Going for diversity gold... with an Olympic champion

10 April 2017

Earlier this year I was invited to speak about diversity and inclusion to the top 300 managers at Mears Group, a highly successful and values-driven social care company. I always find it interesting to reflect on what these events tell us about a company’s culture.

I remember how packed the conference centre was, and there being a real buzz when CEO David Miles took to the stage.

David spoke of the company’s 300% growth in the last decade, and its continuing focus on social value. He made it clear how he wants diversity and inclusion to be approached with the same commitment as health and safety. “We take it for a given”, he says. He also spoke openly and honestly about the reality of the current social care landscape and the challenges the business will face. You may have seen David’s interview recently in the Guardian in which he spoke out about the culture of minimum-wage pay in the sector.

When a CEO opens a conference in such a positive way, talking seamlessly about business and diversity and inclusion, the tone is set. Other senior leaders followed in the same vein, celebrating success in the business and in its work in the communities.

 

Jane Farrell and Sally Gunnell at Mears Group

 

It was also wonderful to meet and hear from Sally Gunnell OBE, the Olympic gold-winning athlete. Sally spoke powerfully of her own journey, bouncing back from injuries to her eventual triumph at the 1992 Olympics. She highlighted the need for resilience, and how sport too struggles when it comes to diversity and inclusion. Then, in her final moment on stage, Sally showed us the film of her amazing win in Barcelona. I don’t think I was the only one in the audience who was willing her to win, even though I already knew the result!

My own presentation focused on the real business case for diversity and inclusion, the good practice that already exists at Mears, and the challenges that lie ahead.

A group of our role-playing actors then took to the stage. The team acted out a series of short ‘difficult moment’ scenarios where the managers needed to decide on an appropriate response, right there and then. What would they say when they overheard this inappropriate comment? What would they do when unconscious bias was rearing its head in a panel tasked with making a key business decision?

 

Mears Group Business Case Co-Created with EW Group

 

This immersive, hands-on exercise built on the work I’d already been doing with Mears to formulate their new draft business case. The business case was then launched at the conference. The message was clear: embracing and embedding diversity and inclusion is a strategic priority.

As a snapshot of a company’s culture, the event really did speak volumes, and I look forward to the next phase of our work with Mears Group.