BT reveals how they are integrating inclusive practices within culture and leadership development to prepare for the future

Group Head of Diversity at BT, Candice Cross joined HRD Connect to discuss how to tackle ‘unconscious bias.’ She also revealed BT’s strategy to promote a more inclusive and diverse workforce, which is integrally linked to the organization’s strategic direction.

Where should the conversation start for HR Teams aiming to tackle ‘unconscious bias’ honestly?

Often in HR find that we are not very good at practising what we preach. If HR are going to hold up the mirror authentically to the business that they support, then first we need to look into the mirror ourselves. That means being honest with ourselves, both as a collective group and as individuals. We need to be looking in our own backyard, looking at ourselves and our bias.

It is also about looking at our backyard policies and processes and tackling our own fears in HR about having honest conversations on matters which can be delicate and difficult to discuss. Additionally, we need to understand more deeply the language that is needed when talking about diversity and, importantly, inclusion. This is done by being able to challenge leaders in the business, which requires skill and courage. I think what we need to hone in on and tackle are the barriers to creating diversity and inclusive cultures in the businesses that we support.

I think we have become quite capable of raising awareness of unconscious bias and we now must tackle more systemic issues, the next challenge is how we influence behavioural change. If we are to do that, I think we need to ask ourselves quite serious questions about our own bias, our own policies, and our ability to influence those conversations in the businesses that we support.

What is your strategy to promote an inclusive and diverse work environment?

We just signed off a renewed strategy in this space that looks at how we make shifts in the diversity of our work composition. We also look at how we can further improve the inclusivity of the environment that we operate in for our people, aiming to provide all our employees and customers, suppliers that same environment.

We have a very big agenda this year to look at the complete life-cycle of our people from the moment we attract our customers, to attracting people to BT via our brand including our advertising policies.

We take a look at our attraction strategies and question where we are looking for people, what is the language in our recruitment advertising, this is done all the way through our hiring process. We did a lot of work last year around rooting out bias in the hiring process, from interview sifting through to the face-to-face interviews, and the selection criteria’s.

This year we are moving on to the next level by looking at our onboarding experiences, how we connect people to our employee network, how we broaden out the employee network, right through to the development opportunities available to people.

We just recently launched a BT Tech Women development programme which is looking at 350 mid-level female managers and we have created a year long programme for them. We are also embedding diversity and inclusive practices into our talent and succession policies, reward policies, and our approach to performance. This is already underway but there is more to do as we go forward into the next year.

We are also working to integrate inclusive practices into our culture and importantly into our leadership development activities. BT has redesigned its leadership development framework, and inclusivity is at the very heart of it, so we have a big agenda this year.

How do you make sure cultural inclusion is integrally linked to the organization’s strategic direction? 

I was recently presenting at our operating committee which is our most senior leaders – it is understood and championed by our most senior leaders that recruiting diverse talent in all its form is not enough to deliver the strategic ambitions that we have. It is about embedding inclusion and inclusive practices into our DNA which will deliver the opportunities of a diverse workforce and the opportunities that diverse capability can bring through increased customer representation, satisfaction, greater creativity, innovation, better decision making and then importantly, talent attraction.

That’s important because if we are to meet our strategic objectives for the near future and the long term future, we must have diverse talent. Diverse talent needs an inclusive environment to make it successful so it is understood and integral to our strategic ambitions that diversity and inclusion work side by side.

With that in mind I work side by side with our culture team to ensure that our cultural ambitions which are in support of our strategic ambitions are embedding inclusivity right at the very heart. A critical part of this is linking to that capabilities that we need for the future and then the culture we need to fulfil that.

The presence of diverse brain power alone is not enough to harness the benefits of diversity. It’s also critical to create an open and inclusive workplace environment, so all team members feel empowered to contribute. How do you encourage this type of environment when faced with colleagues from different cultures who may find this a challenge?

It’s a really important point and it’s at the heart of inclusion and that’s the tricky bit of inclusion. I see it as more than just different cultures, it’s about different upbringing’s, ages, experiences, belief systems and value differences that we have, and culture is one aspect of that.

For BT it’s helping people understand and buy-in to the fact that diversity and inclusion is not about us all believing the same thing. I don’t need somebody to believe the same thing that I do, or have the same cultural experience that I do because the value that we get from that difference is by including that and leveraging it and to help us see things from a different perspective.

All the evidence tells us that the different experiences that people have enable us to look at problems differently. They enable us to look at innovation differently, they enable us to make better decisions. It’s breaking down the homogeny of organisations that will ensure the success of the future. So yes, it’s a challenge that we need to be mindful of. For me, it’s not just about the different cultures. It’s about embracing all of the differences and welcoming that in, that’s the root to truly making inclusion successful.

 

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