Given what is happening in the world today, it’s important for our sector to talk about equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace, or EDI as we may refer to it. That’s why in our recent podcast, we looked at topics around what EDI can mean for employee engagement, how to create a strong culture of EDI in the workplace, how to influence and get buy in from leadership, and some top tips for organisations starting out on their EDI journey.
Read on to see some key highlights from the podcast, where we spoke to Jennifer Swain. Jen has worked in logistics for over 20 years, mostly in recruitment. She started with an agency, ran her own business, and has spent the last three years with Clipper Logistics and she’s now about to embark on an exciting new journey.
Jen, tell us a little bit more about yourself and the roles you’ve had and how they relate to Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion.
[Jen Swain]: I kind of fell, as I think most people do, into logistics and supply chain through working in recruitment. I’d never heard of it before, and it wasn’t a subject or an industry that I knew anything about. I just completely fell in love with the topic and spent the next 10 years working purely in recruitment within logistics and supply chain. As the days progressed interviewing candidates within the sphere of logistics and supply chain, it started to become really, really apparent to me that there was an issue around diversity.
I was seeing the same demographics, coming through the door, and seeing women in particular struggle to climb the ladder within logistics and supply chain. I interviewed very few women within the logistics industry, and I was always hearing lot of stories from women who has faced various barriers due to their gender. It really sparked a passion in me to try on raise awareness around it.
That led me on to working for Clipper Logistics where I worked for three years and I was asked to head up our alternative labour supply, a project which we now know as Fresh Start, which essentially is about offering opportunities to individuals who would normally face barriers to employment. I’ve done that for the past 2.5 years or so and I absolutely loved it. Its now flying and we’ve got over 1,000 people working through that project at Clipper.
Why is EDI in the workplace so important do you think? What are the benefits?
[JS]: I think there’s a whole stream of benefits. Some around health and wellbeing, and generally feeling good about what you are doing and the contributions that you’re making, but there are massive commercial benefits to having EDI within the workplace. When you reach out to people who have otherwise struggled to gain employment, and you offer them a position that essentially gives them a chance, what you’ll do is create a really loyal workforce of people who are grateful that they have been given the opportunity. These people work so hard and they come to work with a smile on their face every single day. They really lift the morale of the workplace, so you end up with a much more efficient and effective workforce, a workforce you can rely on.
All of Clipper’s figures around time and attendance are the best with the Fresh Start workers. Clipper has a 92% retention rate within the Fresh Start scheme. These are the same people who will turn up on time every day and don’t call in sick. Actually, some of the employees that through Mencap are the very best pickers week after week.
So, there’s a multitude of reasons and I think, particularly within logistics, it is vital, that we are working hard to change the stereotypes. We go on about how difficult it is to attract people into the industry and I think a lot of that is to do with the fact that people have a perception that it’s quite an old fashioned environment to work within, it’s a very white dominated, male dominated industry. And I think EDI plays a massive part in making the industry a much more attractive one to join.
How do you think strong EDI can help with recruitment and why is EDI such an important part of youth employment?
[JS]: A lot of the reasons why organisations in logistics were previously looking at Alternative Labour Solutions was about CSR and making sure you’re do the right thing. But essentially, it started as a business need because of Brexit, because a lot of our workforce was returning back to Eastern European countries and there was a talent shortage. But it is really important that we don’t forget all the other great reasons why EDI is so vital in recruitment. Now that there may be less of a need because unemployment is going to be so high, it’s important we don’t forget the benefits. Just because there might not be a gap at the moment it doesn’t make EDI any less relevant.
One of the main areas of why it’s so relevant, is because we do need to encourage young people to join logistics. It’s a fact that 80% of millennials will go online and research your business before they join you and if they don’t feel that you have an authentic commitment to CSR, they won’t even come for the interview. So, from a perspective of making sure that you are presented as an employer of choice and that you’re doing all the right things to encourage people to join your business, that employer branding piece is so vital. It’s absolutely vital that EDI is a serious and authentic part of your policy and that you’re committed to it.
So, there is obviously demographic diversity. But, what about the importance of making sure we’ve got cognitive diversity as well?
[JS]: When I talk about diversity, it’s very much not just about age or gender. You know, we’re talking about having neurodiversity within the business. We are talking about helping people from different ethnicities, with different sexual orientation, because essentially when you create a sort of cosmopolitan environment, a melting pot of personalities and experiences, and you put those people as part of a team, and – most importantly – you create inclusivity so everybody feels they’ve got a voice and what they say is relevant, you create a really powerful culture. It’s here where the best ideas happen. It’s where you create agile environments, where people can adapt because you’ve got lots of different skill sets and experiences that you could draw from.
If you only recruit from one demographic or a set of people that come very much from the same background, you are only ever going to have a limited output of ideas because everybody has shared experiences. So, it is vital that both cognitive and demographic diversity are considered when recruiting talent.
How do you think you can identify whether an organisation is in a good or bad place, in terms of equality, diversity, and inclusion?
[JS]: There’s always things we could do better. So, I think for me, it’s just about making sure that at decision maker level, at board level, that there is an appetite for it. And then in my experience, when you go and talk to operational staff about something like Fresh Start or an EDI policy, everyone is in absolute agreement that it should happen.
I think any resistance tends to come from further up, because they see it as maybe something that could detract from the bottom line. There’s a perception that it could take more time, that it could open yourself up to risk from a HR perspective. So, it’s just about making sure that you gain one or two people who are on board at senior level and use them as a mouthpiece in larger organisations. In smaller organisations, you just have to make sure that whoever’s in charge really wants to do it, because if they don’t, then you’ll probably have limited success.
Are there any top tips that you would suggest for an organisation that is about to put more focus on their EDI journey?
[JS]: I would tap into other businesses who have done this successfully. There is also an equality organisation called ENEI, who have a gold standard of organisations who are diverse and who work very hard to achieve diversity, I would tap into that resource and just ask people if you can go and see their EDI schemes in action and ask questions as to what it means for their workforce. I think for me, the biggest key was actually starting to get it off the ground. We could prove the difference it made and start to get anecdotal evidence from the line managers who said things like, “it’s the best thing I’ve ever been involved in”, “I really love coming to work more”, “I feel much more motivated”, “I feel like I’ve got a sense of purpose or that I’ve given something back”.
All of that intangible stuff is very difficult to put a figure on in terms of your profits or success, but, at the end of the day, we all know that if people come to work happy and they’re motivated, that outputs and success will be greater. Then it’s about having data to back up all of the things that you are doing. In terms of things like KPIs for being on time and attendance, and a massive one for all businesses, is cost savings on recruitment.
Clipper were a very temp agency heavy business when I started with them and through Fresh Start, they saved hundreds of thousands of pounds on temp agency fees. I’d say it doesn’t matter if you recruit 10 people, 100 people or 10,000 people, there are associated cost savings that come with running EDI schemes like Fresh Start. Obviously, that is not the reason I did it and that’s not why I’m passionate about it. Pragmatically, when you’re trying to influence senior level people as to why they should do it, the pound always talks at the end of the day.
Are there any suggestions for employers on what things they could do to avoid unconscious bias?
[JS]: If you’re serious about EDI, before you even embark on recruiting or interviewing people who are not classed as mainstream, or who are vulnerable, you absolutely have to make sure that your business is geared up for that. So, whether that’s having training on things like disability awareness, how to train or work with people with neurodiversity, ensuring that there’s not going to be any sort of ‘ism’ – whether it’s racism, sexism, people who may pick on somebody because of their sexuality, whatever it may be. There is training available, and a lot of it is free, because it’s provided by the charities who support these types of individuals, and they can come into your workplace and help you with that.
There’s also something called Disability Confident, which is a scheme from the government that you go through, it’s actually a tick box exercise to basically sound out whether you are ready, whether you’ve got accessibility for people with physical disabilities, whether you are doing things like looking at reduced hours for people, that that may not be the position yet to work 40 hours a week. There’s lots of different things that you can do, and you should spend some time on this.
When you’re actually recruiting, you will need to change and make reasonable adjustments to your recruitment process. So, you need to make sure that whoever’s interviewing is fully aware of unconscious bias, that they’ve had training on it, that they are not somebody who might be prone to it. You might decide that you’re not going to hold typical interviews, that you trust the partner that you’re working with, the charity that you work with, whoever it might be that’s introducing people to you, that they actually make the selection for you based on their knowledge of your business.
Because you’ve worked together closely to make sure that your business is ready to accept these people on board, then it’s a case of offering them a day’s or a week’s work trial or and that is again something that you can get advice from the charity partners on. They can advise you on what those reasonable adjustments need to look like, to make sure that that you don’t put blockers up at that recruitment stage.
You’ve mentioned a couple of times that there are charities out there that can help you. What organisations can employers reach out to that can help them start this journey?
[JS]: ENEI are great to start with and they have great resources. In terms of organisations that you can reach out to help you access alternative or vulnerable demographics of people, then the list is as long as your arm!
For me, with Clipper being such a big organisation and trying to avoid putting all eggs in one basket, it was about a multi-level approach. So, the company used many different organisations, from Mencap, who put us in touch with their neuro diverse customers, to Tempus Novo who are a charity that help ex-offenders gain work. And also working with local councils who have their own initiatives to support people who would struggle to find employment. The NHS has got a department geared to help people who have had mental health illnesses and that are on the road to recovery and to help them with their transition back into the workplace. And there is Emmaus who are a homeless charity.
I think my biggest piece of advice would be think about your own organisation. There will be many more organisations created because of Covid and because of people being unemployed. There will be many more charities and initiatives to help support people who are out of work. As a first step, it’s always great to get in touch with your local council and ask them to put you in contact with any local organisations that have contracts with DWP to help more vulnerable people or to help a diverse range of individuals.
All charities have got the best of intentions or heart, but not all of them are geared up to ensure that we mitigate as much risk as possible. So, for example, there are a lot of ex offender charities out there. Clipper works with Tempus Novo specifically because they can access various things to ensure that risk is mitigated as much as possible when employing ex-offenders and they are there to support employees for those first six months. Every single partner that I selected, I ensured that they were able to provide some level of support post placement and I think that that’s a really crucial part of any successful EDI scheme.
To reach out to Jennifer Swain, please contact her via LinkedIn.