Alisa Harewood

Alisa Harewood, We-R-One Diversity: People do not need to be in the office for the world to keep moving


Assessing where you are now as a company, where you want to be, and how to get there is crucial to setting up your journey when it comes to equality, diversity, and inclusion. The post-crisis reality may just give companies the push that they needed in order to put ED&I at the core of their HR strategies moving forward, says Alisa Harewood, Director of We-R-One Diversity Management Consultancy, in an exclusive interview for Workplace Today.

As we are rebuilding the new workplace, how should we go about putting ED&I at the core of this New Normal? 

Alisa Harewood: I said it pre-lockdown, I will say it post-lockdown, and will continue to advocate for this… creating and cultivating a culture of diversity and inclusivity has to come from the heart and soul of an organisation’s culture and strategy. ED&I should not be a tick-the-box activity that organisations ‘feel’ they need to be seen to be doing, it needs to be aligned to the mission, vision, and values, be part of the long term strategic objectives, and driven by the CEO/COO of every organisation, simply because it is the right thing to do. 

How has working remotely changed the way companies are approaching ED&I?

Alisa Harewood: To be honest, the immediate necessity of companies having to move to remote and more flexible working practices has shown that. Companies immediately needed to invest in infrastructure and technologies that support this, I would hope that this will open up more innovative thinking about flexible working models being implemented post-lockdown. This will open a window of opportunity for companies looking at attracting and recruiting a more diverse workforce, specifically lone parents and disabled people.  

What aspects should companies think about and consider as they are planning their ED&I strategies in this new reality? 

Alisa Harewood: An organisation’s ED&I journey is unique and, as a result, there is no ‘one sizes fits all’ model. But every company should take the opportunity to sit down and get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations in order to ask themselves and find answers to three simple questions:

  1. Where are we now?
  2. Where do we want to be?
  3. How will we get there?

Once these questions have been answered you are then treating it with the respect it deserves. Set a realistic budget, create a strategy and an operational function that aligns to recruitment, retention, training & development, and succession planning. Then have a regular governance process in place to measure successes and learn from failures, so that you are continually improving.  

How do you promote a workplace culture that values ED&I? What steps should managers and leaders take to create such a culture? 

Alisa Harewood:

  1. ED&I should form the heart and soul of every organisation’s workplace culture, being driven by the mission, vision, and values of any organisation. 
  2. The CEO/COO of every organisation should champion this as a strategic priority – it is a statistical fact that creating a culture of inclusivity increases the bottom line. So outside of being the right thing to do, it will directly result in better brand presence, set a company to be an employer of choice, and inspire and fully engage the workforce, which will, in turn, increase productivity, and hey presto – increased revenue!
  3. Managers can ensure that they hold the organisation accountable, by ensuring that this is not an area that is just ‘nice to have’ but essential for their individual and departmental growth, both personally and professionally. If this does not happen then create your own strategy – your own objectives to create a positive work culture. Positive cultures spawn positivity, so be the change that you want to see.

What is your advice on having conversations about sensitive ED&I topics in a respectful manner? How can managers and leaders create a space for these conversations to take place? How do you create a space for vulnerability? 

Alisa Harewood: It is essential for the workplace culture to be right in order for this to happen successfully. If an organisation has its temperature of fear set to high, then this is an impossible task. They must create a culture that promotes and supports trust, transparency, and freedom of speech. Once again, this comes from leadership downwards but in a nutshell, we all have to get braver and better about having those uncomfortable conversations as these will lead to real, long-term change. 

5 Steps To Getting Comfortable Having Uncomfortable Conversations 

  • Prepare for the conversations and set time aside, show that it is valuable. 
  • Ask questions so that you are clear on the issues that are affecting your workforce. 
  • Recognise where there are issues, do not dismiss them or try to avoid them.
  • Express your perspective without minimising theirs.
  • Solve the issues if they are things that need follow up, then make sure you stick to commitments you made, in order to build trust. 

Every company should take the opportunity to sit down and get comfortable having uncomfortable conversations

(Alisa Harewood is the founder and managing director of We-R-One, a consultancy that believes that Equality + Empowerment = Advancement for all, by helping organisations understand how they can create a culture of inclusivity, in order for all people to thrive. Her mission is to change the narrative around race relations and gender equality, by encouraging people to get comfortable with having uncomfortable conversations, so that we can create solutions and make long-term, sustainable #changethatmatters.)