Planning for the New World: A Q&A with Mark Atkinson
1st May 2018 4 minutes read
Jo Heath, Head of Diversity & Inclusion Practice
With over 20 years of expertise within the field of workplace diversity, Jo operates as an Equality Law Improvement Professional and a Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) auditor. She has worked with global organisations in the private, public, and third sectors carrying out complex inclusion audits and cultural impact assessments. Jo advises on all legislation relating to equality and spearheads the design and delivery of a range of cultural initiatives, leadership programmes and D&I solutions for inclusive business environments.
Q1: What attracted you to the field of Diversity & Inclusion?
A: I have always been passionate about inclusion and social injustice as a result of witnessing first-hand early in my career, the challenges experienced by women working within a male dominated environment.
As the only senior female in a team of 30, I struggled to navigate my career path and be recognised for my own leadership style, in a way that was fully authentic to me. Although, I encountered some supportive male leaders and role models, I quickly recognised that both my gender and alternative academic background on occasions left me feeling excluded and overlooked within the traditional culture of many organisations.
I was also aware that I was not alone, knowing that other very talented individuals were experiencing the same challenges. I wanted to educate leaders to be more open to ‘difference’, by helping them to remove barriers to opportunity and support organisational capacity to build world-class organisations.
Q: How has the D&I landscape changed since you first entered it?
Twenty years ago, Diversity and Inclusion was a topic that very few organisations were open to speaking about. In recent years, the landscape has changed enormously and for the most part, for the better.
Especially over the Iast five years, I have witnessed a sea-change as many organisations now place D&I, front and centre of their strategic business priorities. Despite this, there is frustrating lack of progress across certain strands of diversity, such as executive female leadership, ethno-cultural and disabled talent representation.
I often find that firms are making a concerted effort to diversify their hiring profile, but investing too little in embedding the inclusive practices required to enable all employees -regardless of their background – to meet their full potential and progress at the same rate as their peers. While we have come a long way, the way ahead is still long and far from easy if we are to successfully future-proof our organisations.
Q: Why was Green Park your employer of choice?
A: For a number of years, I had heard about the work at Green Park and often found myself crossing paths with the company’s founders. Green Park had developed a unique proposition within the D&I space and were delivering real and valuable change, which I admired. They had a reputation for challenging industry standards, calling for greater responsibility and accountability within the recruitment market, and setting a new benchmark for diverse and appointable candidate lists that widened the gate, without lowering the bar.
Most importantly, Green Park was bold and unafraid to speak openly about a topic that many would only skirt around. Unlike other organisations, they weren’t repeating the same old rhetoric. Instead they’d invested heavily in the resources and networks to produce original, purposeful research to help other organisations reap the benefits of diversity done well.
Q: What has been your greatest learning curve?
A: In 2017 I faced my greatest challenge. With no warning I had a stroke which left me completely paralysed on the right-hand side of my body. I had always lived and worked at a fast pace, thriving to learn, welcoming new challenges and pushing myself beyond my comfort boundaries. Suddenly I faced life in an electric wheelchair.
My drive and determination to excel never diminished, but the reality of life and work with access challenges was my greatest and steepest of learning curves yet. Despite professionally advising on disability and accessibility issues for many years, I found I was not equipped to navigate the barriers I faced. I now see the world in a very different way. I have a new-found appreciation for those people, clients and leaders who are truly inclusive. I have developed new understanding of just how much work we still need to do to educate and support others to manage disability within the workplace and, find alternative ways to adjust and leverage their valuable talent.
Q: What are your three top tips for organisations looking to increase their Diversity and Inclusion?
A: Get the D&I “mix” right. Diversity and increasing representation is crucial, however if organisations don’t have inclusive practices and inclusive leaders then they will be ill-equipped to manage diverse teams and adjust their infrastructure to ensure all people meet their potential.
Consider “culture add” not cultural fit. Think “how can this person be ‘additive’ to our culture?” This will encourage you to leverage difference and avoid affinity bias-based decisions.
Ensure accountability. D&I is not solely an HR issue: it is everyone’s responsibility. Leaders need to believe in the business case and drive it, staff need to understand their role within the inclusion agenda and individuals need to be held accountable for progress in this area. Whether this forms part of an objective in their performance review or ensuring that D&I is part of conscious decision-making through all employee and business processes.
Q: What would be your advice to your younger self?
A: Don’t compromise or conform; stay true to your values. If changing your values or conforming is the only way you can progress within an organisation, it certainly isn’t the place for you as it does not appreciate your unique value. I would say be bold, take more risks and don’t regret decisions – as Marilyn Monroe once said, “Never have regrets because at one point everything you did was exactly what you wanted!”
This is an extended version of the article published in Recruitment International on the 1st of May, 2018. For the full Recruitment International Magazine, click here.