Collaboration Forum Series 5: Building a brighter future (Week-4)

Collaboration Forum Series 5: Building a brighter future (Week-4)

The future of our collective success: the inclusion imperative 

Our future business and societal success demand us to be different: to think and act differently. How can we achieve this if we continue to surround ourselves with people who look and think like us? Is the ethical imperative for UK plc to create workplaces that offer greater opportunity for those groups most hurt by the pandemic? In this session, our diversity gurus Robert Newry, Liz Johnson, Sally Penni MBE and Shaista Gohir OBE joined us to debate why and how we can create a more equitable, inclusive and successful workplace. Watch session recording below.


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Meet Our Inspiring Speakers


Sally Penni MBE, Barrister At Law, Non Exec & CEO of womeninthelawuk

Sally is an award-winning practicing barrister at law and non-executive director on a variety of boards bringing experience and expertise areas including governance, employment law & cyber security. She is also a member of a House of Commons all-party parliamentary group on work and women. Outside of these roles, she is also a public speaker, broadcaster and diversity leader and patron – as well as a proud mother of three. Through her work, she gives voice to a wide range of diversity-related initiatives and projects. You can follow Sally on her Talking Law podcast which has over 64,000 listeners. She is also the author of several successful books, the Talking Law series and Rosie and the Unicorn children’s books about love, kindness and community. All profits from her books are for charity.


Liz Johnson, Co-founder and Managing Director, The Ability People

Liz has earned success as a Paralympian, media commentator, public speaker, athlete mentor and community ambassador. During her swimming career, she won medals at three Paralympics, achieving Gold in Beijing, Silver in Athens and Bronze in London. She has also been a World and European champion on multiple occasions.

By helping companies to understand and optimise their culture and processes, TAP enables disabled people to be equals in the workplace, transforming their professional lives and building better brands.


Shaista Gohir OBE, Rights activist and campaigner

Shaista embodies the principles of fairness and equality, justice, accountability and transparency. She has grown the Muslim Women’s Network UK from a handful of volunteers to a national and respected charity with 12 staff and a helpline for abuse victims that now helps over 1000 service users annually. In 2020, she was appointed as the Women's Voices Lead at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists where she ensures that women's voices are heard and that their experiences are used to strengthen policy and practice to improve women's health. She also founded Nisa Global Foundation, a not for profit grant-giving organisation to empower women and girls in developing countries. As a women's rights activist and influential campaigner, Shaista writes in her independent capacity and regularly comments in the media.


Robert Newry, CEO & Co-Founder at Arctic Shores

Arctic Shores exists to help businesses build teams in a better way. Their founders, frustrated by the frequent ineffectiveness in recruitment, saw the potential for tools that allow everybody to excel in the right place. Whatever their background. Their technologies now help hundreds of businesses around the world fight hiring bias and realise their diversity goals. Robert steers Arctic Shores’s mission to build a fairer, more fulfilling world of work for everyone. An Oxford alumnus, his non-stop approach means he’s both a familiar face and a fixture on the psychometrics conference circuit.





The inclusion imperative: why collective success matters

The success of society and business demands that we think and act differently. But we can’t do this if we surround ourselves with people who look and think the same. Protiviti’s Collaboration Forum invited four speakers to cut through the noise on diversity and inclusion – and provide clear thinking for businesses to consider.

Potential matters more than skill

Shaista Gohir wanted her potential to be recognised. The rights activist and campaigner, who is chair of Muslim Women’s Network UK, was looking to join an NHS Board. She had experience of working with patients at The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. She thought it could help the health service.

But finding a position had proved difficult. She saw roles advertised by the Cabinet Office, but after multiple applications was unable to get an interview. The process left her feeling frustrated and wondering why she couldn’t progress. NHS boards had experts on finance, on HR, alongside clinicians and medics, and she was keen to lend her expertise.

“Then I saw a hospital advertising for an associate non-executive director (NED),” she said. “It’s another way of mentoring someone before they take on a full role. Hospitals can also decide who to appoint, giving them greater flexibility. I managed to get an interview very recently and I was successful because they recognised my potential.

“I can’t say more about the position yet because it will be announced in June [2021]. But we’ll have a budget of over £1bn, overseeing two hospitals. I’m the only person from an ethnic minority on the board. They are taking a chance and willing to mentor me. But they will also learn from me as well.”

‘Potential’ is an important word in this story. It frames diversity and inclusion in a new way. And it cuts through the noise. Speakers on this week’s Collaboration Forum said organisations should focus more on what someone could achieve. Not what skills and experience they had. And, of course, who they were.

Robert Newry, chief executive of behavioural assessment company Arctic Shores, said potential was “a massive gap” to be explored. And barrister Sally Penni believed it represented a “pivotal point” in the debate. Anyone had potential, they argued. Anyone.

“Companies have got to think about how they recognise potential,” said Robert. “There’s a massive gap at the moment, because skills and experience are what gets you a job. We are over reliant on these two things and need to focus more on people’s potential.” Sally added: “For me, the real pivotal point, is this idea of potential. When you take away all the noise there is a simple question: what can people achieve?”

Normalising difference

There was a sense of urgency at the event. Since the murder of George Floyd in America last year, awareness of social injustice has been growing. It has been exacerbated by the pandemic and vaccine inequality. But diversity and inclusion is back on the corporate agenda as a result.

Gone are the arguments about why it matters though. In their place are some clear-thinking campaigners who want to help. Liz Johnson, who is a former Paralympic swimmer, now runs The Ability People, which helps disabled people at work. She said now is the time to normalise difference, so it just becomes part of everyday life.

“What organisations need to understand is that their customer base is ultimately society,” she said. “Anybody in society has potential to buy or use a product. If your board and workforce does not represent all users, there’s no way you’re going to have a product with broad appeal.

“We need to move away from this idea that we are labelling people or putting them in boxes. If we want to be inclusive, then we have to normalise difference. Diversity and inclusion is about everything and everybody.”

Businesses still need help

The big picture is important because businesses do need help. Potential is a word everyone can understand. But normalising difference might be harder. There are challenges to overcome first. Some company directors are scared. They are scared of saying the wrong thing and being judged in public. Especially, when these issues are so sensitive; especially when their reputation could be damaged.

But hiding to avoid judgment won’t help. Shaista said some companies won’t work with advisers without enough female representation on boards. The same thing is happening in pension funds. Some funds are saying they won’t invest in businesses with poor equality and diversity credentials, she added.

One participant on the forum said her company had made progress. It was a financial services business that had grown gender diversity to 50:50; and ethnic diversity from 10 to 30 per cent of the workforce. It was a good news story. But she suggested there was still some fear about reporting what they had done; about getting the language right, to fairly represent their achievements.

Sally said: “I do think fear is playing a part in people having open and honest conversations. One of the easiest ways is to ask people with characteristics to tell you how the workplace culture can be improved. But this fear of getting things wrong and being sued is nonsense, because it creates too much noise.

“I do think we need to feel the fear and do it anyway. And I think we need to encourage open conversations. If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that we are more open to ideas and to learning. I think fear is playing a part, but I think there are ways around it.”

The case for moral leadership

Shaista said business should be encouraged. Now is the time to display moral leadership, she suggested, which involves “deep listening” through surveys and conversations. She invited companies to challenge themselves, their partners, and their clients. She said businesses with financial power could achieve a lot more than an “activist like myself”.

In March 2020, telecoms giant Vodafone launched an initiative called #changetheface. The company said it wanted to become the “best employer for women by 2025”. In a press release on Vodafone’s website, then chief executive Nick Jeffrey said: “We are calling on the industry and suppliers that we work with to act now to bring more diversity to their organisations.

“By reducing stereotypes and encouraging everyone to think about the different faces of our organisations, we can really start to make progress. I’m proud to say that we now have a 50:50 gender-balanced UK board and will continue to prioritise inclusivity across every part of the business.”

Vodafone has taken a stand, said Shaista. It is probably feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Let’s hope others see the potential to make big changes and continue to normalise difference. In any case, there is a group of people ready and willing to help.

Sally Penni, Robert Newry, Liz Johnson and Shaista Gohir were speaking on series five of Protiviti’s collaboration forum, which has been held online on Thursday mornings during the past year. To find out more about the event, which will now run until then end of June 2021, click here.

Click below to view the entire series


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Paul Middleton
Paul Middleton
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