Seetan Varsani is Director of Major Accounts and Strategic Development at Corps Security, a legacy social enterprise founded in 1859. Today, Seetan is the only person of colour in the senior team and plays an active role in organisational equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I). Speaking to DiversityQ, he explains how these policies are impactful and why being a minority doesn’t matter if you are given the space to be seen and heard.
How does it feel to be the only person of colour in your senior team?
I am particularly proud to be part of this senior team, which has a diverse makeup of male and female employees. While I am the only person of colour, I feel my views and input into decisions are based on an equal platform heard by our line management.
Have you ever found the experience exhausting?
There have been several examples where you can feel as though you are “knocking on the door”, but they haven’t opened it. There have equally been examples of discrimination too. However, this saw a seachange when the MeToo campaign took place and George Floyd’s Death in America; the effects of which were seen and felt around the world.
I knew something had to be done, and it took an anonymous letter of complaint for the business to stand up, listen and have the conversation on making change. At that point, I put myself forward to drive change, educate, and remove the lid on these topics.
How can firms with diverse workforces that lack senior-level diversity stop the bottleneck of talent flow?
When making appointments, firms need to be more transparent in their methodology and selection scoring. Introducing panel interviews that represent diverse skillsets can ensure a fair review of the opportunities offered. Talent mapping and internal development, be it trial periods and mentor sessions, are healthy too and allow the organisation to give opportunities for success.
Why did you lead the firm’s ED&I campaign, later called Corps Together, and what success it has experienced to date?
A drive for me was the opportunity to make a change and demonstrate to the business at all levels that change is needed. Myself being subjected to racial comments and connotations, and colleagues subjected to sexual comments and connotations, it was time to change. When the opportunity presented itself, I put myself forward with a key objective to show change and prove that diversity makes this organisation what it is.
Corps Together set out to open ED&I across the UK to bring our colleagues together for positive change, celebration, and support. All organisations have a diversity policy, and like many other firms, ours sat collecting dust for many years without anyone exploring what this means and how it connects to our main reason for being in business, our people.
We were challenged about how to connect our people across the UK, so we set up a group that would represent all protected characteristics, giving safe spaces to all members of our organisation that were part of or related to these communities.
A team of nine guardians were brought together, volunteers from our business who share a passion and drive to make positive change. Each of the guardians is assigned two of the six protected characteristics, meaning each characteristic has a panel of three guardians representing this protected characteristic.
A panel team means they can combine views and knowledge to offer support and drive celebration and recognition for events and key activities in their protective group. For example, the race team drives Black History Month and Race Equality Week etc.; the sexual orientation team drives LGBTQ+ Month and Pride Month, and so on.
We also plan for twice a year forum sessions, allowing our colleagues from around the country to link in and shape and steer our activity and how we progress forward. We kicked off the campaign with an ED&I survey to understand who our colleagues are and how colleagues identify and engage with either of the characteristics.
We have also been recognised and praised for the work done and our impact on the business. This was evidenced in the latest survey, where ED&I questions were asked of our 3000+ staff, and there was much improvement, with high percentages of staff saying they had connected and knew about access to resources and guardian teams.
In improving workforce ED&I at all levels, are ignorance and lack of awareness the biggest barriers today?
The journey has taught us, and many other organisations, too, I’m sure, that the key to ED&I success is education and cultural change. Education is administered far quicker than cultural change, but both go hand in hand. We drove Corps Together to teach ourselves the importance of ED&I, which has been the case with all levels of our workforce. Holding morning coffee breaks and regular email flyers on religious events – inclusive of history, key terms and meanings all play a part in the educational journey of all colleagues.
As a director in the business, I am often an appeal route to grievances and disciplinary within the business. In facing such cases, the word “discrimination” is often included in such appeals. Still, when we drill further in and ask the colleague to please define this, in most cases, this often dissolves, and we can assist and support our colleagues through this process. Again this leads to education, heightened awareness and resources available to all for positive change.
How have you communicated Corps Together to the wider workforce to increase understanding and awareness?
When we launched our website, we ensured we set up all social channels to link with this, regularly positing and connecting with our colleagues.
Our colleague portal (Corps Connect) ensures this is communicated, and all colleagues are notified of new additions to this portal. We also have an internal SharePoint page, where such items are shared and pointed back to the website.
Last year, you were voted colleague of the year. Do you now see yourself as a role model for others regarding ethnic diversity and general ED&I?
I was very humbled to be nominated and win. I aspire to become a role model; if colleagues see this as the case, then the objective has been achieved. The idea of being a role model is to inspire and encourage others to step forward and make a change in the right way always. In terms of seeing myself as a role model for ethnic minorities, again, if this has inspired those from this community to push the bar up and be heard and seen, then again, the objective has been achieved.
How can firms effectively secure buy-in from leadership to enhance the success of DEI initiatives in the workplace?
ED&I must feature in everything we do, from the language in our documentation and websites to our front-facing websites and marketing material to key policies and procedures within our organisation. A standard is now available, ISO 30415, whereby Corps Together aims to work in line with throughout 2022-2023. This standard will help organisations set objectives and review processes from the top-down, ensuring there are measurable, strong, robust practices.