October is Global Diversity Awareness Month and while progress has undoubtedly been made, events around the world this year have shown that there is still some way to go towards achieving a truly inclusive society. This is something that Keyline Civils Specialist, as part of Travis Perkins plc, takes seriously, with a renewed focus on embracing and encouraging diversity in its broadest sense throughout the business – as our recently appointed board director, Catherine Castillo-Soto, explains.

For me, the most important thing about diversity is that it all starts with understanding. Taking an inclusive approach is not about belittling one person or their experiences in favour of another, but rather about understanding the barriers that some people face because of things they have no control over and looking at how we can change our behaviours to level the playing field.

DEFINING DIVERSITY

Developing a diverse workforce makes sense from a business perspective. Doing things in the same way that you’ve always done them can lead to stagnation if you’re not careful but having a wide range of people from different backgrounds can provide insights, ideas and innovations that we might have missed otherwise. And it’s important to note that I’m not just talking about gender, ability or ethnicity here, although clearly, those things are important. 

It’s about embracing diversity in its widest sense, including diversity of education, cultural upbringing, industry experience – even diversity in ways of thinking. For example, I consider myself an extrovert but a person who is naturally more introverted might find certain aspects of their work challenging. Taking a truly inclusive approach is about recognising that and finding ways to ensure that all our colleagues have the opportunity to thrive within our business.

EDUCATION AND EMPATHY

If understanding is the key, then education is the way we achieve this. And often this is an uncomfortable yet rewarding experience. For example, as a white woman, I now recognise that I have an automatic privilege but – like many people – it’s something I’ve only fully acknowledged recently. It’s really uncomfortable to turn that critical eye on yourself but it’s what we, as a society, need to do if we’re going to affect real change. We need to be ready to have those difficult conversations and call out inequality when we see it, in order to be an ally to those people that are on the receiving end of it.

One thing that’s really helped me to do this is actively broadening my social media newsfeed. It’s easy to get caught up in an echo-chamber of similar perspectives online, but by purposefully following different accounts and seeking out a wider range of publications and opinions, I feel that I’m better able to empathise with people from different backgrounds to me.

Ultimately, empathy is what underpins this whole process; being able to empathise with the challenges another person is facing so that we can be ready to try to change things – and to embed this within our organisation.

DEVELOPING EMPATHY AT A CORPORATE LEVEL 

Championing diversity is something that really matters to me, both as an individual and in my position on Keyline’s board of directors. Being newly appointed, I feel that I have a platform to amplify other people’s voices and so it’s important that I use this opportunity responsibly. For me, this means avoiding tokenism at all costs by really listening to people and providing the means for them to be heard at board level.

The response has been fantastic and it’s really refreshing to see that inclusion is being taken so seriously by Keyline’s board of directors. One of the big threads that we are focusing on currently is how to go about building this empathic approach into our interactions with each other throughout the business and how each of us, personally, can become allies.

One way that we’re doing this is through working groups and colleague networks. Representation and a sense of community are important aspects of inclusion and throughout the wider Travis Perkins group we have a variety of networks – such as a Women’s Network, TP Proud, BAME and Allies and the TP Group Mental Health Community – that connect colleagues as a means of achieving this

Crucially, the networks are open to anyone that wants to join them, and this is an important way of building understanding, developing empathy and encouraging people to stand up as allies when needed. For example, when it was first founded, the Women’s Network was only attended by female colleagues, but we quickly realised that in order for it to be effective we needed proper cross-sectional engagement and the participation of our male colleagues. 

Now, it is one of our most well-supported groups and some of the ideas that have been put forward are being discussed at group leadership level, with the hope that they may become policy. I have heard the term ‘lighting little fires’ used by a colleague, which I think is a wonderful description of how the groups spark awareness and discussion throughout the business which can, collectively, translate into bigger pieces of action.

Tackling behaviour patterns that have become established over many years is not easy and, undeniably, there are difficult conversations and hard self-reflection that need to take place. But I truly believe that with education, empathy and the courage to stand up for what we believe, it is absolutely possible to level the playing field so that every member of our team can thrive based on their merit and individual contribution.

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