Having been an advocate of diversity and inclusion for my entire academic and professional career, there is only one thing I can claim to know with certainty; there are no short-cuts, no simple solutions and you need to be committed – for the long term. When you are dealing with people who are always changing, you need a strategy that is flexible to change.
At Auto Trader we have successfully transitioned from a print to a fully digital business. Part of the transition meant we streamlined our office locations and moved our teams into two vibrant offices in Manchester and London. This allowed us to create a culture of collaboration and instil a sense of sharing with our brilliant and talented colleagues. (Honestly, I am not even biased. They are really such a special bunch of people). But when measuring diversity and inclusion, in both the make-up of our people and attitudes towards the subjects, we recognised that there was a lot of work to be done. Therefore, we set out to create a working environment that truly represents the communities in which we operate in, that serves the changing needs of our customers and one that makes us all feel proud to belong to. We are not there yet and I don’t have all the answers, but based on the work we have been doing for the past two years, here are ten things you could consider trying:
1. Find people who are as passionate as you are. We created a working group with people from across the business and we prefer to meet regularly and drive action. Far from a traditional committee of just senior managers and HR folk the group is open to everyone and recruits new members regularly.
2. Define what it means for your business and create a common understanding. One of the first things we did was to create Auto Trader definitions building on existing ones:
“Diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and individuals from one another. For everyone at Auto Trader it means respect for and appreciation of differences in gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, race & ethnic origin, religion & faith, marital status, social, educational background & way of thinking”
“Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported for who you are”
I came across a brilliant way to summarise their connection that went something like this:
“Diversity is the mix, inclusion is getting the mix to work well together.”
3. Measure where you are starting from and set targets but be careful how you use quotas. Being a technology business with a large presence in the North West of England we have a need and a responsibility to encourage more career opportunities for women and other minorities that are currently under-represented. But setting short-term targets can drive the wrong behaviours and results that are not sustainable. Be bold when removing barriers and take action but make sure you are being fair and focus on long-term results. We are however particularly pleased that our new candidate communication strategies have resulted in significant increase in applications from women and as a result our job offers to women in the last 12 months have increased from 33% to 44%.
4. Allow everyone the time and space to start their own personal journey. We invited all colleagues to join our ‘One Auto Trader’ one day workshops where they got the chance to learn about diversity and inclusion from each other as well as the facilitators. They explored their own biases by completing the Harvard Implicit Associations Tests and experimented with ways in which they could out-smart them so they don’t negatively impact the relationships with other people. Learning brings change but it doesn’t end in the classroom so we have various ways to continue their development throughout the year with blended methods like e-learning and various conferences. Now, all new colleagues attend the same workshop within their first three months with the business.
5. Respect your differences but focus on finding common ground. Political correctness should not hinder you getting to know your colleagues. I personally never perceive the often posed to me ‘Why do Greeks smash plates?’ question as ignorance or stereotype but rather an admirable effort to get to know a bit about me. Encourage conversation as opposed to focussing on what you can and cannot say.
6. Create groups based on common interests as well as diversity strands. We have a book-club, knitting-club, photography, film, running and board game club that all encourage people with similar interests to spend time doing something fun together. Because of the need to make a change in our related industries (mainly technology and automotive) we have created a ‘Women’s Network’ and both women and men actively take part in it. We also started a Mum’s Network which quickly evolved to a Care Network to include anyone with caring responsibilities like mums, dads, those caring for people with long term conditions or an elderly family member or friend.
7. Work with the experts. For example when we recognised the need and willingness of some of our colleagues to learn more about neurodiversity we worked with the National Autistic Society and British Dyslexia Association to run workshops in our offices to understand more about managing and working with people with the related differences.
8. Use technology. We use applications like Textio to ensure the language we use in job adverts is gender neutral. Our people analytics tool, Culture Amp, helps us measure Employer Engagement and added some science behind measuring how effective our initiatives are.
9. Align your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy to your D&I one. We have found tremendous synergies by combining our efforts across our working groups and formed some truly inspiring partnerships with community groups and charities – all under our ‘Make a Difference’ CSR strategy . We teamed up with “Change 100” run by the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity offering summer internships to students and graduates with disabilities. The initiative has been a great way to change perceptions about the limitless abilities of people with disabilities.
10. Celebrate & educate. We choose to recognise and celebrate various religious festivals, as well as International and National Days (you will find that there is one every single calendar day), but the key is to balance the serious awareness messages with a sense of fun – with this balance, we have started to achieve great results. When deciding what to recognise, remember to keep it relevant to causes that are close to your employee’s hearts and avoid the temptation to celebrate every single event, as it takes time to recognise and celebrate in a meaningful and impactful way. We have an annual events calendar that is created by our colleagues from both offices – the August Pride celebration is one of the favourites on it.
Our commitment as a business is to continue to be passionate and determined in fostering a diverse and inclusive culture where everyone can be their authentic, true and best self. We hope by joining the debate, sharing what we do and actively supporting others in our communities to join our efforts that we will inspire them to make changes and champion diversity. And to have fun whilst they do so.