Driving the DE&I agenda

Colt CPO Catherine Leaver shares insights into how the company is fostering an inclusive culture that enables people to bring their authentic selves to work, fully bolstered by supportive policies and well targeted DE&I initiatives.

How can the channel more effectively advance the DE&I agenda?
For the channel to be truly inclusive, DE&I must be a core part of the culture and drive strategic priorities. It is the responsibility of the entire business, not just the HR team, and active commitment to driving change must begin at the top. Colt’s CEO Keri Gilder has created an executive leadership team diverse in backgrounds and with a 50/50 gender parity. Across the wider business we refreshed our gender action plan, looking at how we can attract and retain women in technical roles to increase our focus on creating a more gender balanced organisation. A key part of this plan is our Inclusive Recruitment programme aimed at mitigating bias and upskilling managers, finding ways to move women from non-technical roles into technical ones.

What areas of DE&I do we need to look at more closely?
Addressing DE&I is rising up the boardroom agenda, but businesses tend to focus on addressing certain demographics more than others. The demographics they spotlight are those where data can be more easily gathered – ethnicity and a focus on women, for example – at the cost of other marginalised groups where data may be harder to gather. We must consider that employees may be less likely to want to share their sexual orientation, accessibility challenges or neurodiverse traits. While companies are becoming more accountable for building gender inclusivity, such requirements do not exist for LGBTQ+ inclusion even though the LGBTQ+ pay gap is almost double the gender pay gap at 16 per cent. In a survey by Indeed, only 30.7 per cent of LGBTQ+ employees are ‘out’ to everyone at work, and according to Stonewall one in five feel that being LGBTQ+ limits their job opportunities. Workers from minority ethnic backgrounds also come up against barriers in the workplace. One study found more than 120,000 ethnic minority workers have left their jobs in the past five years due to racist comments at work.

How can these challenges be properly addressed?
There needs to be more focus on the ‘I’... inclusion. We have to create the right inclusive culture that fosters psychological safety so employees feel included, comfortable and inspired to share information about themselves without fear of consequence. We need to set goals and hold ourselves accountable, and industry collaboration is critical for the channel to achieve its DE&I goals. For our part, Colt is a member of Change the Face Alliance, an industry-wide initiative which calls on businesses to take action to increase DE&I in telecoms.

What areas of DE&I are you currently focusing on?
We have a strong focus on our Allyship programme – 500 people have joined this community. We’re intentional about engaging men as we can’t drive change without male colleagues. DE&I programmes haven’t traditionally focused on this, but taking time to explain why it matters to men is important. We’re creating opportunities for men to share concerns and vulnerabilities and lean into DE&I. We’re also doubling down on our focus on women in tech, building out a clearer proposition as to why women should join Colt particularly in technical roles and building on our Employer Value Proposition. We’re equally focused on neurodiversity having realised there’s more we can do as an industry, and at Colt, to support colleagues who are neurodivergent. We have a neuro-inclusion programme under way, beginning with defining and providing support for neurodivergent employees, and delivering training for our recruitment team while leading or sponsoring many industry events.

What are your longer term inclusion goals?
Over the next two years we’ll expand our targets and strengthen our industry collaboration. We’ll also develop a more comprehensive approach to using employee feedback from different demographic groups to improve the experience of all employees. Over the next two years and beyond we’ll also be focusing on AI tools to embed workforce equity at different parts of the employee lifecycle to support neurodivergent employees.

Where are you seeing the most inclusion success?
A year ago we kick-started our journey to get ‘Colties’ talking, thinking and learning about accessibility with the launch of our five year Accessibility Roadmap in May 2023. Our journey began with the inception of Colt’s Disability Accessibility employee Network (DAN). This was followed by an internal consultation with our workforce on accessibility, an external expert review of our processes and further stakeholder engagement culminating in the construction and launch of the roadmap. Initially, people were thinking this is going to be about making spaces physically accessible, but now they understand that although that’s a critical part of our roadmap, our pathway to accessibility includes removing barriers to digital and visual accessibility as well as physical accessibility. If barriers to accessibility remain, your business is not truly inclusive.

What key elements must be in place to drive a successful DE&I strategy?
Building strong foundations required action across five key areas: Strategy and governance, employee experience, awareness and skills, brand and reputation, and customer experience. Inclusion must be intentional, consistent and strategic. It helps to build a framework or foundation to structure change. We run an extensive and active DE&I programme with activities across four pillars – governance and impact, leadership and culture, diverse representation and equitable business practices.

What have been the biggest success factors in your DE&I efforts?
Involving our employee base has been our biggest change driver, within key areas including our employee networks, allyship programme, accessibility roadmap and neuro-inclusion mission. We still have a way to go, but we are improving with initiatives such as community and employee support networks; mentoring circles and our development series called Embrace your Best; our Rise Programme for underrepresented emerging talent; mandatory conscious inclusion training; a focus on wellbeing including mental health first aiders, menopause champions and a domestic abuse support policy; inclusive policies such as parental leave along with education and training – with our CEO leading from the top as a champion of change.

About Catherine Leaver...
Leaver joined Colt as Chief People Officer in 2022 and is a seasoned telecoms industry HR professional, highly experienced in working across international workforces and building strong teams, delivering change and driving results, while ensuring the wellbeing of people within the organisation remains a top priority. She joined Colt from Telefónica Group where she was HR Director and a member of the executive team at Telefónica UK.

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