Embracing not “tolerating”: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI)

In the second of two interviews, Maria Martins reveals what makes a good Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) professional.

Tolerance is a word often used by D&I professionals but it’s one that Maria Martins hates “with a passion”. It’s perhaps not what you’d expect to hear from the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Lead at the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

However, she presents a strong argument: “I can tolerate certain things in life, like a bad dinner. But I don’t ‘tolerate’ people; I don’t ‘tolerate’ diversity. We need to embrace and celebrate diversity, celebrate difference. If someone has a certain disability, for example, we are not tolerating them – they are contributing to the organisation and their colleagues.”

Maria sees D&I as people being able to be themselves at work, without any issues about who they are, and enjoying being there. She says: “From both a human and business point of view, it makes sense. If I’m doing something that I love, I will do it a lot better than if I’m doing something just to get my salary at the end of the month.

“And engagement and motivation links with D&I because people will only feel engaged and motivated if they are respected for who they are.”

The Nursing and Midwifery Council registers all nurses and midwives practising in the UK, and nursing associates practising in England oversees educational standards and deals with malpractice complaints. Since joining the organisation nearly 12 months ago, Maria has implemented a series of initiatives for improving D&I among the council’s 800 staff, including training, mentoring and monitoring career progress.


Previously she was an Account Manager for Stonewall, a role that involved advising government departments, such as the Home Office and Ministry of Justice, and other public sector organisations on LGBT inclusion. This was good preparation for the broad remit of her current position.

EDI: A lifetime of learning

The role of an EDI professional is not easy to define because, as Maria points out, “it’s connected to everything”. So, where do you start and how do you know you are doing the right thing?

“I’m like a sponge,” she laughs. “I’m always trying to absorb, so I read a lot and attend conferences and webinars. I’ve also still got contacts from when I was at Stonewall and, sometimes, I call one of them and ask if they have dealt with a particular issue and how they went about it.

“I think EDI is the kind of profession that you have to commit to studying for the rest of your life because you have to keep up to date. Things change so quickly, terminology changes.

“Normally, for each protected characteristic, you have one or two top organisations. If we’re talking about sexual orientation or gender identity, I will go to Stonewall. In terms of ethnicity or age, I usually go to the BITC. For inclusion, there are more general organisations, such as Inclusive Employers or Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion.

“But then you have to understand what’s right for your organisation. And, in terms of ethnicity, for example, we’ve had a long discussion about the term we are going to use: BME, BAME, ethnic minorities or ‘people of colour’.”

This exercise revealed that people from ethnic minorities in the UK didn’t like the phrase people of colour. So, the Nursing and Midwifery Council doesn’t use that term. It’s also scrapped BAME and just uses ethnic minorities.

The power of communication

Based on her own experience, Maria advises anyone taking on the role of an EDI specialist to start monitoring and check what information is already available, such as staff survey results.

“If you don’t have those, then speak with people at all levels; try to understand what the issues are,” she says. “Because, for example, the Mind survey carried out last year, across all organisations, showed that 80% of managers said they felt confident about supporting someone with mental health issues and only 4% of employees said they would feel confident speaking with their manager. So, there is a big gap.

“Speak to people – it’s a powerful tool. The first thing anyone needs in a role like this is information – gather as much as you can.”

Maria adds that implementing initiatives that have worked well in another organisation might not be appropriate elsewhere. She reiterates the importance of finding out what the issues are, and then setting priorities for dealing with them.

Speaking to people individually can be difficult in a large organisation such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which has 800 staff. In which case, Maria’s approach is to broadcast the message that, if anyone has any issues, to come and speak to her directly.

Ultimately, whatever the size of the organisation or company, tackling D&I is, Maria says, is covered in two words, “respect and celebrate”.

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