Wilson James: The journey of creating a diverse workforce – Part 2

In our second interview with Wilson James, we ask why improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace should be a priority for businesses

To Wilson James, retaining a diverse workforce is a journey with no end, which should not be seen as a challenge – but an opportunity.

Wilson James does a lot to help its employees struggling with mental health, for example, the Employee Assistance Programme. What more do you think can be done?

This has been a bit of a journey for us. We previously worked quite closely with Mind and took part in Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index, which gave us feedback on our strengths and where we needed to improve.

Having Mental Health First Aiders is one step. Equipping managers with the right skills to be able to manage people around their mental health, to be open to discussions with people, and knowing where to seek help, is key for managers to feel confident with this responsibility.

We have established a wellbeing steering group which is working on exactly these areas. We’re now looking at the possibility of making sure that there is a Mental Health First Aider on every site. Just having those regular conversations as part of that steering group and having members of our senior leadership team involved, is key to making sure it’s being considered strategically at all levels of the business.

It is fair to say that due to our workforce being predominantly male, we need to tailor an approach to their specific needs.

Men can often struggle to talk about mental health, so did you adjust your approach for this?

We did some great work on International Men’s Day at one of our sites, looking at what mental health meant to them. We aim to develop a more strategic approach to the ad hoc events that have taken place going forward.

The Aviation Division uses a sunflower lanyard for customers that have hidden disabilities, what can other divisions of the company do to accommodate those with hidden disabilities?

This was an excellent piece of work implemented and championed by our employees, back in 2016.

It’s now been used with 250,000 people at the airports, so it has been really well received and has now been rolled out by a lot of supermarkets across the country.

We’ve created and implemented some great initiatives, but we are on a journey. Working with partners, who are experts in this sort of area is key to understanding what more we need to do to ensure accessibility in all areas. For example, to ensure that our websites and our visual presence are accessible to people with sensory impairments and that our physical spaces are accessible. We work in a lot of different sites owned by our clients, so that can be a challenge, but also an opportunity.

There’s lots of interest from our clients in terms of improving disability awareness, and we are exploring a range of options. Some of our contracts already offer good disability awareness training. Still, we’re always looking at ways that training and support for our staff can improve the customer service we provide for disabled people and inclusion for our disabled staff.

Some of our staff around the business have had training in certain areas of disability awareness, so now we need to bring that together as part of a coherent strategy to improve disability inclusion and our customer service approach. We’re a people-facing business in security, aviation and logistics, and it’s just about ensuring that it is fit for purpose in terms of customer service with disabled people.


Across the UK, there is a disability employment gap of about 30%.  What do you think other companies can be doing to help close that gap?

We’ve signed up to The Valuable 500 to show our commitment to disability inclusion and ensure it remains at the top of our business agenda. We’ve got strong advocates in that area, so I guess it’s about understanding the potential of employing more people with disabilities and the diversity that brings to a business – as you say, there’s an employment gap of around 30%. It’s about seeing that as an opportunity and being committed to improving that diversity.

What steps will you take to address LGBTQ+ issues in the workplace?

We undertook an anonymous survey with our employees to ensure that we received honest and accurate data about how many people in our business are LGBTQ+. The results helped us to understand what was needed – including plans to create an LGBTQ+ forum to drive this work across the business. We will also be working in partnership with other people within the security industry to ensure that our sector is much more open and inclusive of people who are LGBTQ+. We’re lucky in that there are senior-level advocates within the business who are LGBTQ+.

We’re also reviewing our policies in this area to ensure that they’re fit for purpose, for example, working to create a best practice Trans Policy. We’re also exploring ways of working with some of our clients to improve the experience of trans people in our services.

You mentioned that it’s a journey to help improve diversity and inclusion. Do you think it will ever end?

It will be ever-evolving. We already have a robust strategy and ways to measure improvements, so we’ll get to a point where we can put a flag in the ground and say, “Actually, over the last year, we have improved people’s perception of our business”. For example, the survey mentioned has some measurement scales, which we can use to benchmark how people perceive our business in terms of inclusion going forward.

You’ve spoken a lot about the survey and how it helps you improve, will this become a regular thing?

Yes, there’s a commitment to doing it annually and the fact that we had such a good response first time speaks volumes on how important this is as an issue for our people. That felt positive because we realised that our commitment to driving this forward was valid, and our employees clearly want to engage with the subject of inclusion.

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