The Diversity Conference Scotland
24 May 2017
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending The Diversity Conference Scotland. It was a Glasgow-based event, in association with The Herald and Gen Analytics. Certainly, issues of gender have been a hot topic in business editorial, so I was keen to see what the line up of speakers had to say on the matter – as well as issues of sex, race and disability diversity.
The day was opened by Lynne Connolly, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion of Standard Life, and she quoted Ban Ki-Moon’s well-known quote about workplace inclusion: “We cannot achieve 100% of our goals if 50% of the workforce cannot realise its potential.” Of course, the former UN Secretary General was referring to female oppression, but it set the tone for the day.
Barclay McBain, Executive Editor of The Herald, made an equally impactful speech. Referring to the previous night’s terror attack in Manchester, he said that “blind intolerance would not win. Inclusion and diversity will.” Perhaps there has never been a more pertinent reminder that inclusion and welcoming is key to, not only a successful workplace, but happier communities.
The line up of speakers was incredibly inspiring. Steve Dunlop from Scottish Canals spoke with passion and joy at the work the company was doing to rejuvenate impoverished and divided communities. I think most of us were impressed to learn that Scottish Canals were responsible for the Falkirk Wheel and the pretty flowers under the motorway in Glasgow city centre.
Pheona Matovu, co-founder of Radiant and Brighter, remarked that “legislation does not change the hearts of the people.” She spoke about her company’s mission to get refugees in to work. It was important, she said, for companies to adapt their interview processes and drop the ‘one size fit all’ approach. She also stated that – contrary to popular misconceptions – refugees were keen to learn about the business values and standards of the UK.
There were several panel discussions, which gave way to questions from the audience and conversations at our tables. Many of us could hardly believe the statistics we had heard about ethnic minority and disability unemployment rates or the ongoing gender pay gap.
The afternoon was opened by Dr Charlotte McCarroll, who discussed their experiences as a non-binary transgender individual within academia. Currently a research fellow at Glasgow University, Charlotte was incredibly open about their transition and the support they received from their place of employment. They actually said that, had the legislation not been in place at the University to offer unprejudiced support, they may not have transitioned.
Another issue of diversity that was briefly mentioned was that of getting carers in to the workplace. Particularly in the case of young adults, it is difficult to find even part-time work that can be flexible enough to allow home care (of a parent or relative) to continue to take place.
Tressa Burke of the Glasgow Disability Alliance spoke before the last panel discussion of the day. Facing her own battle with MS, she emphasised the need for visible role models and flexible working for disabled people seeking work. She rejected the stereotype that disabled people don’t want to or can’t work – stating that the many people she helps in the city are desperate to be given a chance to prove their worth.
Because that’s what it boils down to in many cases of diversity – you can often feel worthless if your job search is fruitless.
Sandy Begbie, Chief People Office of Standard Life, and Dr Lesley Sawers, Executive Chair of Gen Analytics closed the day with a re-emphasis on inclusion and welcoming; making employees feel valued. Leaders must set the example as diversity initiatives really must come from the top. The lasting results and impact will be immeasurable.
It’s about setting down the legislation and acting on it. We shouldn’t include diversity initiatives because we feel we have to – we should want to include everyone. We should want to have as wide a talent pool as possible. After all, it has been proven that the more diverse a business is, the more productive and successful it is.
Diversity is not another office buzzword; it’s not a trendy cause. It’s something that can have real and meaningful impact on workplaces and communities as a whole.
Written By Mary Palmer