High Profile Magazine
Lydiah Igweh is the Director of Enterprise Support at Oxford Brookes University. With over 17 years of C-level Business Development, Marketing and Strategy experience, Igweh specializes in innovation, entrepreneurship, organizational change, leadership and digital transformation. She’s committed to championing women in business and advancing race equality. Lydiah enjoys writing, mentoring future young leaders with EY Foundation, public speaking and presenting.
The importance and value of equality and inclusion in driving and enhancing corporate and business performance is irrefutable. Understanding the mix of differences and how employee representation impacts performance is critical. Progressing racial equality is one of the most stated goals of many organisations globally. According to McKinsey & Company, since the murder of George Floyd, 32% of the top 1000 US companies made statements supporting racial justice, 22% made external commitments to promote racial equity, and 18% made internal commitments to promote D&I.
Research by McKinsey & Company, Catalyst and others, reveals the importance and benefits of leveraging the diversity of employee network think-tanks to achieve D&I goals. Institutions globally have used knowledge from these networks to create tools to diagnose barriers that potentially prevent diverse and underrepresented employees from reaching their full potential.
Recently I spoke to Race and Multicultural Employee Networks leaders at leading professional services firm Deloitte and leading public services provider Serco. We discussed the importance and benefits of engaging diversity employee networks to advance race equality in the workplace. These fabulous four are changing the status quo and creating a positive impact through their efforts:
Richard Kuti is the Race at Work Programme Manager at Serco, leading Serco’s race and ethnicity strategy to drive better D&I throughout the UK and Europe. He founded the Serco Embrace network in 2018, which, under his leadership, grew to over 300 members. It facilitated several events and programmes to help educate senior leaders on the lived experiences of colleagues and communities from BAME backgrounds.
Tasneem Said is a founding member and the Chair of the Embrace network at Serco. She is an experienced senior in-house counsel acting for Serco’s most significant and complex contracts. At Embrace, she started out as the Deputy Chair and from April 2021 took over as Chair. In her time, the network has gone from strength to strength and she has been instrumental in advising and influencing Serco’s direction in relation to diversity and inclusion.
Niharika Khanna is also a founding member and newly appointed Deputy Chair for the Serco Embrace Network. Over the last couple of years, as Events & Communications Lead, Niharika has been the driving force behind the company’s recognition of different multifaith cultural events such as Ramadan, Diwali and more, with over 20 events attracting hundreds of colleagues. She leads business-critical projects ranging from Strategic Planning, Corporate Renewal to Serco Management System and operational performance reporting to the Board.
Richard Odufisan is a Manager in the Deloitte Consulting Practice, co-Chair of the firm’s Black Network and a leader in the firm’s Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing agenda, as an Inclusion Lead, Mental Health and Wellbeing Champion coordinating and supporting initiatives to build greater cultural change. As a Steering Group member, Richard works with the leadership to design and implement Deloitte’s Black Action Plan with a core message that through diversity and inclusion, we celebrate our differences, and no one gets left behind or forgotten.
Employee Networks are strategic catalysts to unlocking and harnessing the power of diversity, realising equity and equality, creating inclusive cultures in workplaces, and supporting organisations to achieve their D&I goals. These networks are made of passionate volunteers connected through shared experiences, orientations, and common workplace inclusivity challenges.
Richard Odufisan provides a powerful narrative explaining the importance of a network. He says: “When it comes to pushing for equality of experience, the network provides a collective voice to speak to and actively address areas of inequality”.
Incidents against racial diversity have added pressure on these groups to do more sometimes without additional support and resource allocation. Some organisations have hastened to increase support towards D&I. A 2020 article by McKinsey & Company indicates that last year alone, 57% of Fortune 1000 companies committed to racial equity initiatives by pledging a total of $66 billion. It’s essential for organisations to progressively re-evaluate support and resource these networks through budget allocations and internal support structures. As voiced by Richard Odufisan: “We have an annual budget and access to our central functions teams such as recruitment, comms, HR who help amplify the efforts of the network.”
Tasneem Said echoes this: “Organisations could show support for Employee Networks by allowing these groups time to network and share best practice within and outside the network. The benefits and value of these efforts are invaluable both short-term and long-term”.
Through Employee Networks, organisations can get feedback on the D&I initiatives and draw from the lessons learnt to build sustainable equity and equality goals. They instrument accountability at the leadership and employee level towards more inclusive and equitable workplaces.
Richard Kuti says: Where possible, we try and challenge root causes, especially where they are apparent. Our network provides anecdotal data on people’s lived experiences to senior leaders to ensure that change does happen in the right way.
Niharika explains several initiatives instrumented by the Serco Embrace network: “We’ve increased our pace and efforts to make Serco a fairer and more equitable organisation. The network has been key in getting people’s thoughts and views, making key recommendations and actions to improve inclusion. Specific actions: (1) Safe space sessions, (2) Resources for the multi-ethnic community and allies, (3) Support leadership on company comms, (4) Signed up to the Race At Work Charter (RAWC), (5) Ran masterclasses on “overcoming unconscious bias” and 50+ inclusion workshops in seminars and team meetings.
When effectively supported, Employee Networks feel listened to, they develop a higher vested interest in staying and seeing their objectives. Richard Odufisan demonstrates this: Our Black Action Plan came as a direct response to the death of George Floyd. Listening sessions organised internally by our Multicultural Network provided real insight into the lived experiences of black colleagues. Since then, we have continued to push forward the agenda to improve all underrepresented colleagues’ experiences and build a culture with allyship at its heart.
Through their impact, Employee Networks help employees develop a sense of belonging and enhance organisational growth commitment. This reduces turnover & absenteeism, increases productivity, improves corporate competitiveness, making Diversity Employee Networks a fruitful value proposition that all global organisations should undoubtedly embrace and inculcate in their current and future goals.