An inclusion, diversity and equality officer, manager or consultant promotes good relations and practices towards minority groups within a company. They assess the needs of different communities in a workplace, develop and implement antidiscriminatory and inclusive policies, prepare and deliver staff training and workshops on the subject, and deal with internal conflict and discrimination.
Kasia Zduniak, an inclusion and diversity (I&D) consultant at Aegon UK, tells us more about her job and its challenges, and explains why inclusion and diversity in the workplace contribute to a company’s success.
How did you become an inclusion and diversity consultant?
I didn’t plan to work in equality, diversity and inclusion—I actually have a degree in law. I graduated in Poland and when I came to the UK, I started working in the Scottish Court Service (SCS). During my 12 years working there, I had to deal with equality legislation for the first time. Not long afterwards, the SCS created the position of equality and diversity manager—I applied and got the job!
Most people working in this field usually have a background in HR, although their qualifications are not necessarily linked to inclusion, equality and diversity. I fell in love with this job, and I still find it so inspiring and interesting. I worked in the SCS position for three years before moving to Aegon last August, where I am the first person to hold this position.
“They [I&D consultants] need a broad understanding of the subject and concepts such as unconscious bias or neurodiversity…”
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Do you need any specific training for the job?
There is no specific training for I&D consultants. They need a broad understanding of the subject and concepts such as unconscious bias or neurodiversity, but this can be achieved by attending conferences and networking events, and reading reports, articles and books.
It is difficult to describe exactly what being an I&D consultant involves. In the Scottish Court Service I was responsible for ensuring the accessibility of services—to those with disabilities or who don’t speak English, for example—as well as fulfilling equality public duty by delivering reports and equality outcomes.
In Aegon, my main initial objective was to move the I&D programme to the next level by creating an I&D strategy that allows us to map our journey and measure progress. I also control the I&D comms plan to ensure that we constantly raise awareness of I&D matters.
What does your average day look like?
My day-to-day tasks really depend on what is happening in the company at any given moment. I work closely with my colleagues in HR, and with our talent acquisition team to make sure that we attract a diverse pool of talent. I also work with our internal comms team on communication strategy, as well as with our learning and development team on inclusive training and raising I&D awareness. I have a lot of meetings with colleagues who have either expressed interest in being involved in I&D or are already members of one of our I&D communities.
“The topic of wellbeing is very close to my heart. If this aspect is lacking, it is extremely hard to pass on the messages of inclusion and diversity.”
I have a lot of external meetings due to our involvement in the work of groups such as Diversity Project Scotland and This is Me Scotland. I also deliver training sessions on inclusion and diversity to different units in Aegon and I am going to run sessions as part of our induction process.
The Aegon UK I&D programme started in 2018 when three communities, or rather employee networks, were created: Gender, Wellbeing and Aegon Proud. I attend every meeting of Aegon Proud, I share my suggestions and support them. Within the Wellbeing and Gender networks, my involvement is much bigger. For example, I am running a programme to keep employees mentally and physically fit. The topic of wellbeing is very close to my heart. If this aspect is lacking, it is extremely hard to pass on the messages of inclusion and diversity.
Have you organised any specific activities during Pride Month?
Of course! The LGBTQ+ community Aegon Proud is very vocal and visible. This year we needed to change our strategy during Pride Month because of the coronavirus pandemic. We created a dedicated group on our internal communication channel where content related to the LGBTQ+ community was posted and encouraged everyone in the organisation to add the email signature “Proud to support Pride”. We supported Essex Pride, too, which was a virtual celebration this year.
We have also tried to raise awareness through social media campaigns and internal communication. For instance, one of our colleagues and his husband are the first male same-sex couple to undergo IVF treatment fully sponsored by the Scottish NHS, so we organised a webinar with him. They are going to have a baby in six weeks. This is wonderful news, but it was also heart-breaking to hear how many barriers they’ve had to overcome to be able to get the same rights as heterosexual couples.
When it comes to diversity, we often talk about ethnicity, race, sexual orientation or gender. What are we forgetting and how can we become even more inclusive?
“If we want to benefit from this diversity we need to focus on inclusion.”
One of the messages that I build into training sessions is that diversity is a fact. We are all different. We have our inherent differences such as age, gender and race, and acquired ones, like education and social background. If we want to benefit from this diversity we need to focus on inclusion. We need to make sure that everyone, regardless of their differences, has a place at the table in the company, that they know they are respected and supported.
Inclusion is not a zero-sum game. Nobody needs to be excluded so that somebody else can be included. This is why intersectionality is so important. Even when we tackle one aspect of diversity, such as gender, we cannot forget that there are no two same men or women. In Aegon, we focus on creating an inclusive workplace where everyone can be fully themselves. After all, our differences are our strengths.
“One of the biggest challenges…is gathering data on equality and inclusion.”
What are your biggest challenges?
One of the biggest challenges—not just in my company, and not just in the UK—is gathering data on equality and inclusion. Data is crucial, but it is very hard to collect, especially since the implementation of GDPR.
It is also hard to keep momentum—this is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I often compare long-term I&D strategies to planting trees. We first need to work on the seeds, on the soil, and make sure that the roots are really strong before we even get to see the plant, let alone taste the fruit. A lot of people might lose motivation because they won’t see results quickly.
What can companies gain by including more diverse talent among their workforce?
There has been a lot of research on this. One study, conducted by McKinsey & Company, showed that organisations with a diverse employee workforce are much more profitable than their non-diverse peers. Including more women in the workforce can lead to a 25% increase in profitability; including more ethnic minorities can lead to a 36% increase in profitability.
When organisations go through a pitch or a procurement process, how inclusive and diverse the organisation is can be more important than the price of the products or services it provides.
“The number of absences caused by stress and mental health problems decreases as well.”
Moreover, in inclusive and diverse organisations, employees feel much better, and are more motivated if they can be themselves, which results in a better overall performance. For instance, a person identifying as LGBTQ who hasn’t come out to their colleagues has to dedicate a lot of time and energy to make sure their lie about what they did at the weekend is consistent. From the moment an employee can be themselves, productivity improves. The number of absences caused by stress and mental health problems decreases as well. The same goes for turnover because we are not losing the diverse talent that we fought hard to recruit.
Finally, our customers are very diverse themselves, so if we don’t have a diverse workforce, we won’t be able to deliver suitable products, and we won’t be competitive enough. So integrating diversity, equality and inclusion into the company’s growth strategy is not just the right thing to do, but an absolute must.
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