Companies aiming to create inclusive workplaces should focus on building an environment where people feel they can bring their whole self to work not just the part they think work wants to see, says Camilla Faith, HR Director at Grosvenor Estates and Trustee at Astriid. Achieving equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) in a company is challenging but it starts in the simple day to day business interactions. For example, encouraging people to talk about their experiences and concerns regarding ED&I in meetings and taking time to understand other people’s points of view.
In this exclusive interview, Camilla Faith shares her experience with creating inclusive work environments and her thoughts on the changes HR departments can expect to see post-pandemic. Find actionable insights on how to change workplace cultures and how to create partnerships between companies and charities.
How do you see the ‘new normal’ in the workplace? What are some of the steps you are taking to prepare employees for this new reality as they are returning to work?
Camilla Faith: In July we set up working teams to brainstorm solutions for a number of concerns. We have had to configure our workplaces to make them safe and to that end, we have reduced occupancy of our workplaces to 50% and we are now using every other desk when people are in the office. Hand sanitisation is now available on entering the building, people have their temperatures checked and we have created one way systems around the office. We are putting a lot of thought on how to make the journey to work as safe as possible for everyone and especially for those who use public transport. For example, installing extra showers so people can bicycle to work, renting extra parking spaces so people can drive in, flexing start and end times of the day so people are not commuting in the rush hour. Lastly, it is important to find ways to make people feel comfortable about coming back to the office, which can be achieved in many ways. We could make a video of the new office layout or offer mental health support or support parents seeking clarity from schools as to the protocols being put into place for the safety of their children.
Create a workplace that feels inclusive to everyone so they can bring their whole self to work, not just the part they think work wants to see. To do this, we have to create awareness of the lack of diversity in companies first and then begin by showing people what an inclusive workplace looks like.
As we are rebuilding the workplace now, how can companies put diversity at the core of their HR strategies?
Camilla Faith: Create a workplace that feels inclusive to everyone so they can bring their whole self to work, not just the part they think work wants to see. To do this, we have to create awareness of the lack of diversity in companies first and then begin by showing people what an inclusive workplace looks like. This can be done through videos demonstrating what inclusion looks like or by encouraging conversations in teams about what they think a diverse workplace is and what they can do to ensure it is inclusive. Back up this awareness with leadership behaviour. For example, if leaders say there should be diverse candidate lists for any external recruitment, then they need to check that each shortlist of candidates is truly diverse so recruitment managers know people in senior positions are paying attention. Monitoring and tracking progress against diversity targets over 5 to 10 years is also a good idea. This activity will need to continue over several years until the culture of the workplace has shifted so that thinking ‘diversity and inclusion’ is the norm.
What are some of the things employers can do to make the workplace more inclusive? How do you create a work culture where people embrace equality, diversity and inclusion?
Camilla Faith: Create conversations around the topic at every level in the organisation. I found that if the conversations happen in team meetings, everyone (however introverted) can speak up and share their experiences and concerns. Understanding someone else’s experiences helps others become more aware of their own behaviour.
Work on creating awareness around the language norms in the culture and see if the language makes certain groups of people feel alienated by the culture. Recruiters should be particularly aware of this last point. Also, when recruiting, ensure the recruiting panel is diverse so that candidates recognise someone similar to them in the organisation.
Will flexible working become the norm? How can corporates work around this new reality?
Camilla Faith: I believe working from anywhere policies will become the norm for those who do not have to be at a set place of work. In our company, we have introduced a policy of “core hours” from 10 am to 4 pm, for a period of three months. The idea behind this is that people have a guarantee that they can get hold of colleagues during these times. Line managers should also feel supported as they learn to manage their teams’ output rather than attendance.
At the same time, team leaders encouraged all their team members to be in the office at some point in the week. Initially, some people were nervous, but now people are finding value in being back in the office. I don’t think we will have full occupancy of our building five days a week, but we will still need an office space that allows for different types of working; meetings, quiet space, project space and social space. We are planning to reconfigure the floor plan of our buildings to enable this.
How do you care for the mental wellbeing of your employees/colleagues?
Camilla Faith: We have trained mental health first aiders amongst all our employee groups. Many line managers have volunteered to attend mental health awareness workshops. We have run awareness weeks where colleagues have shared their personal experiences of suffering from mental health issues and how they have learnt to manage them. Language around mental health is now common in the workplace culture. This has been helpful during lockdown, as colleagues who have suffered anxiety and depression have felt confident to share their concerns. People working in HR know their populations and during the pandemic, they personally rang to check on individuals they thought might be suffering in silence and they didn’t just take care of the employees. They did the same thing with our 400 pensioner population during lockdown. At the same time, all line managers are encouraged to check in with their team members once or twice a week to maintain a sense of connection.
How will this pandemic change employee engagement? What are some of the things your company has done over the last few months to keep their employees engaged?
Camilla Faith: We have increased communication from leaders so that there is a new weekly newsletter, a monthly town hall meeting (used to be quarterly) and regular videos from different leaders and colleagues. Pulse surveys show that this high touch interaction is much appreciated by all employees and we will continue this level of communications even when we are back in the office.
What changes do you expect to see in the HR sector post-COVID-19?
Camilla Faith: My top 5 expected changes would be:
- An investment in the creation of future scenarios so HR can plan for business continuity.
- A need for HR departments to be able to respond quickly to any change in business.
- The ability to deliver services – recruitment / contracts / payroll / development / data analytics online.
- Balance the need for business success and compassion for stakeholders.
- Understanding the culture required to deliver the business strategy and how to build it within the organisation virtually.
How did you hear about Astriid and what motivated you to become a trustee?
Camilla Faith: David Shutts, the founder of Astriid, asked me to be a Trustee. I was delighted to accept because I believe the aim of the charity is fantastic. It addresses a real and huge need.
How has the pandemic affected the partnerships between businesses and charities?
Camilla Faith: While I cannot comment on other companies, I can say that where I work we have strong committed relationships with charities that support our philanthropic strategy. Usually, employees select the charities they wish to work with for a year and then work hard to raise money for their chosen causes. These fundraising activities are run by local charity committees. The commitment we have towards our charity partners has continued throughout lockdown, despite not being able to run real-life fundraising events this year. However, we have run online karaoke where employees donate money or can raise pledges in support of their karaoke act. Some colleagues dressed up as witches and had to pitch why you would donate to their charity. Events like this to a known group of people have been successful in raising funds. Most employees use a Give as you Earn scheme from their monthly pay and this is matched by the company to any charity of their choice.