Reported by Amelia Brown.

Anxiety now surrounds the topics of diversity and inclusion, anxiety to get things 100% right that means people don’t feel confident enough to talk about it at all. As people in the communications business, we are advising clients on how they communicate. We therefore have an extra responsibility to know what we’re talking about.

Only a week on from our first Campfire Session of the year, we were incredibly lucky to be inviting the brilliant Suki Sandhu OBE – a recent addition to his name that he says he is rightly “really proud of” – to speak on the topic.

Suki Sandhu OBE is the Founder and CEO of both Audeliss and INvolve. He established Audeliss eight years ago, an executive search firm that levels the playing field for women, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ+ people, encouraging CEOs and chairpeople to think about who they’re going to appoint in leadership positions. However diversity during the recruitment process is not enough. Creating an inclusive culture within the workplace is just as important to ensure that diverse talent is not just attained but retained, which is where INvolve comes in. They publish three annual role model lists, one for LGBTQ+ people, one for women, one for ethnic minorities. These lists are about “celebrating diversity and role models for all the right reasons.” Diversity and inclusion are incredibly important to Suki because as he says, “I tick many boxes.” He remembers his graduate internship where he was “the only brown person in that cohort of 16 graduates and definitely the only working class person.”

Suki describes diversity as being “about your characteristics, your background, where you’re from.” Inclusion on the other hand, he says, “is about culture, value, creating that sense of belonging.” Employees should feel like they can bring their whole selves to work, he stresses.

Suki leads us through a true and false game, addressing multiple shocking statistics. “Barely 3% of the most powerful people in Britain are ethnic minorities,” he cites, and “over half of LGBTQ+ people don’t feel they can come out at work.” He stresses the importance of data and evidence when trying to change the minds of people for whom engaging with diversity and inclusion because it’s the right thing to do isn’t enough of a persuader. “Data and evidence speak to people, particularly the people that are in charge,” he says.

In the same vein Suki has devised what he calls ‘The Business Case’: the reason why taking diversity and inclusion seriously could actually contribute to the success of a business. Businesses see 32% more productivity if people feel comfortable and can be themselves. An inclusive work environment will therefore ensure a productive workforce. Equally customers are a diverse group of people. The more demographics companies can appeal to, the more money they will make. Furthermore business may lose diverse talent if they are not inclusive – these candidates won’t apply and even if they do, they won’t stay.

We need to look at ourselves and our behaviours. We need to recognise our unconscious biases and think about what we can do to help communities that we don’t belong to. “It’s about intersectional support,” say Suki, and ensuring that those in charge can provide this.

Our guests raised a range of fascinating questions in response to Suki’s presentation. “How do we engage these straight white male leaders?” Suki recommends asking the CEO what their opinion on the issue is. If they can’t engage with the principles of diversity and inclusion, present them with the business case. This advice is equally relevant to handling talking about diversity with clients when they are involved in the recruitment process. “You probably need to be a bit brave,” admits Suki, as it can be a challenging conversation to have. Suki recommends thinking about creating a longer term pipeline of diverse talent you can call on, as the pressure from clients is often time based. Again, the business case for diversity and inclusion is the perfect package to call on at moments like this, to persuade people that this is a smart business decision.

Suki isn’t shy in saying that diversity and inclusion can be harder to manage, and it can take longer to find or engage a diverse talent pool. Recruitment is usually happening alongside the responsibilities of people’s day jobs, so it can end up being lower down the priority list. There is also often a time pressure to engage someone as quickly as possible. Suki recommends blind CVs, where names and also certain dates (to avoid ageism) are removed from CVs. “It’s an investment in time,” he says, but it will work to combat unconscious biases.

Equally it is important to have multiple people in the assessment and interview process, so that we have someone to point out and help mitigate our unconscious biases. One guest posits that particularly in smaller business where there are fewer resources for a more drawn out recruitment process, recruitment pools often end up being dominated by people they know or have encountered through their current circles already. This again means that no new voices are brought in. Sometimes in creative industries we take it for granted that we are inclusive, but as one attendee remarks, socio-economic barriers are a massive problem, and mean agencies are missing out on different voices which is why the industry ends up with one voice. We need to be going into a diverse range of schools, and considering schemes such as apprenticeships.

One guest enquired about strategies to get more diverse applicants in sectors that are more male dominated. Suki recommends working to change perceptions of that career, creating a narrative that means diverse applicants want to work with you, and reconsidering the way you pitch jobs. Furthermore, we see more diversity lower down. Consider looking a level below when recruiting and you might find a more diverse pool of people, who can be trained up with the support of a development plan. The importance of role modelling was also discussed. “People can’t be what they can’t see,” Suki reminds us, encouraging leaders who are part of a minority group to show themselves and advocate visibly for change. The three lists that INvolve compile are clear indicators of the fact that this talent does exist, it’s just about working that bit harder to find and nurture it.

Thank you Suki Sandhu OBE for an enlightening presentation that sparked vibrant and engaged discussion about how we can genuinely accelerate the path to equality.

Our next Campfire Session ‘Consolidation in the Creative Industries’ takes place on March 21st. Back by popular demand, Mark Bentley from BCMS will be talking about the buying and selling of private companies. Register here.

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