Martyn and Meg discuss D&I at Companies House. Inclusion is a golden thread that runs through all Companies House activity, and we will find ways to embed diversity in everything we do. Our ambition is to build an inclusive, positive culture where everyone can bring their whole selves to work, facilitating retention of motivated, high performing colleagues. It is also critical for us as a business that we work to reflect the diversity of our customers through our own diversity.
Megan Hayward: Hello and welcome to a new episode of “Meet the team” by Companies House. Today, I am joined by Martin Flynn, Head of Resourcing, at Companies House. We are going to be discussing diversity and inclusion today, which I'm really excited about. 2020 is the Civil Service Year of Inclusion. This is an opportunity for us to celebrate our achievements in this space and share what we're doing as an organisation. I think having a sense of belonging, being able to be your authentic self, and feeling you have a voice are vital for all inclusion. So, on that note, hello Martin and welcome. How are you?
Martin Flynn: Yeah, great. Thank you, Meg. How are you?
MH: Yes, good. Thank you. Not too bad. So obviously just a note for the listeners we are recording this remotely. So that's a new thing for us. This is a second one I’ve recorded now remotely. So, fingers crossed, it all goes well. Bear with us.
MF: Technology, fingers crossed.
MH: Yeah, so my first question is, what is diversity and inclusion and what does it mean to us as an organisation? And could you speak a bit about our D&I ambition?
MF: Yeah. Sure. That's a good question. I think for Companies House diversity is really about understanding that each individual is really kind of unique and that we do recognize those individual differences. So, these can both be visible and invisible and along the dimensions of things such as gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic background, age, physical abilities, for example. So, these differences mean everyone brings something different to our organisation. Different life experiences, skill sets, thoughts, ideas, innovation. So, it's really important that we recognize, respect, and value these in a safe and positive environment. Ultimately, it's about understanding each other. I suppose celebrating and welcoming these differences that each individual has. Inclusion then is all about having a sense of belonging. You know where the different groups or individuals with these differences are then accepted, welcomed, and treated fairly, and equally. So, if you have an inclusive culture, it makes the individual or the group of people feel valued, feel kind of respected for who they are. This for Companies House is for all people to just feel comfortable, and confident to bring their whole and brilliant selves to work. So, we want everyone to feel that they are respected, and that they are treated fairly and this means that then everyone has the opportunity to perform to their full extent of their potential, they are rewarded fairly, and they're recognised for the contribution that they make to Companies House. But it is also important that our diversity reflects the communities and the citizens that we serve so that we can better understand them and serve them as well.
MH: Yeah, absolutely. That was a very good answer, I must say. So, we've launched a campaign this week which will showcase our brilliant D&I networks. And I know that you've got a personal passion for these and supporting our diverse colleagues. So, would you mind sharing a bit of your own D&I story?
MF: No, not at all. Yeah, you're right. I am really passionate and proud of the great networks that we have here Companies House. When I talked about inclusion, I suppose a sense of belonging. You know, obviously inclusion networks have really helped to bring our people together and create those safe environments. So for example, you've got a Chic Network for our LGBTQ colleagues. There's a Carers Network, a Working Families Network, a Women's Network. We've just launched our new FACE Network. So that’s celebrating, let me get that right now, Faith, Allyship, Culture, and Ethnicity. And a Mental Health Network as well. That's just to name a few.
I suppose these of all really helped especially through the current situation in really providing that support and resource for our colleagues that allows a safe space to talk which really helps with well-being, promoting improved mental health, which is all really important. Our networks are really thriving. I think some of our most powerful stories in many ways is how we use our allies for the networks. So, we've got male colleagues who are really active in the Menopause Women's Network, for example. We've got colleagues who maybe just have an interest in other networks through their own personal experiences or maybe for just having an interest or passion for. And it's these allies that can really be I suppose our change agent for a really diverse, I can really say in inclusion, remove barriers and stereotypes that may then kind of exist. Personally, I'm involved in several networks. But I also act as kind of an ally. But I also helped to form our Ability Network. So, this was set up to support colleagues with visible and non-visible disabilities. To really help create a supportive environment where those colleagues can feel confident talking and declaring to their managers that they've got a disability. They can also also talk freely and network in open. Open to talk with us as well.
So, I've got Crohn's disease and that's a chronic kind of lifelong condition that affects my digestive system. So, in the past this has resulted in quite a lot of surgery. I've had to make some personal changes in my life to make to manage the condition. However, it is an invisible disability. So, if you were to look at me, you’d think there's absolutely nothing wrong with me. I look fine from the outside. However inside I might be in pain, I could be having a flare-up can, can be just really fatigued. So it's important for me that my colleagues as well as my team understand my condition and the side effects that the medication can bring so that maybe if one day I'm not quite on the ball, or I'm really tired, you know, they would kind of understand why. No, go on, sorry.
MH: No, I was just gonna say, I love that it's the Ability Network, not the disability network. And I think why we are so different to other employers. Like you said about having Crohn’s. It's something with other employers, you'd write it on a form as soon as you start with the business or the company and then that's it. And then it's never spoken about again. It’s not made visible. There's no way to make it visible to your colleagues and that can be really difficult for that person.
MF: Yeah, exactly. I think that's why we set up the network. We want our colleagues to understand everyone's ability not a disability. You know what it is that they can bring to that organisation regardless if they have a visible or invisible disability. So, if we can create that kind of environment, where people are you know fully understanding it would allow them to perform at their best, you know, really flourish and hopefully in an environment that is free from discrimination or harassment.
MH: Absolutely. I remember, it was like within my first few weeks and I had a meeting with Amy Harcombe and she was like, you should join the Women's Network. I was like, what is this? That sounds amazing. Absolutely. I go along to as many meetings as I can, and I come out of them just feeling so proud and they're so uplifting. You could almost never think that would be within a workplace. It's amazing. So, my next question, is. Or, not so much a question, it is a question or not a question the way I see it, which could be quite a naive view. I personally don't know anybody who purposely discriminates or doesn't try to be inclusive but I'm also really aware of unconscious bias. And I know that this is an area that you're quite passionate and interested in. So, can you chat a little bit about that? Because I think that's really important to be made aware of.
MF: Yeah, definitely and you're right. It is some of this that is important to be aware of and you know, I think personally I would challenge anyone or somebody who maybe says that they don't have any unconscious biases. You know, everyone does hold some unconscious biases or beliefs about maybe various social identity groups, you know, and these can cause us to make decisions, you know in favour of one person or another group over another. You know, it's really important for organisations to work hard to educate their people on unconscious bias and to help adjust, I suppose, you know, automatic patterns of thinking. Maybe trying to eliminate that discriminatory behaviours. Unconscious bias can be a huge setback in creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace and these biases can impact on recruitment, promotion, I suppose equal opportunities for everyone. So, yeah. Now this one example is that there is one called the halo effect. So, this is where people who think maybe highly of an individual in a certain way and likely to think highly of them in other ways. So, for example, if we think that someone is good-looking, we may well think that they are intelligence and charismatic, for example. So, you know as managers and leaders we've got to be wary of as we're generalizing a colleague’s performance based on one specific characteristic of their personality or appearance. But then you have the opposite effect, which is called the horn effective then. So maybe just because somebody made a mistake once doesn't mean that they're then incapable of improving again. Other examples are gender bias or similarity bias. On an individual level, I suppose it's important to firstly understand what unconscious biases are and then assess which biases are likely to affect you. I suppose try and figure out which of these individual perceptions are the most likely to be kind of governed by your unconscious biases and then when you know that information you can then take some really personal proactive steps to address them on a personal basis then.
MH: Yeah, that last thing you said then, that's the thing that struck me is that it's unconscious. You've got to challenge yourself. It's got to come from within and that's another thing that I think that we do so well in Companies House is that we're encouraged to look at ourselves because that is the only way that we're going to improve. And it's not it's not a destination, it’s continuing, you always get better. If you think, oh no, I'm there that then you're already wrong really because it's something that you've got continue to improve on forever.
MF: Yeah, it is. It's about challenging yourself and then, you know, maybe challenging other people as well then. I think that's one of our behaviours. We have got three behaviours which are, Adaptable, Bold and Curious. But one of those ones are you know about being Curious. It’s about challenging yourself and learning about yourself as well. But also, that bold side of, you know, not being afraid to challenge in a safe way and a professional way, but to challenge others as well. If you were maybe to see another potential unconscious biases happen, if you spot something that you thought could potentially be that or unacceptable behaviour. You know, and as an organisation, we are challenging ourselves. So, we've got a public target to increase applications from underrepresented groups, for example. You know, we know that it's important to us to make sure that we are getting new applications from different groups into the organisation to make sure that we can try and recruit those people into the organisation as well then. So, we challenged and made a public target of that to really set ourselves, you know, I suppose set ourselves apart a little bit. You know what we're not that diverse. If you were to look at it from the from the inside. However, we're aware of that. So, we're going to challenge ourselves to make sure we have great networks, we have an inclusive culture, we have an environment that is free from discrimination. People are aware of unconscious biases and people are aware of the benefits of having a diverse workforce. To make sure that we can bring you know, a whole diverse range of people into the organisation because that's only going to be good for us as a business.
MH: Definitely, hundred percent. So, for my last question. Please can you speak a little bit about how we've supported colleagues over the past six-seven months now during the coronavirus pandemic. I know accessibility for colleagues and customers has been a key priority for us all.
MF: Yeah, and it's really been that long six seven months. Yeah, we are losing track of time. So, I suppose the situation has brought out the community spirit between our colleagues. And I did have the support from the very top down and the organisation has been really amazing. You know, we've moved from having everybody working across our four offices with a smattering of flexible working for the majority of colleagues working at home and I suppose the collaboration that went on between colleagues to make this happen and to ensure that our people were first and foremost safe and well was fantastic to see. I know nobody could have really planned for this at all. You know, it's that the whole world went into lockdown overnight and for several months and the knock-on effects this is had is really unprecedented.
MF: It's really important that we you know; we kept our services opening for our customers as well. So, you know, we kept small teams of volunteer staff in our offices. Obviously ensuring that this was safe to do and we’re following the right protocols and guidelines so that we could still deal with keeping the registry up to date and some of our services, that we may be couldn't do digitally. It has been really important for us to ensure that we still stay connected. You know, our colleagues can still have that sense of belonging I talked about. And that's both in a professional work capacity and also in a personal capacity. We are real human at the end of the day. We need those connections. We need to talk. We need to collaborate and that then helps us I suppose enjoy our jobs and get that job satisfaction and enjoy the work that we do. And from someone that was shielding for five months, you know, that support was invaluable for me. I suppose in terms of, you asked about accessibility. I mean, accessibility has been a priority for us as an organisation. As with or without the pandemic. For our colleagues, it is about making sure that everyone has access to the same opportunities, the same benefits, regardless of their differences. And for our customers, it is about really understanding them. Ensuring that access to our service isn't a one shoe fits all approach and that we are able to maintain as was our services and still give great customer service.
MH: Wow. Thank you so much, Martin. That concludes my questions for today. So, thank you again so much for agreeing to come on and chatting. I've learnt so much and I'm pleased with the insight you've provided to our listeners. You've been a star. So, to all our listeners, don't forget to look out for our D&I posts on social media and help share our aspirations for an even more diverse future at Companies House. Goodbye. Bye Martin.
MF: Bye, thanks Meg.