When striving to create a culture of inclusion and belonging in a workplace, it’s vital to get people to buy into various initiatives. Rather than feeling that it’s something being forced on them, you have to help them understand why it’s important. Doing so yields more enthusiastic engagement, especially when the diverse voices in the organisation feel represented and heard. That, in turn, increases employee happiness and well-being and results in better performance across the board.
Max Webber, Co-Host of The Interview, spoke to Stephanie Robey, HR Director at CRM Students, a company that manages student accommodation across the UK and Europe on account of private investors, about how best to inspire that sort of buy-in in order to achieve an organisation that’s truly inclusive and, therefore, successful.
I really fell into it. I actually started my career in the Royal Navy, which was something I’d wanted to do since I was very young. But eventually, I met my other half, got married, and had children, and it wasn’t a lifestyle I felt I could sustain. So I left and got a job in engineering, doing preventative maintenance management for Emcor, based at the Atomic Weapons Establishment outside of Basingstoke, and afterwards I worked for DP World Southampton Docks. After some time, we were bought out by a bigger company and went through a redundancy process. The Human Resources (HR) Director said he needed someone to manage the operations department. I signed up for the role, and at the same time spent two years doing Level 3 and Level 5 CIPD. I managed the timesheet, schedules, and absence management. Following a move to Oxfordshire, where I took on a role as an HR Advisor with CRM Students. Eventually, I worked my way up from there to HR Director!
It’s all about getting the understanding and buy-in from people. People need to understand what you’re trying to achieve and why, rather than just having something imposed on them. They want to be part of the process. We’ve done a big initiative at CRM where we’re part of a project called Includability, we’ve had to do work on five different ‘star levels’ to prove we’re inclusive, both internally and externally to the business. That includes the way we’re recruiting, training, and working on business policies. So it’s something that’s very important to us.
It can be difficult, especially at the moment. You’ve got people who are either working from home or hybrid, and some of them are more inclined to just want to do their job. But they’re the people you really want to be aiming for because they’ve removed themselves slightly from the collaborative workspace. So we’ve just launched something called JAAQ At Work, which stands for ‘Just Ask A Question’. It began with a webinar about supporting mental health, and Includability, and covered a lot of what we’re all trying to do in HR with people they could relate to. Speakers included personalities they watch on television, sportsmen and sportswomen, and founders of businesses that have used their experiences to support and raise awareness. Storytelling is the best way to make something real for people. People can then relate to it and by relating to it, it makes them want to buy in. We want people in the office to talk to people, talk to each other, and have those water cooler moments you don’t always get via a computer screen.
A great leader needs to have empathy, and they need to be inspiring, honest, authentic, and inclusive. We all have different values, morals, outlooks, and achievements — as a leader, you need to understand that from your employees and also from yourself. You need to be a motivational listener who cares about your team’s well-being, including understanding that everyone wants to do a good job but sometimes have impediments, and so support people as individuals rather than just expect them to deliver a goal. And you need to walk the talk – if you’re not the person you expect them to be, you won’t get your best out of them.
At the moment, we’re working on an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) strategy, to bring it all together. Commercially, people today want to work with people who are thinking ethically. They want employers who aren’t just thinking about the output of their workforce, they’re thinking about how we provide support, and how we’re working to save the planet and just do good in the world. It’s about the values we have, which means that clients then want to work with us because we share their values. It’s about making sure our people are happy in what they're doing and that their well-being, health, and happiness is at the forefront of what we want to achieve. You aren’t anything without your people.
A culture isn’t something you can just do. It has to be lived. It’s that intricate spider’s web of making sure everything is holding together with that strength of understanding and leaning on each other. We want people to learn and grow within our business, and we’re very good at promoting from within to help evidence and promote that ethos.
Just step back, slow down, and breathe.