GG2 Diversity Conference speakers address issues around inclusion in workplace


THE GG2 Diversity conference opened last Thursday (10) with speeches by a number of inspirational speakers, including politicians, campaigners, academics and senior executives.

The conference was hosted by the Asian Media Group (AMG), which publishes Eastern Eye, Garavi Gujarat, Asian Trader, Pharmacy Business, the Asian Rich List and the GG2 Power List.

BBC presenter Clive Myrie, who was the host for the event, told the audience they could look forward to a day that would focus on the conversation surrounding the conference’s key theme- Change the Ratio.

“We aim in these conferences to keep reiterating why diversity is important in the workplace, not just on moral grounds, but how it helps businesses grow,” he said.

“An increasingly diverse public also expects workforces to reflect its values on inclusion…. whether on race, class, gender, disability, LGBTQ+ or mental health grounds.

“But if all that is understood, why is it still hard to ‘change the ratio’ in the workplace and in businesses, and increase diversity?”


Shailesh Solanki

AMG executive editor Shailesh Solanki welcomed guests, touching upon Britain’s progress since the GG2 Leadership awards were launched more than two decades ago in his introductory remarks.

“Britain is a far more tolerant society and we have much to celebrate in terms of our progress,” he said.

“The open prejudice and discrimination experienced by my parent’s generation is no longer accepted.”

However, he addressed the lengths that Britain still had to go to in order to achieve true diversity across the business and the public sector.

Noting that diversity gave organisations a competitive advantage, Solanki said environments needed to be created where all people felt valued and accepted.

“We all have a responsibility to cultivate an inclusive environment that values diversity of thought and perspective,” he said.


I
n Keynote speech: Matthew Syed
CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED author and journalist Matthew Syed claimed that the power of diverse cognitive thinking was the key for corporations to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals.

The keynote speaker began the GG2 Conference by addressing the different types of diversity, including the idea behind cognitive diversity, when a collective group that have different styles of problem-solving can offer unique, varying perspectives to issues.

Merging models together was significant in encouraging different ways of thinking. the thought-leader believed.

According to Syed, a diverse team could bring more to the table, with statistics showing that they perform 15 per cent better.

He also noted that although people tended to be drawn to likeminded individuals, they needed to be open-minded and learn from everyone. It was important, Syed added, to listen to viewpoints that were different from the norm, as this could ultimately reflect in the success of diversity and inclusion within organisations.


Change the Ratio: Understanding the Power of Difference:
Salman Amin, CEO of Pladis

THE global CEO of a major confectionary company emphasised the importance of inclusion in the workplace in his remarks.

Salman Amin, the CEO of Pladis and a former executive at PepsiCo, told delegates that “without inclusion, there is no diversity”.

“Inclusion is the smartest way for businesses to thrive,” he said, adding that a shared vision and a common purpose was what drove teams forward.

Amin’s presentation focused on the conference’s Change the Ratio theme, as he offered crucial actions to ensure that businesses could build lasting change within their organisations.

Speaking of the values he learned during his successful career, Amin said the most significant advice he ever received was to “bring your whole self to work”.

Looking back at his early years, he credited his wife for her constant support. Amin, whose experience spans more than 30 years working for some of the world’s largest FMCG companies, said: “The truth is that life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it is learning to dance in the rain. Despite having two left feet, I have learned how to dance.”


Ethnicity Pay Gap: What Employers Need to Know:
 Professor Binna Kandola OBE, senior partner at Pearn Kandola 

A LEADING diversity expert has urged businesses to address the ethnicity pay gap, as statistics showed a vast difference between the salaries earned by ethnic minority employees compared to their white peers.

According to data, the ethnicity pay gap stands at £3.2 billion per year in wages, with research showing that ethnic minority graduates experienced less career progression than their white counterparts.

However, Professor Binna Kandola OBE said companies tended to focus less on the ethnic pay gap, with more addressing the gender pay gap instead.

Talking about what actions organisations could take to address the issue, Kandola suggested that they collect ethnicity data and acknowledge that race bias did not have to be blatant.

He also said businesses needed to be more transparent in tackling the issue.

“Leaders need to set an example and be willing to address any race bias,” Kanola added.


Disability Inclusion in the Workplace: How to Make Your Business Accessible:
Panel featuring Marianne Waite, Jay Muthu, and Hector Minto

A DIVERSITY expert said fear was a key factor which could negatively affect the progress of disability inclusion in the workplace.

Marianne Waite, the director of the Valuable 500 campaign, told delegates she believed many businesses were wary of addressing disability in the workplace, so it was therefore ignored.

“People are scared to discuss it, so it gets left off the agenda,” Waite, whose campaign urges major businesses to put disability on their leadership plan.

Jay Muthu, a lifetime wheelchair user having contracted polio as an infant, said he was disappointed by the lack of progress he had seen in the past five years since he arrived in the UK from India. “Businesses talk about it, but why don’t they take the risk?” Muthu, vice-president of global talent at Monster, said. “They need to take that first step.”

(From left) Jay Muthu, Marianne Waite, Hector Minto, and Clive Myrie.

Microsoft’s Hector Minto noted that the disability hiring gap had not improved in 30 years. According to him, only four per cent of companies considered hiring a person with a disability as part of inclusion in the workplace, despite more than 1.3 million people in the UK having some sort of disability.

Disability, Minto explained, could bring new perspective and opportunities for growth to a company. For instance, he referred to an app which had recently been developed by a visually impaired employee which sought to help blind people ‘read’ text from their mobile phone.

“Once you’ve got the conversation going on disability, it feeds into your product and your innovation,” he said.


Ladders, Lifts and Escalators:
Dawn Butler MP
THE shadow minister for women and equalities criticised the use of the term ‘BAME’, saying that it could potentially lead to minority groups feeling that they were being ignored.

Dawn Butler made the comments during her presentation on bias, as she admitted that she usually asked her colleagues to avoid the contraction (which stands for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) while in meetings.

“(BAME) allows people to ignore us, so I usually tell people not to use the term and instead say black, Asian and minority ethnic instead,” the Brent South MP said.

“That helps to solidify that we are talking about individual groups of people, rather than a whole collective group that can sometimes diminish the progress of what we are trying to achieve.”

She also told delegates never to say that they ‘don’t see colour’ or ‘don’t have a racist bone in their body’. Claiming to be colour-blind was offensive, Butler said.

“Never say this,” Butler urged conference attendees. “Instead, always say that you see potential and promise.”

Using the analogy of the career ladder, Butler pointed out it seemed unfair that some had an “instant key-card for a lift” while so many struggled up the rungs of the metaphorical ladder.

“We should swap the career ladder for a progress escalator if we want to be radically inclusive,” she advised. “We should remove HR processes which slow progress, and create an upward flow of diverse talent to increase representation.”


Supporting Mental Health at Work:
Panel featuring Poppy Jaman OBE, Brian Heyworth and Shamil Thakrar

THREE senior executives shared their experiences on how to eliminate mental health stigmas in the workplace and promote positive, supportive work environments.

City Mental Health Alliance founder Poppy Jaman told the audience that more than a quarter of people in the UK struggle with mental health issues.

Jaman advised employers to “socialise mental health in your workplace, skill up your workforce to address mental illness and sustain towards key goals”.

(From left) Brian Heyworth, Shamil Thakrar and Poppy Jaman.

Shamil Thakrar, co-founder of Dishoom, said his restaurant business tried to ensure employees felt valued and were happy in a high-pressure work environment.

“We can’t make our customers happy if our team aren’t,” Thakrar said. “We need to make sure that we see employees as real people.

“Focusing on that can be vital, but frankly, it is also just the right thing to do.”

Speaking of his personal mental health experiences, HSBC’s Brian Heyworth revealed that he suffered a nervous breakdown in his 40s. Thereafter, he spent time in a psychiatric ward in the Priory.

He admitted he only sought help when he was older, although he had seen the signs – such as constant drinking and bad sleeping patterns – as a young man.

“I was a coward,” Heyworth admitted, “because I didn’t have the courage to ask for help until I was 40 years old.”


Being BAME and LGBTQ: Intersectional Identities in the Workplace:
Panel featuring Narind Singh, Sergeant Guy LoweBarrow and Arata Baffour

LGBTQ+ professionals from ethnic communities shared their thoughts on how firms can better support employees with multiple intersectional identities.

Sergeant Guy Lowe-Barrow, co-vice-chair of the Army LGBT+Forum, said organisations needed to question the spaces that they offered to employees.

(From left) Sergeant Guy Lowe-Barrow, Narind Singh, and Arata Baffour.

“We really need to ask ourselves these questions,” he said. “We need to ask ourselves – are the spaces that we offer safe for intersectionality?”

Narind Singh, a partner at international law-firm Clifford Chance, admitted that he struggled to feel like he fully fitted in within BAME networks due to his sexuality. However, he said discussions around intersectional identities were on-going and that development would be made relatively soon – he hoped that five years would be a target mark for noticeable progress.

“I’m quite optimistic that good things are happening,” he said. “But we still need to have these conversations.


Reinvent the Workplace for Greater Gender Diversity:
Panel featuring Leendert den Hollander and Ira Read

A SENIOR female employee of a major firm urged women to speak out if they felt they were being treated unfairly at work.

Ira Read, the global head of inclusion and diversity at Diageo, stressed the need for employees to flag up incidents in the workplace when they felt uncomfortable or discriminated against.

(From left) Leendert den Hollander, Ira Read and Clive Myrie.

“It isn’t easy to call out behaviours that are inappropriate,” she said. “But I would say to others, be brave and call it out, because that is how people learn.

Read and Coca Cola European Partner’s Leendert den Hollander were addressing gender diversity in the workplace, and how to support women at all levels.

In response to how Coca Cola was changing to reinvent the workplace to include women, Hollander said the company was doing its best to drive change.

“We have implemented reverse mentoring in the workplace and encourage an open dialogue with team members,” he explained.


My Journey:
Assistant commissioner Neil Basu QPM, national lead for counter-terrorism

THE senior-most Asian police officer in the UK has spoken of his motivation behind his counter-terrorism role in the Metropolitan Police.

AC Neil Basu told delegates many questioned his decision to take on such a senior and difficult role in the police – especially after the spate of horrific terrorist attacks in 2017.

“My answer is that I strive to make sure that we can stop the events of 2017 ever happening again,” he said.

Basu also addressed the role of the police in the UK – and how vital it was for trust to be built between the service and the public. In order to generate that trust, he said, it was important that the police was “truly representative of communities”.

However, he acknowledged that at the current rate of recruitment, it would take 70 years for the Met’s workforce to reflect London’s ethnic community.

In order to promote a more diverse workforce, Basu said inclusion needed to be a “golden thread” in everything that organisations did. He added that there was a need to tackle unconscious bias in recruitment and progression processes.

Ending his session, Basu said: “Gandhi said, ‘There is no other higher calling than losing yourself in the service of others.’ I am proud of what I do every single day and I would encourage our communities to join the police.”

Race and Identity: Catalysing Cultural Change Within Your Organisation: Panel featuring Ravi Chand CBE, Manisha Mehrotra and Rob Neil OBE 

EMPLOYEES should be encouraged to bring their ‘true selves’ to work, senior civil servants said.

Ravi Chand CBE, a chief people officer at the Department of International Development, emphasised that organisations need to instigate cultural change in order to support ethnic minorities and women in the workplace.

(From left) Rob Neil, Manisha Mehrotra, Ravi Chand, and Clive Myrie.

“You need to feel that you are able to bring your true self to work, and help create an environment where everyone feels comfortable being themselves,” Chand stressed.

The Department of Education’s Rob Neil OBE added: “If you become weathered, you give in and end up becoming something you aren’t, what value are you really? It is all about hanging onto who you really are.”

Looking back over his extensive three-decade career, Neil said he wished that he had taken the time to understand who he really was.

“I wished I had taken ‘me’ into work. I wish I had been my true self and I had looked after myself more,” he said.

“That is the advice I would have given myself 30 years ago.”