Inspiring diversity

Industry research and discussion alone will not solve the channel’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) deficit, it needs a cultural stimulus from shining examples of D&I champions such as 9 Group.

Here, Louise Abbey, Head of Customer Marketing, discusses how the company has been leading the charge towards a more diverse workplace.

Every business leader should know by now that future growth is far more assured by having greater levels of diversity and inclusion within their workforce. And according to Abbey, business organisations in the channel with a big emphasis on D&I will be stronger in many respects, bolstered by (among the many boons) a boost to the bottom line and improved staff, customer and partner engagement. “There is overwhelming evidence that diversity leads to greater profits,” she stated. “In the ICT sector, those who are embracing diversity at all levels are winning by welcoming new voices and fresh ideas to the table. Their inclusive approach leads to innovation, which is fundamental for future success in the ICT space.”

That business leaders and managers could also steer a course that leads to broader benefits for the local community is a given, says Abbey, who is staunch in her conviction that active D&I proponents have the power in their hands to help bring to fruition a more prosperous and equal world. “Leaders in our channel can positively contribute to a more inclusive society by recruiting and empowering marginalised groups,” she added. “The ethical argument is strong enough on its own, but when coupled with the proven positive financial impact that diversity can deliver, it’s a no brainer. Businesses with staff from a wide range of backgrounds are proven to outperform firms with a less diverse workforce.”

9 Group’s pledge to boost diversity and inclusion became public knowledge when it hosted a round table discussion on the matter in association with Comms Dealer in May 2018. The debate was inspired by 9 Group CEO James Palmer, a D&I champion, who showed that it is crucial for such initiatives to infiltrate the whole organisation.

Leaders in our channel can positively contribute to a more inclusive society by recruiting and empowering marginalised groups

“James was insistent that we raised awareness of the importance of diversity in businesses and made positive moves to stamp out gender stereotyping in the industry,” explained Abbey. “He inspires genuine change within our channel, so we take a determined approach to creating a sustainable corporate culture that respects diversity in all forms. This approach can be felt throughout every interaction across our entire organisation. There are over 220 people in our team and we have maintained a close-knit environment while undergoing business expansion. Likewise, our inclusive culture has always helped us to retain staff, so much so that the average length of service in our support team is over five years. We simply encourage everyone to be themselves.”

9 Group’s approach to D&I is composed of many aspects and has evolved into a scrutinised professional practice, with elements of corporate self-examination, a diversity audit and inclusive culture that delivers remarkable results. “Valuing diversity in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” noted Abbey. “Our recruitment process, how we communicate with staff and work together as a senior management team is defined by our diverse and inclusive culture, which we see filtering out through all teams and in the way we engage with our partners every day.”

Initiatives that promote D&I pass seamlessly from one part of the business to the other in a system of cross-company responsibility aided by technology that creates a community spirit and staff loyalty. “We’re currently developing a new web-based collaboration tool that will enable us to ‘broadcast’ a clear and consistent voice across all offices,” said Abbey. “Staff will have access to news, policies and resources which link with our diversity strategy and help to support our culture.

“Mentoring is also important. Senior managers with an interest in diversity are approached to mentor staff who are keen to learn more. The social element is also key. Our social committee works hard to organise inclusive events throughout the year, which are aimed to suit a diverse mix of personalities. We also carry out a lot of charity initiatives, which is an important part of our culture.”

There is overwhelming evidence that diversity leads to greater profits

Unlike 9 Group, the comms sector’s record on diversity has not won feathers for its cap, such is the ingraination of legacy maleness. But change is underway, observed Abbey, which suggests that the age of male domination is ending, and a big part of this evolution boils down to recruitment strategies and approaches. The answer, she says, is to take a leaf from the activities of 9 Group. To recap, the company has put in train a formal process for the assessment of diversity issues and it is the job of leaders to test certain scenarios and recruiting actions against key criteria.

“Last year we broadened our recruitment channels by employing an in-house recruitment expert who supports us in attracting the perfect candidates for our roles,” commented Abbey. “Part of their process is to hold a consultation with the hiring manager ahead of promoting the job to understand more about the personality and make up of the team. So our job adverts are carefully written to encourage applications from candidates from all backgrounds.

“If we have a large pool of applicants for a role we view the CV blind to remove all references to personal details. This is because our management team is aware of the potential impact that unconscious bias can have on the process. By discussing the subject we are conscious of the issue and regularly share our thoughts and concerns as a team. This allows us to appeal to an untapped and diverse pool of candidates. By recruiting across a range of ages, backgrounds, nationalities and levels of seniority we have benefited from a variety of expertise, experience and perspectives. This has enabled us to identify new opportunities and explore fresh ideas that otherwise would not have been discovered.”

There is no doubt that the industry’s sorry state of diversity is rooted in history. But it is equally clear that the lack of a proper diversity strategy will only reinforce past tendencies

There is no doubt that the comms industry’s sorry state of diversity is rooted in history. But it is equally clear that the lack of a proper diversity strategy will only reinforce past tendencies. 9 Group’s message is not just that it is within the scope of all organisations to push D&I up the agenda, it is that the sector can take a collective initiative that ensures the age of male domination is at long last passing.

To that end 9 Group disseminates its diversity message throughout its partner base, and in leading by example it helps partners to overcome staffing hurdles. “I hold regular consultations with our partners around the support and advice we can offer,” explained Abbey. “The topic of recruitment comes up repeatedly as many partners struggle to recruit and they seek help with their advertising for candidates. During these conversations we share insights into our approach to diversity, the success factors and our positive experiences, and show how making small changes can help attract a broader and richer group of candidates. It’s rewarding to be introducing change like this on a wider scale.”

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