Inclusion in focus as panel debates diversity at work

Inclusion in focus as panel debates diversity at work

Encouraging an inclusive culture and avoiding being “box tickers” were among strategies suggested at a Tees Business LIVE event to promote workplace diversity and inclusion.

A four-strong, all-female panel discussed inclusion, recruitment and retention at the event, which was held at, and sponsored by, Wynyard Hall and hosted by former Tees Businesswoman of the Year Claire Preston, the Power of Women campaign’s head of operations.

The panel comprised Sembcorp’s UK head of human resources Jo Potter, Durata director Alison McGee, Westray Recruitment MD Ashleigh Wright and the CEO and founder of the Verve Group, Cathi Harrison – the reigning Tees Businesswoman of the Year.

And Cathi admitted the makeup of her firm, with a mainly female staff compared to the usual financial services demographic, had been something of a “happy accident”.

She told an audience of 80 delegates: “The vast majority of my team are female, including 100 per cent of the senior leadership team, and we’ve an average age of 34, so against the usual financial services demographics, we’re different – although not particularly because of any proactive initiatives.

“I’ve had lots of people come to me and say ‘I’m experienced in finance but I work in a firm where my boss is in his 60s and doesn’t understand the flexibility I need to take my kids to school, I’d love to work for Verve’.

“I’m a single parent with a seven-year-old boy who I’ve taken into work with me, so I’m going to give that to all my team because I physically need it too.”

But she admitted that the recent appointment of a male, new chief commercial officer “will give us the reverse issue to what many companies have.”

She said: “It will be a different dynamic to the board because we’re so used to the girls being on the team, but diversity falls in every way.

“We’re excited to get him onboard because he’ll challenge the way we think, the way we’ve done stuff and hopefully help us see any blind spots to take us to the next level.

“But you have to walk the walk yourself – you need to have and lead the kind of business you want to have to attract people. But there comes a point where there needs to be something specific and planned, rather than it just being a happy accident.”

Ashleigh Wright, who recently succeeded her mother as Westray Recruitment MD, said inclusion “has to come from the top down”.

She said: “It can’t just be a team talking about it, saying it’s an important thing to put in place – the directors and senior leadership team need to have open communication with their teams about it.

“The clients who are successful with it are companies who implement diverse training and have an awareness about unconscious bias, especially regarding recruitment.”

Active engagement with charities and community groups can help “generate a diverse pipeline of candidates” when it comes to recruiting, she said – prisons, for example, and supporting disabled people to find employment.

She said another strategy to promote an inclusive culture is communications consistency – “so changing your logo to a rainbow when Pride’s on, that’s not being inclusive – it’s a tokenistic exercise that’s not going to have the side effect you need.”

Diverse hiring panels and more “blind hiring”, with personal details removed from CVs, can also help, she added.

Sembcorp head of HR Jo Potter said that for a traditionally male-dominated business, it had been “a journey” for the firm.

But with a more representative and diverse senior leadership team in place, progress was being made on “differences and diversity”.

She said: “We’re on a journey – I wouldn’t say we’re where we need to be but we’re making progress and I’m particularly pleased with our leadership team.”

And Alison McGee, quality director and company secretary at critical power specialists Durata, said: “We don’t want to be ‘box tickers’ – we want the right person for that job, your background doesn’t matter at all, that’s how we look at it.

“The team we have now is fabulous and we really look out for their needs. It’s about making sure people are happy to come to work because it’s not a recruiter’s world any more.

“It’s the candidate’s world and if you’re trying to sell your business to that person, you’ve got to make sure you’re backing everything up – there’s no point telling everyone how fantastic you are if you aren’t.”

*To find out more about Wynyard Hall, visit

*Entries are now open for the seventh annual Tees Businesswomen Awards – click HERE for more details.

*Tees Business Live also featured a prize draw in aid of the Power of Women campaign, while the event also featured Claire Preston speaking to four PoW ambassadors from Hartlepool’s Eldon Grove Primary School. For more about the Power of Women campaign, visit

*Series associate for Tees Business Live events is the North East Chamber of Commerce.

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