NCFD: how to enhance your D&I rules of engagement

Asari St Hill from the NCFD knows a thing or two about the impact of good diversity and inclusion best practices.

Is your company an investor in diversity? The National Centre for Diversity (NCFD) provides support and accreditation for organisations looking to advance their D&I policy to one that truly engages with its staff, customers and society. DiversityQ talks to Asari St Hill, an adviser with the Centre, to find out more.

Founded 15 years ago on the principle of advancing fairness, respect, equality, diversity, inclusion and engagement (FREDIE) for all, the National Centre for Diversity (NCFD) encourages organisations not just to tick the Equality Act box but to proactively “transform the workplace environment to one which is equitable and inclusive”. 

Building on the Investors in People idea, the NCFD has developed an Investors in Diversity accreditation and, subsequently, Leaders in Diversity and Masters in Diversity awards for those taking D&I to the next level. It also offers e-learning programmes, face-to-face training, consultancy and EDI events. The NCFD has adapted to the forced changes in the workplace and offers improved e-learning and facilitated e-learning possibilities.

NCFD accreditation

The general concept of accreditation is based on progress or improvements across the 10 FREDIE principles. Advisers like Asari help organisations to shift their diversity policies and practices, plus providing them with the support to help them achieve the necessary improvements, explains Asari St Hill, an adviser at the NCFD. 

Typically, the Centre works with a company over a year to help them establish a framework and action plan before they go for formal accreditation. 

The key to a successful D&I policy, though, says St Hill, is engagement. “I always say to people, ‘Does [your policy] tell the story?’ If I read your policy, would it tell me what your challenges are, what is the context of your industry and does it say what you’re going to do? If it doesn’t answer those three things, then, to me, it’s just a lot of hot air around we’ll abide by the Equality Act, which you’re supposed to do anyway.”

Diversifying the force

Taking the London Fire Brigade as an example from his previous experience at the Audit Commission, St Hill says: “The context is that historically it’s been a male, white, predominantly ranked role industry. So, if you’re the chief fire officer, you’ve had to have [worked in] every position below you. 

“In recent years, they’ve changed this and brought senior management in from outside, and that’s where you’ve had the first – no surprise – women chief fire officers.

“They said, ‘What we’re aiming to do in the next five years is increase the number of women fire-fighters, we want to diversify the force, and our main priority is to educate the public on fire risk. 

“So now we are starting to get an understanding of what they’re looking for. If you say the fire service’s role is primarily about prevention, not fighting fires, then their whole strategy changes because they’re not necessarily looking for men who are 6′ 5” who can rescue people. In essence, they’re now looking for people who can go into a community, which is vulnerable and diverse. 

“You could be thinking, ‘I wouldn’t mind some Muslim women who can go into Tower Hamlets and talk to the community there, who can engage with them and tell them about fire safety. 

“That’s a totally different profile to the ‘norm’ and says where they are going as an organisation. If I see the equalities policy and I don’t see these things, I would have no idea what type of organisation they are or where they’re going.”

Otherwise, he adds: “You’re not looking for diversity of thinking, you’re looking for the same old person who thinks the same and does everything the same. So, a company may say they want diversity, but they don’t really. And that’s one of the dangers with so many organisations.”

Poor diversity practice

There are other implications of a poor diversity practice, says St Hill, citing the example of potential HS2 contractors. “The Government is going to ask the contractor who it’s employing, how it’s going to gear up for it and who it’s going to use in its supply chain. So, somebody who has got very good structured equality and diversity, compared to one who hasn’t, is more likely to win the tender. We’re talking billions [of pounds]. So, it has become more of a business case for them. You’ve also got naming and shaming around the gender pay gap.” 

While it is easy to provide a workforce breakdown and gender pay gap information, “it’s a lot stronger if you can say that somebody externally has said you’re doing it and that you’re doing it well… as opposed to saying, well we’ve been doing stuff, or we’re going to do it. What does that mean?”

Diversity frameworks

While there are other diversity frameworks available, such as Stonewall for LGBT and Disability Confident for disability, no one else is assessing companies across the board, says St Hill.

As well as assessing a company’s D&I policy, the NCFD also looks at that policy in practice. They conduct focus groups, separating staff, management and customers to encourage more open discussion. “That’s a massive way of finding qualitatively and, very quickly, any issues or positive things,” says St Hill. 

Also, surveys are distributed to the whole workforce. “The surveys are interesting because now, with them being anonymous, people really get into them. If you get one dissenting voice, you might say that’s just somebody who isn’t happy. But if you get 10, 15, 20 of them, you’re starting to think, ‘hang on, this is potentially an issue here’.” 

NCFD advisers also physically meet people to get a “feeling for the atmosphere” at a company. “There was some criticism a few years ago in the media that organisations that focused on disabled people hardly employed anyone who was disabled. So you see the problem. 

“Likewise, a company may celebrate Diwali, but there are no Asian people in senior management. It celebrates LGBT Week, but there are no LGBT people at senior level or openly gay people in reception. You can have diversity, but it can cloud reality. NCFD look at all of those things.” 

Focus on equality

Going forward, St Hill advocates that companies focus on equality and ask themselves: “How can we make a workforce that is more representative of the people we serve and of society in general? Also, look at your customers – are you consulting them?”  

Which brings us back to engagement. For example, when a council seeks consultation about a new road scheme, are the people it is engaging with the ones who are most affected by the initiative? Experience says those most likely to respond to a survey are the elderly because they have the time. But, in this instance, the ones most affected by this new road are more likely to be women with young children or the disabled.

“It’s not enough to just be OK at diversity, now we’re saying you have to be more engaged,” says St Hill. “The data has to be stronger; we are expecting more from people in terms of what they’re doing. I think we’ve hit that E for engagement, I think that’s major. That’s where I think the NCFD has raised the bar.” 

For more information, visit the NCFD.
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