Wilson James: the journey of creating a diverse workforce – part 1

Wilson James' CSR Manager Susi Farnworth details what businesses can do to not only recruit, but retain a diverse workforce.

Susi Farnworth, CSR Manager for Wilson James, shares with us how Wilson James’ work on retaining and taking care of their diverse workforce led to winning the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Initiative of the Year award at the Security and Fire Excellence Awards 2019. As she describes, making diversity and inclusion a core practise of your business is the key to successfully recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce.

Congratulations on winning the CRS Initiative of the Year. What does that win mean for you?

Equality, diversity and inclusion have always been a core part of the values that we have within the business. In the last year, we’ve started to develop our work around inclusion for people with disabilities.

We won that award for our work with one of our key clients, where we were very keen to ensure that our diverse workforce represented a range of different people, including people with disabilities. We developed an innovative approach with the client to offer work placements to 10 people with disabilities, both hidden and visible, many of whom hadn’t worked for quite a while.

The two-month work experience was so successful that three of those placements are now permanently employed with us. It was a positive experience for us, as it allowed us to offer both an opportunity for people with disabilities to have key work experience, but also long-term roles. We now have more people with disabilities working with us as a result.

Since then, you’ve been developing the People Programme. How does it help people with disabilities in the workplace?

In terms of our People Programme, we have three priorities within our sustainability work at Wilson James: people, planet and performance. Our ‘people’ area of work focuses on ensuring an inclusive and diverse workforce and giving back to the communities we work in.

We have a charity of the year partnership with Crisis, the national charity for homeless people. Our employability work offers employment and work experience opportunities for people who face barriers to employment. For example, the work placement scheme mentioned a moment ago.

We also now employ several people who have been homeless and came to us through Crisis. They have some fantastic schemes to train and support people into employment, one of which is a security qualification – a requirement to work with us.

We are a very diverse business. Our people speak over 74 different languages collectively and follow a wide range of religions. Within our equality, diversity and inclusion work, we have been focusing on three strands: improving LGBTQ+ engagement and diversity, mental health awareness and disability inclusion.

We want to work with partners to ensure that the security, aviation and construction industries are truly embracing diversity when it comes to LGBTQ+ people because there can be a perception that those industries are not.

First, we intend to establish and drive a forum created by and for the LGBTQ+ community. We have a couple of strong advocates from our leadership team, supporting the initiative.

Under mental health, we have our trained Mental Health First Aiders and our wellbeing steering group. COVID-19 has really focused our thinking on this. We recognise the impact it will have on people in terms of wellbeing and mental health and that we need to be communicating effectively with people around the support we offer and our response as a business.

In terms of the disability inclusion work, in the last few months, we have committed to The Valuable 500. This means we have become one of several leading businesses that are committed to adding disability to their leadership agenda. For us, that means that disability inclusion is discussed at every board meeting.

The first stage of our inclusion strategy is to listen to the workforce to understand from them what we need to do to be a fully inclusive workplace. We have surveyed the business and had a really strong engagement rate, with 17% of our 5,000-workforce responding. That gave us invaluable feedback, both in terms of what we do well, but also where we need to improve.

We also wanted to understand from the survey the reasons why some people did not feel comfortable sharing with us that they have a disability, and what we can do further to help support them.

The survey is a developing piece of work, but the positive thing is that we have really strong advocates for this in our business.

The People Programme focuses on both recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce. Are they equal in importance?

Yes, absolutely. For us, recruitment is just one aspect of a diverse workforce and inclusion because about valuing our people and ensuring they feel that Wilson James is a place for them to be themselves and feel fully included. For us, the focus on inclusion has been as important, if not more important, than just diverse recruitment. We want to retain the best staff and protect and retain our talent.

Our inclusion programme will cover a range of areas, including things such as training, support, and ensuring our managers have the right skills to ensure proper inclusion, which is all key.

Diversity and inclusion are big issues for young people. How has your experience working with young people influenced your role or projects like this?

I’ve worked with a diverse range of young people which has been terrific fun over the years. For me, it’s been about how best to engage people and make the most of their views.

A lot of the work I did with young people was participation and consultation. I do some of that at Wilson James when working with our inclusion group. It is all about listening to a diverse workforce and how they feel we can improve how we work to make them feel fully included.

Alongside effective data, that combination of engagement will help us build a strong strategy and thus drive change, which was one of the reasons we did that survey.

You also have a lot of experience in the voluntary sector. Does that similarly influence your work?

Yes, I think so. I’ve worked in a range of areas in the voluntary sector. It’s always been about ensuring impact, in terms of the outputs and measurable results we can achieve, which I focus on when working with our inclusion group. It’s about using a robust evidence base in terms of the data, the feedback, the views of our employees and then building a strategy which will have a substantial impact, and that exposure ultimately will retain strong talent.

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