How I&D can improve safety and business performance

How I&D can improve safety and business performance

At a recent event hosted by Terry Noble, Odgers Interim Principal, Energy, Utilities and Renewables, and Sue Johnson, Managing Partner, Odgers Berndtson Inclusion & Diversity Consulting Practice, Sue outlined how I&D can meet stakeholder objectives and make the workplace safer.

Sue, formerly Chief Diversity Officer of the Nestlé Group, began by recommending that organisations take a five-step approach to I&D, starting with establishing the facts of today by measuring the existing diversity situation in the organisation, including talent blockages and leakages across different levels. Step two is to map the current situation, or to put it more informally, get a ‘smell’ of the place by finding out from employees how they feel about working there and the change they would like to see.

Next is to create a strategy that outlines not only a plan but also a way of tracking progress against it. The fourth step is to engage and equip, making sure employees understand why I&D is important, for instance its business impact, and also specifically where in the organisation and how it is going to be addressed. Finally, it’s vital to make it stick. A serious commitment to I&D means working to embed it into everyday corporate life so that it becomes a facet of business as usual.

Serious is an apt word in this context as teams with low engagement rarely if ever deliver a high standard of work. In fields such as energy, utilities and transport, this can have dire consequences.

Several years ago, Network Rail conducted research into the link between team engagement levels and accident rates. It found that in the teams with the lowest engagement levels, the accident rate increased by 19%. Clearly, the conclusion to draw is that many of these accidents were preventable.  

There is also compelling evidence that addressing Diversity imbalances can boost productivity. Take the case of a factory employing 1,000 people that suffered from a shocking 10% absence rate. Workforce analysis found that only 15% of the workers were women, and among this cohort absence levels were low. On the back of that insight, factory managers made the conscious decision to recruit more women, boosting their representation in the workforce to 25%. The outcome? A 30% plunge in absenteeism.

Our five-step approach can help organisations fix problems like these, so let’s look at it in a little more detail. Data analytics plays a fundamental role in unearthing the facts of today, for a start as an antidote to sweeping assumptions. Analytics can identify potential systemic and behavioural biases, shine a light on where high impact interventions are necessary (for instance at a particular management level) and help in shaping future targets/KPIs.

The second step, mapping the current situation, is in essence about giving voice to the people in an organisation.  For a deeper understanding of the stumbling blocks to I&D facing an industrial client, Odgers conducted a ‘Listening Project’ across four of its factories. From what the workers told us we developed 10 Powerful Truths, among them the damning: “Not everyone has equal opportunities to progress”, “inconsistent knowledge and awareness” of I&D, and “adaptations are required for the workplace to be inclusive for all.”

In our mapping process we create a business-wide I&D diagnostic framework and can benchmark organisations against their peers. From this we formulate a ‘next steps’ action plan and develop a strategy, which needs to present absolute clarity on ‘why’.

When organisations seek to improve Diversity, every presentation on the topic should start with a slide clearly outlining the business case. People need to feel there is a business reason relevant to them. That may be around innovation, safety, accessing talent or better customer understanding.

While HR undoubtedly has a key role to play in driving change, truly effective programmes involve everyone to deliver results across the organisation. Recruitment is key in effecting change, therefore line managers and leaders must be on the same page as HR.

And while facts tell, stories sell. To engage people, it’s important to share authentic stories of how I&D has positively impacted others, something more human and relatable than hard figures and corporate objectives. 

Talk of storytelling should not fool anyone into concluding I&D is in any way fluffy. Inclusion is a skill and people get better at it once they have been trained and given the opportunity to practise it. And as we’ve already seen, organisations can boost their performance by embedding I&D into everyday business life.

To find out more about our I&D Consulting offer, contact


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