Everton FC: Bolstering DE&I through cultural change

by HRD Connect

Since 2018, Everton Football Club has been on a journey to implement structure, governance and best practice processes to facilitate a cultural change, and it was important that diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) was a part of that. The club’s motto is Nil Satis Nisi Optumum – ‘nothing but the best is good enough’ – and this was the approach to ensuring EDI was embedded in everything undertaken. Previously, EDI was seen solely as a HR responsibility, and while progress was being made to promote inclusion, there needed to be a more collaborative approach to embedding equality, diversity and inclusion across the Everton Family (which includes Club, Everton in the Community – the club’s charity, and Everton Free School).

In this case study, Kim Healey, the club’s director of people, culture and workplace wellbeing, outlines how the key to achieving success is engagement from the start, both in relation to ensuring that senior leaders and directors are involved in shaping the agenda, and that staff are able to engage with topics that matter to them through the staff networks.

We took the opportunity to really think about DE&I and what it means at Everton. We asked what this looks like to our staff, amongst our fanbase, and how our role-model footballers can play a meaningful part. We took inspiration from other companies known for their equality policies and we set about documenting an equality vision that built on the ethos of the People’s Club. At Everton, we talk a lot about the Everton family and that is simply, all Evertonians – people with a shared passion for Everton FC. To conduct this research we launched a number of initiatives.

The research launched to promote change

We held workshops with representatives from each department and collected feedback. We realised we needed a unifying brand to which we could tie all of our equality-related activity. It needed to be something that would become recognisable to our fans, staff, participants and players as the club’s DE&I campaign and which could use existing fan ‘shorthand’ to resonate with Evertonians.

  • We created All Together Now, using the title of a hugely popular Everton song played at the stadium on matchdays, to create a brand for the club’s DE&I activity – the title perfectly reflecting the club’s ethos and objectives
  • The vision statement we created is underpinned by a medium-to-long-term strategy, against which objectives and tangible actions are required to deliver the vision. We reviewed the pillars of our club strategy and with a critical lens, we challenged ourselves to think about how each area could contribute to the achievement of the equality vision
  • The development of these objectives was driven by our operational board (the Everton leadership team), as it was our nine ELT directors who would all be responsible for delivering on those objectives. This ensured that we had buy-in and promotion of our DE&I work from the very top, and from the very start.

Embedding equality in planning

With the equality objective areas agreed and aligned to the club’s strategic pillars, we took a collaborative workshop approach to producing departmental equality action plans, which ensured buy-in from employees across the club and ownership of the action plans by all departments.

  • Once the Equality Action Plans were produced, each department appointed a Diversity Champion (a member of the Extended Everton Leadership Team) who is responsible for updating their Equality Action Plan and working with their ELT member to drive progress across their areas. These Diversity Champions meet with our Equality and Human Rights Advisor on a monthly basis, to provide updates on their Action Plans and their progress against the strategic equality objectives
  • Further, we recognised that we needed to make improvements to the way we identify equality risks and therefore we developed an approach to ensure the understanding and completion of equality impact assessments across all departments
  • We asked our teams to think about the activities they perform and rate them in terms of legal, financial and reputational risk. The scoring took into consideration the stakeholders impacted by the activity and the potential for a risk to materialise based on our equality data.
  • Every month, our diversity steering group meet to review action plan and equality impact assessment progress and to oversee the development and implementation of key DE&I initiatives
  • The committee summary containing actions and any decisions made is submitted for inclusion in the monthly ELT pack. In addition, the ELT are kept up to date with the latest activity, risks and equality data through the monthly DE&I dashboard
  • Each quarter, our equality advisor meets with the risk and assurance manager to discuss and agree any equality risks that require escalating through to the governance risk and audit committee
  • Alongside this, we have also developed a series of networks for staff. Inclusion networks provide a space for those with a special interest in a particular protected characteristic to discuss matters relating to that protected characteristic. The network enables information sharing and support, alongside the co-ordination of specific inclusion initiatives and events; for example, the LGBT+ network co-ordinate our activity for Pride and the women’s network organise our International Women’s Day activity. We also have a disability network and a race equality network
  • The networks have played an important role in feeding into online staff engagement and support activity in lockdown, providing ideas and advice and helping us shape the support and resources on offer, to ensure they are inclusive.

Senior support to help promote equality

The leadership provided by the operational board has been integral to the successful implementation of our equality strategy. Our reputation as the People’s Club means that our operational board understood the benefits of diversity and the importance of having a workforce that are actively engaged in promoting inclusion, and were not just enthusiastic and supportive from the start but actively encouraging and demanding of this activity

  • The operational board were central to the creation of our equality strategy and the development of our equality objectives
  • DE&I members were also integral to the development of the equality action plan for their area, and whilst responsibility for updating the action plan lies with the diversity champion, ultimate accountability for its progress is with the ELT member
  • This ensured that we had buy-in and promotion of our DE&I work from the very top, and from the very start.

The outcome of our efforts

The successful implementation of our strategy means that equality, diversity and inclusion is embedded throughout the Everton Family.We have a staff base that is engaged with diversity and inclusion issues, who are proactive in identifying opportunities to link with our All Together Now initiative and in identifying where equality impact assessments need to be completed

  • We now have a series of networks (Disability, LGBT+, Mental Health, Race Equality, Women’s), providing a space for staff with an interest in a particular protected characteristic to get involved in what matters to them. The networks also maintain a calendar of events, organising training, development and awareness-raising sessions and they have also played an important role in supporting staff during lockdown
  • The raised awareness and the fact DE&I is embedded across the organisation means that staff feel empowered to bring ideas to the table and to share their own experiences – often very personal, to help raise awareness and promote DE&I. We now have a regular timetable of tailored DE&I content designed for staff, that sits alongside external-facing activity.

The All Together Now brand is highly recognisable to our fans and staff and has unified all of our DE&I work. It appears on big screens at matchdays, on our website and online channels, and the branding and messaging is integrated into news stories and initiatives around our equality and diversity work, helping unite DE&I activity across the Everton family. Fans regularly interact with stories and videos published under our All Together Now banner. Wider media also refers to All Together Now alongside any DE&I stories about the club.

In February 2020, we were awarded the Advanced Level of the Premier League’s Equality Standard – the highest that can be awarded. DE&I was fully integrated into our coronavirus response across the Club and Everton in the Community. It was at the forefront of our staff engagement and support activities, and informed the development of Everton Connect – a programme designed by staff, for staff of online events, resources and videos to assist staff throughout the pandemic, and to suit a range of circumstances.

DE&I has also informed our Together Everton pledges, launched during the pandemic to set out an approach to being flexible and understanding about people’s individual circumstances and promote wellbeing. A staff survey about our Club’s response to coronavirus showed that 92% of staff felt that Everton cared about the welfare of employees, and that 92% of staff had confidence in decisions made by the Everton Leadership Team during the pandemic.

The key lessons learned

At Everton, we are continuously trying to do better, continuously trying to improve and stay true to our motto, Nil Satis Nisi Optumum – ‘nothing but the best is good enough’. We have been on a journey with equality, but for us, this is a long-term cultural change which we have embedded into our strategy and Club values and behaviours.

  • We feel that the key to achieving success is engagement from the start, both in relation to ensuring that senior leaders and directors are involved in shaping the agenda, and that staff are able to engage with topics that matter to them through the staff networks
  • We now have a strong platform on which we can continue to build staff-led positive change and development, utilising the enthusiasm of our people to participate in promoting DE&I and to live our value of family
  • We have also learned that giving DE&I an easily-recognisable identity through All Together Now has helped us to tell the story of DE&I at Everton in a clear, accessible and inclusive way, mirroring the aims of our DE&I work and uniting staff and fans.

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