their identities.

What do you think leaders and businesses can do to make minority groups more accepted?
Here’s my top three actions for leaders and organizations.

Firstly, listen to employees. What barriers or issues mean their experience at work isn’t particularly inclusive? Don’t make assumptions without really listening to employees. It’s important to gather data and insights to help you grasp the challenges.

Secondly, as a senior leader, invest in your own personal development and education. Diversity and inclusion can be a difficult topic for some senior leaders to discuss if they don’t really understand the issues. But you can educate yourself through reading or by getting a coach or mentor.

Lastly, organizations can shift their mindset around diversity and inclusion. Many businesses focus on certain groups of people. So, they will have a plan around,  say women in leadership, because they have a clear gender imbalance. However, this is a very siloed way of thinking and ignores that we can each have multiple identities, such as both black and LGBT. This requires a mindset shift for many senior business leaders. They need to think about how they can embed diversity and inclusion into their corporate DNA via their processes, systems and culture.

It’s important to gather data and insights to help you grasp the challenges.
What are your top tips for designing an inclusivity infrastructure that boosts retention and keeps staff happy?

Good question. I think this is an example of how you need to think holistically about the corporate DNA.

It’s not “how do we keep our disabled staff happy and retained?” It’s “how do we keep everybody happy and retained and how do we do that in an inclusive way?” This begins by listening to your employees to find out what makes them unhappy. You need to gather data about how they are feeling and what makes them want to leave, and then work towards resolving those issues.

For example, if you look across the entire dataset, it might be that everyone is saying that they want to leave the organization because of their relationship with their manager. That would give you a hint that you need to invest in manager training. However, you might also find that people from ethnic minority backgrounds are having the same experience with a certain line manager and that calls for targeted action.

What are some of the things organizations should be measuring and monitoring on diversity and inclusion? 

There are two things here: measuring diversity and measuring representation. You can ask people their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, whether they have a disability or long-term health condition, you can measure social mobility and that kind of thing. But when it comes to measuring diversity, caution is needed or it can turn into a bit of a box-ticking exercise. Some people feel like measuring diversity and setting targets can lead to tokenism. And sometimes that isn’t the case, it’s just the perception.

When it comes to measuring diversity, I think the key thing is representation.

Are you or is your business representative of your customers, your local community and the city that you are based in? And is it representative of the talent pools available to you? That's one side of the coin.

The other side of the coin – and you cannot measure one without the other – is inclusion. There are different ways of measuring inclusion, but essentially what you want to measure is within your people. Do they feel they can bring as much of themselves as they want to the workplace, they are respected, they feel empowered and they can progress in the business?

So there are four key measures: progression, empowerment, respect and belonging.

When it comes to measuring diversity, I think the key thing is representation.
What challenges does remote working pose to building a culture of diversity and inclusion?

I think there are various challenges. People who are just joining the organization face a much tougher time building relationships, friendships and networks. Graduate recruits, for example, benefit hugely from face-to-face networking with seniors, being around the office, and overhearing what’s being said. So, creating a sense of belonging is clearly a challenge.

On the other hand, an increase in remote working has opened up opportunities for people who have disabilities. Previously, the commute to work was challenging. I’m a wheelchair user and when I lived in London, I used to work in the City. If it hadn’t been for government funding for taxis to and from work, I’d have had trouble getting from southwest London, because the subway was not particularly accessible.

As we approach the ‘new normal,’ organizations must ensure that people who prefer to work from home are not being excluded from the decision-making. I’m encouraging my clients to think carefully about how to keep communication open and transparent, how to include those not physically present.

What are the biggest challenges for the financial sector in creating a diverse and inclusive workforce?

There does need to be a particular focus on gender within the financial sector, as there have been some systemic issues here. But the challenges are not that dissimilar to those that most of my clients face and the challenges. In my book, I talk about seven key areas organizations need to focus on:

1. Lack of data and failure to base diversity and inclusion decisions on data.
2. Not focusing on culture enough and treating diversity and inclusion as a box-ticking exercise. It’s great to celebrate International Women’s Day, for example, but much more is needed to create the culture and behaviors of inclusion.
3.Failure to treat diversity and inclusion as a proper transformational exercise, which leads to frustration about lack of impact.
4. Not thinking about the employee experience and trying to fix individuals rather than the business processes and systems that are holding people back. You need to get to the heart of the problem.
5. Not having accessible and inclusive technologies, which is a big black hole for many organizations. Also, many companies are not taking advantage of technology that can provide employee data and insights.
6. Diversity and inclusion aren’t just the HR department’s responsibility, but a challenge for the whole business. You also need to see that outsourcing partners and your supply chain are aligned too. That way, you can help raise standards throughout your industry.

Celebration ahead of genuine achievement. Many companies focus on seeking diversity and inclusion awards and broadcasting their credentials, but for many of their employees these organizations remain not particularly inclusive places to work.The hard work comes first. Make your business genuinely inclusive and then celebrate.

The hard work comes first. Make your business genuinely inclusive and then celebrate.
What business benefits have you seen from increased diversity and inclusion?

I always ask the businesses I work with why they want diversity and inclusion, the problems they're trying to solve, and the benefits they expect to gain. Typically, they want increased employee engagement and hopefully then more retention. They also want to tap into new markets, come up with better solutions and provide better solutions for their already diverse customer bases. In addition, it’s about culture and the behaviors of people running the organization and how that trickles down through the business.

How do we create an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking out and asking?

This comes down to increasing psychological safety: creating a climate where people are not afraid to speak up when they see something wrong or they don’t agree with something. Practical steps include having a whistle-blowing or ethics hotline and other advisors you can go to if with concerns. Again, it comes down having a culture where people aren’t afraid to speak up, because they know there won’t be reprisals.

Do you think the pace of change and acceptance is fast enough?

Yes, things are changing, but this is something we must work at constantly. Inequity has been with us for so long and we have to recognize that change cannot happen overnight. Nevertheless, in organizations I’ve worked with, both senior leaders and their employees often feel frustrated by the slowness progress.

Personally, I feel that things have improved over the last 30 years. When I was a child, we didn’t have any measures to address disability discrimination. Today, though, people are more aware of disability and inclusion in the workplace. But we’ve still got a long way to go.

Inequity has been with us for so long and we have to recognize that change cannot happen overnight.
What can each of us do to challenge our thinking about diversity and inclusion?

Focus on things that you do not normally think about or encounter. How often do you get up in the morning and think about racism or what it might be like to be somebody who is transgender, for example? Invest an hour a week to educate yourself. Watch an expert discussion, listen to podcasts and read books and articles. Then discuss what you’ve learned with others – share the knowledge!