My D&I Journey with:
Head of Inclusion & Belonging,
1. What was your journey into diversity and inclusion?
My journey started somewhat outside the “traditional” D&I space. After studying international and human rights law, I started my career as a diplomat. My drive was a deep desire to make the world a little bit more just and fairer, especially for those who experience oppression and marginalisation. Then, to be honest, I realised that I could affect more visible change if I operated at smaller scale. So, instead of trying to change the world, I decided I would change workplaces, in the hope that exposing more people to conversations about fairness, equity and justice would have a positive effect on how they chose to behave outside of work too. And just like that, after years working on human rights projects in Jerusalem, Brussels and Tunisia, I moved to London in 2012 and got my first role as in-house “D&I” function (we called it Equality Improvement) at Mind, the mental health charity. I then moved to the Law Society, then opened my own consultancy, and eventually decided to join OVO on their exciting journey to make zero carbon living possible for everyone (and I make sure when we say “everyone” we really mean that!).
2. How would you describe a typical day in your role?
No such a thing! Every day in my role is very different and it’s shaped by whatever the business brings to me and my team. Whilst we have of course some business as usual work, like supporting our internal Belonging Networks and curating regular Belonging storytelling, I am often asked to jump into different conversations to help bring a “D&I” lens, and make sure we build truly accessible and inclusive products, processes, policies and systems. I pretty much operate as a consultant/adviser to the rest of the business and, with my team’s help, ensure we respond quickly to different requests to provide insights or help organise workshops or listening sessions to make sure the voice of our people is always heard.
3. What is the best part of your job?
Feeling I have a positive impact on someone’s life everyday. Sometimes it is a tiny bit of impact on one person whose experience has improved as a result of my work, other times it’s a huge amount of impact on many people, for example when we introduce better and more inclusive policies or launch campaigns to improve understanding and action around topics spanning from mental health and wellbeing, to menopause, cancer support, to being an ally and becoming consciously and actively anti racist.
4. What advice would you give to someone looking to move into D&I?
Remember: D&I is not a self-contained project you can deliver on your own. To succeed in your role you’re going to need to work collaboratively with many people, and you’ll need to be able to bring in the right expertise at the right time. If you think you know it all and don’t need to rely on others to deliver D&I impact you will fail. So build and nurture your networks, be humble, never consider yourself an expert and always, always use your position to create space for other voices to be heard.
5. What are the main challenges faced by D&I professionals at the moment?
1) Many business leaders can be impatient and only focus on short-term results, especially around diversity representation (e.g. increase % of women or ethnic minorities in the company), and completely fail to understand the longer-term systemic changes needed. Because of this, the D&I team are often asked to focus on things like recruitment, when they should really be focusing on cultural and behavioural change.
2) D&I is still often seen as “the D&I team’s job” rather than being truly embraced as a core business priority everyone is accountable for. That’s why it’s important that D&I objectives/outcomes are not solely owned by the D&I team, but always shared with each business area.
6. Name three skills that support you to succeed in D&I
1.) Collaboration: I believe a big part of my success has been my ability to connect and collaborate with a wide range of people, ensuring I can always rely on the best expertise and insights.
2.) Patience: meaningful and lasting change doesn’t happen overnight. If I reflect now on times when I failed, my failure was often linked to my impatience as I would get frustrated when others weren’t doing things I thought were the obvious right thing to do. But I’ve learnt now that you need to bring people on a journey with you and give them time to get there at a pace that it’s right for them.
3.) Mental agility: in the D&I space, things rarely go the way you planned them. You can have all your plans and priorities, but you often need to jump into a totally different conversation, especially if you think you can seize the opportunity to positively influence it.
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Online Training Workshop
Level 1 – The Foundations to Being an Effective D&I Leader
This online Level 1 CPD Accredited training workshop has been designed for professionals looking to move into a D&I role, or those who have been in a D&I leader role for less than 12 months.
It offers a unique opportunity to learn the foundations to being an effective D&I Leader directly from three experienced D&I practitioners: Gamiel Yafai; Fiona Daniel and Toby Mildon.