Five tips
to build

Seminar on how to drive authentic engagement

Ian Roe, Director Sustainability at MerchantCantos, reports on our seminar that focused on how corporates can build an inclusive culture.

MerchantCantos held a thought provoking seminar on inclusion and diversity in which three leading thinkers discussed how to drive authentic engagement and lasting business benefit from inclusion and diversity efforts. Our expert speakers provided insight into the challenges of building an inclusive culture and how to overcome them, including an extensive Q&A in which our guests questioned the panel on practical actions they can take.
Our expert panel was:

  • Sarah Churchman, HR Director and Head of Talent, Inclusion and Wellbeing for PwC
  • James Dalton, Group Head of Employee Engagement and Health for First Group
  • Stephen Frost, Principal, Frost Included and author of Inclusive Talent Management

Some of the insights shared are summarised below.
1.    Measurement and reporting are on the increase… but reporting isn’t the same as communicating
Businesses face increasing stakeholder expectations and increasing legislative requirements to report on diversity, including gender splits in the Companies Act and recent gender pay gap legislation. Reporting is necessary, but it’s far from sufficient. To build inclusion, businesses need to think about their audiences and their drivers and then consider how to communicate with them. Creative communications is one way businesses can cut through the noise to really make a difference.
2.    Inclusion needs a multi-faceted, multi-channel approach… and that includes taking account of emotions
PwC, Sarah Churchman observed, has built a very complex response to inclusion; changing policies, building colleague networks, creating an environment where people feel able to challenge, developing training and mentoring programmes and so on. But rational, logical responses are only part of the picture. In fact, some of the most effective things PwC has done have drawn an emotional response. Changing behaviour needs to engage people on both a rational and emotional level.   
3.    If we fail to treat each other fairly, from a neuroscience perspective, we’re effectively punching each other in the face
First Group’s James Dalton described how being treated unfairly triggers the same parts of the brain that trigger if we experience physical pain. In turn, threat response hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline flood our bloodstreams. This evolutionary response primes us for self-protection but reduces our ability to collaborate, innovate and focus. But helpfully, the reverse is also true; when we feel valued, serotonin, dopamine and endorphins are released, boosting decision-making, creativity and sense of wellbeing. Feeling included doesn’t just feel good; it’s neurologically performance enhancing.
4.    Inclusive leadership starts with the face in the mirror
Stephen Frost challenged us to consider our own “in-groups”- our closest friends, loved ones and confidantes. Most of us have quite homogenous in-groups; being aware of this is the first step to including out-groups. This awareness is especially important in the boardroom. If we look at self-reinforcing attitudes that ultimately led to failure at Lehman Bros, Swissair or Kodak, the thing their leadership teams had in common was very homogenous in-groups; by diversifying our in-groups we increase the range of perspectives, the quality of challenge and ultimately business resilience.
5.    Micro-behaviours are as important as big gestures
Sarah noted that exclusionary behaviour is rarely overt these days;  instead it manifests itself in very small but repeated actions- micro-behaviours- that can marginalise people. This is best addressed by people looking at their own behaviour. James supported this perspective; FirstGroup started to bring neuroscience into their internal engagement thinking to help people understand how and why they react as they do. If we better understand this we’ll be better equipped to improve. Steve’s experience reinforced this; we all feel threatened if our sense of self is challenged, but role- what is expected of us- is much more fluid. If diversity initiatives are couched in terms that threaten our self-perception, inevitably that’s quite challenging for people. If instead we focus on role and expectation that’s likely to be a less patronising, and ultimately more effective, approach. 

[email protected]