Getting real on inclusion and diversity

a year ago   •   5 min read

By Sinead Patton
As 45 Irish companies sign up to ELEVATE, the Business in the Community Ireland inclusive workplace Pledge, Sinead Patton, Chief Financial and Commercial Officer of Veolia Ireland and Co-chair of BITCI’s Leaders’ Group on Sustainability, outlines the business case for inclusive workplaces

 

Veolia has been involved with the Business in the Community Ireland’s Leaders Group on Sustainability from the beginning. Considering our purpose is centred around enabling human progress through ecological transformation and our own energy, water and waste management services, Sustainability must be evident in actions and behaviours, for all of our key stakeholder groups.

This applies to our People, our Customers, our Shareholders, our Communities that surround us, and of course the Environment. In Veolia we are committed to Inclusion as a key pillar within our overall & HR strategy, helping us to live our purpose every day.

It is such a big challenge to grapple with, and particularly when practices are ingrained, they become invisible and harder for those who are already included to pinpoint. No one person or organisation can authentically tackle D&I on their own, it needs cross-sectoral and cross-company collaboration.

Inclusion is a key part of a sustainable workplace, and indeed a sustainable society. I was proud to be asked to co-chair the leader’s group on Social Inclusion with Ken Scully of Marks & Spencer. It is something that I am personally very committed to and we have learned a great deal since working with the other member companies and key stakeholders.

So many societies, Ireland included, and companies have inclusion stated as being at the core of their identity and values. Yet, this isn’t always evident in how it translates into reality, and many people face many unnecessary challenges through a lack of inclusive behaviour.

We could see that many of our companies in the Leaders group, and indeed companies throughout the Irish marketplace, were taking measures to improve their Diversity and Inclusion, yet this lacked a coordinated approach to effect real change lasting over time within the Irish workplace.

It is such a big challenge to grapple with, and particularly when practices are ingrained, they become invisible and harder for those who are already included to pinpoint. No one person or organisation can authentically tackle D&I on their own, it needs cross-sectoral and cross-company collaboration.

We started with the Inclusive Employer blueprint which we published in February 2019. It aims to be a roadmap for any size organisation, regardless of where they are on their Inclusion journey, to help put practical measures in place to become more inclusive for all groups within Irish society.

 

Companies generally want to do things right and want to do things well. Any action needs to be accessible to enable the “many” to feel that they can contribute.

 

Having witnessed the challenges and successes of our colleagues in the Low Carbon leaders group with the Low Carbon Pledge, we saw the power of the collective, and how small steps can translate into increasingly larger steps and similar impacts. We knew we had to have CEO buy-in for any meaningful success, any actions and results had to be based on measurement, and small yet increasing targets would be created and reported on transparently.

Companies generally want to do things right and want to do things well. Any action needs to be accessible to enable the “many” to feel that they can contribute. We must recognise that this will feel increasingly uncomfortable over time for the “many” as we make cumulatively more impactful changes and build momentum together, towards achieving a workplace whose composition reflects that of our society.

As a result, the” few” who currently remain excluded will have an equal opportunity to be a part of that “many”.

We felt this would be the logical next step for the Social Inclusion leaders group, to help propel Irish organisations and workplaces together into the next phase towards a more inclusive Irish workplace, starting now. This is where Elevate – the Inclusive Workplace Pledge was born.

Under the Pledge, we are asking companies to commit to documenting the diversity profile of their workforce, starting with the senior management team; Participate in an annual BITCI report which will publish the diversity profile of the collective workforce of all signatory companies; Annually develop one tangible action that ensures the recruitment or retention of diverse talent; Annually report on the impact of this action; Increase ambition on the equality, diversity and inclusion agenda; and Collaborate with fellow signatories to learn and create solutions for social impact.

We are very much aware that this is the first stepping stone towards a much greater ambition.  We are sure that this is the right thing to do and the right place to start, to drive real change together.

We are delighted that we have already 45 companies who have signed up, exceeding our initial target, which is just fantastic, however, we cannot stop there. There are many more companies in Ireland and a lot of practices within organisations that lead to us being ‘exclusive’ rather than ‘inclusive and we must work hard together to change. The changes we need to make will take us out of our comfort zone. The key starting point is recognising these practices, understanding the unintended impacts they are having and making the change to deliver a real difference.

In Veolia, Inclusion is a key pillar of our HR Strategy for 2021 – 2023, and we have recently launched our two-year Inclusion Strategy within our Zone (UK&I). This encompasses the full employee lifecycle across its key focus areas for the period, from attracting and selecting talent from all backgrounds to ongoing development and progression opportunities, and having inclusion as an open conversation.

 

I do not doubt that we can follow in the footsteps of our colleagues in the Low Carbon Pledge leaders group and quickly ramp up the level of activity and stretch to work together towards an inclusive workplace representative of Irish society.

 

For our first set of commitments under the Pledge, this year we are committing to providing unconscious bias training to our hiring managers so that those who are interviewing are aware of their own biases, whether that be unconscious or positive.

We are also committing to reviewing job descriptions and current recruitment channels to ensure that we are using inclusive language and have fit-for-purpose job descriptions while using wider recruitment channels to access a wider and more inclusive resource pool. We acknowledge these may seem like small steps, but they do carry a body of work with them to ensure they are done properly and that they generate a more inclusive hiring environment for all potential candidates.

I do not doubt that we can follow in the footsteps of our colleagues in the Low Carbon Pledge leaders group and quickly ramp up the level of activity and stretch to work together towards an inclusive workplace representative of Irish society. Every action we take has an impact. My ambition is that the cumulative effects of all those individual actions together will build a momentum to influence beyond our own groups of businesses and workplaces, carrying through into the wider Ireland community for today and the future.

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