Civil Service Fast Stream and Early Talent won this year’s Diversity and Inclusion Award for a bold internship programme aimed at attracting people with autism. We look at the winning entry and those of the others in this category.
Civil Service Fast Stream and Early Talent
The Civil Service wanted to address the fact that just 16% of adults on the autism spectrum are in full time work, so it developed a three-week autism internship work experience programme. After a successful pilot, the programme attracted 33 interns in 2019 and 55 in 2020. It expects this number to expand to 90 interns in 2021. This is part of a wider diversity strategy that will provide almost 1,000 internship opportunities in 2021.
The service used Ambitious About Autism, a specialist autism contractor, to reach students, supplemented by careers events, workshops, social media and a bespoke website. Around 20 government departments have engaged with the scheme, including the Departments for Education, Transport, HMRC and the Department for Work and Pensions. In 2020 the programme had to be held virtually, so it was crucial to work with managers to ensure technical requirements were up to the job and there were daily check-ins with the interns. Managers are supported to understand neurodiversity and to view autism as a difference that can provide strengths to the organisation.
Feedback on 2020’s programme showed that 100% of line managers felt better equipped to support people with autism, they would all recommend the programme to a colleague or friends, 80% had increased their understanding of what is required to employ people with autism and 80% felt more confident in doing so. The interns themselves would 100% recommend the Autism Exchange programme to others, 89% had an increased knowledge of the Civil Service after their internship, 89% had improved their confidence, and 89% said their line manager understood their autism and supported them.
Overall, the programme has enabled around 80% of participants to find roles within the Civil Service, external employment or to find study opportunities.
Like other companies in the infrastructure sector, Balfour Beatty faces a challenge with skills shortages and a lack of diversity. Its three-year Value Everyone strategy sets out its goals to create a more diverse workforce and inclusive culture.
In 2020 the company teamed up with the Clear Company to deliver the Leading Inclusively programme, which ran between April and December. More than 150 people from 16 senior leadership teams joined the virtual programme, looking at understanding bias, the role of empathy, inclusive design, and working with suppliers. Each team created a charter to incorporate inclusion into their practices over 2021 and beyond.
It also introduced a reverse mentoring programme for senior leaders, connecting them to personal stories and lived experiences. A Let’s Talk About Race workshop took place after the death of George Floyd in May 2020, attended by 158 leaders and managers. The company deploys D&I champions and L&D trainers to embed the messages of its diversity programmes, and has increased investment in female talent progression through its Empower programme. An e-learning module on the importance of inclusion has reached more than 7,000 employees.
As a result of these initiatives, Balfour Beatty has seen more focus on D&I at the top of the organisation, with leaders having more open conversations with their reports. It was one of the first construction companies to sign an open letter (in conjunction with inclusion company INvolve) to commit to long-term action for Black inclusion. A new approach to flexible working has been launched and small networks have begun their own inclusion initiatives, such as a monthly coffee session on menopause. The number of employees reporting the company “talks about diversity and inclusion” has jumped from 16% in 2019 to 66% in 2020. Those reporting they “can be myself at work and be accepted” is 84%. The mean and median gender pay gap has reduced to 15% and 18% respectively from 21% and 26%.
Govia Thameslink Railway
Govia Thameslink Railway is the UK’s largest railway franchise, operating networks including Thameslink, Great Northern and the Gatwick Express. It employs more than 7,400 staff and manages 239 stations. Historically, the rail industry has struggled to attract women, and just 5% of train drivers in the UK are female. The company wanted to increase the number of women applying for these roles, working towards a target of 40% female trainees by 2021.
GTR attended careers fairs across the UK to discuss the opportunities available. It also set up all-female assessment centres for candidates, as well as a scheme that pairs up new female hires with another woman in the company. It advertised in outlets such as Mumsnet, and provided mentors to The Girls’ Network to help young women understand the different career opportunities available. A new recruitment and careers site streamlined the hiring process, featuring case studies of women already working in the roles.
GTR is committed to making its diverse hiring efforts sustainable, so created the Women’s Network Group to support women to both join and stay in the rail industry. The group has supported the creation of an outreach programme with schools and colleges and a dedicated portal for career progression. The number of female applicants for train driver posts grew from 413 in 2019 to 825 in 2020. At time of entry, it was at 40% of its target for female applications for 2021.
London North West University Healthcare Trust
London North West University Healthcare Trust (LNWH) is an acute community Trust with a workforce of more than 8,500 people. Black and minority ethnic staff make up 65% of the Trust, which serves Ealing, Harrow and Brent. The disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on those from ethnic minority communities meant that at one point during the pandemic almost 20% of staff were off sick with the virus.
When vaccinations were introduced, the Trust’s staff were key in delivering it to the public but uptake among themselves was low. The Trust wanted to promote vaccine uptake among ethnic minority staff without stigmatising them or creating a ‘blame’ culture.
It set up listening events, engaged with staff networks and consulted with clinicians. A team of clinical and non-clinical vaccine advocates came together with the support of HR to promote vaccine uptake, including town-hall style meetings to raise awareness, direct messaging via social media, video campaigns and webinars. They also held Q&A clinics and open sessions where staff could share their concerns.
Between February and June 2021, vaccine uptake among the Trust’s Black and ethnic minority workforce increased from 56% to 81% (and continued to increase). Trust CEO Chris Bown said of the increase: “It is no exaggeration to say that incredibly serious health outcomes have been significantly reduced through this collaborative effort”.
The death of George Floyd and rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 highlighted the need for a policing workforce representative of its community. Although 14% of the UK population comes from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, only 7.3% of police officers do so.
Furthermore, more than half of people from ethnic minority backgrounds believe the criminal justice system discriminates against them, and the appeal of a career in the police has decreased by 26%. Diverse participants can feel alienated when they join their policing teams: 86% of white officers felt welcomed by their colleagues, compared to 74% of officers from ethnic minority backgrounds.
The organisation took an ‘under-represented first’ approach to recruiting, training and supporting minority groups in its graduate scheme, set by the senior leadership team. Using a data-led approach, it looked beyond generic groupings to see how particular candidates would feel from, for example, a Pakistani community compared to a Black Caribbean graduate. Targeted campaigns using authentic voices highlighted the positive impacts candidates could make in their communities. Applicants from ethnic minority backgrounds received one-to-one coaching and mentoring.
Around a quarter of this cohort identifies as coming from an ethnic minority background, up from 17% the year before. In addition, 61% identify as female, and 55% were the first in their family to go to university. Learning programmes have been received positively, with 81% feeling their leadership development officers had encouraged them to think differently, and 84% feeling they had supported their personal and professional development. Some 93% of the national graduate leadership programme felt comfortable discussing diversity with colleagues, and the retention rate is 94%.
Reward Gateway is committed to building a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive environment that values equity for all. Feedback from employees showed that the company needed to focus on race if it was to exceed these expectations, so it identified three pillars for change. These were: to foster inclusive recruitment practices; to adopt inclusive career progression practices and to implement inclusive leadership to promote diversity of thought. The result was EPIC: Encourage Positive Improvements Continuously.
EPIC was created in collaboration with a number of key partners, including the senior leadership team and a diverse group of stakeholders including employee network leaders. It encompasses the employee network programme (including groups focusing on accessibility, intergenerational issues, LGBTQIA+, multicultural and women); awareness events; a timeline for improvement; a survey to identify areas for improvement; stories; learning and outreach.
One story from a Black woman in the industry sharing her experience received a record number of comments and reactions, while more than 150 employees participate in at least one employee network. All hiring managers have now taken part in an inclusive hiring course and the company is beginning to have more conversations with clients around inclusion, including how RG’s own products can be used to support the D&I agenda.
Unlocked is a two-year leadership development programme that encourages high-potential graduates to become prison officers and help tackle the huge societal issue of reoffending. Over half of young people in prison are from a Black and ethnic minority background, yet only 6.4% of prison officers are. The organisation wanted to increase the proportion of candidates from ethnic minorities from 18% to 25%, to increase applications from men from 29% to 35%, as well as increase the number of people registered to apply to 4,000.
A video aimed at potential candidates covered the likely reactions they might get if they expressed interest in a prison officer career. Unlocked then developed three key personas around which to build a messaging framework – the content featured a diverse range of current graduates and promoted Unlocked’s bold Black Lives Matter messages. Data analysis helped pinpoint universities to target, and the organisation ran a Race and Disproportionality in Prisons event online. A partnership with digital communications agency Hype enabled it to target social media influencers.
The campaign exceeded targets: it led to 27% of applications from ethnic minority candidates, 36% of applications from men, and 4,200 application starts with almost 1,700 completed applications. Social media post-engagement was 23%, compared to average rates for a consumer campaign of 8-10%.
Wickes (in partnership with Peppy)
Wickes has a male-dominated workforce and wanted to attract more women, with the right benefits and support in place to retain them. Five years ago, there were 2,772 women and 57 female managers, and there are now 3,216 women and 164 female managers, thanks to specific support the company has built for its female staff.
Wickes asked female staff about barriers they faced at work: this revealed that new mothers returning to work often found it a challenge, lacking confidence and feeling disconnected from the workplace. The company worked with Peppy to identify issues women face at key life stages, including fertility, early parenthood and menopause. Specialist benefits targeting these areas aimed to improve recruitment, retention, engagement, productivity and ultimately bottom-line profit.
Peppy Baby, a perinatal healthcare benefit, supported more than 1,000 new parents and led to a 48% decrease in depression and anxiety, and a 68% increase in those classing their mental wellbeing as normal. It was initially offered as a pilot to lower income groups. The company also improved maternity pay from statutory to 13 weeks on full pay followed by 13 weeks on half pay, and now offers two-weeks fully paid paternity leave.
Employees who need support with parenthood or menopause can access confidential chats with a specialist and virtual consultations via the Peppy app. The services are accessible to employees of all genders, sexual orientations, ethnicities, physical abilities, level of staff and their partners.
Wickes launched the support with Peppy Baby in November 2020, achieving a 250% increase in registrations in the first six weeks. Eighty-six staff signed up to menopause support, 11 for fertility, and almost 800 chats have been booked across the service, with a 100% feedback rating.