Increasing diversity and inclusion in your teams

23rd September 2021

There is absolutely a link between diversity & inclusion and business success…

Emily Abbam, Diversity & Inclusion Business Partner at Rapport Guest Services talks about the importance of supporting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Hosted by Bianca Talbot, CEO at The WOW! Awards, the 20 minute interview session explores the challenges, successes, and innovations in diversity and inclusion initiatives at Rapport and what we can learn from them.

 

TRANSCRIPT

Bianca Talbot

It is national inclusion week and I’m joined by one of our customers, Rapport Guest Services to talk about the topic of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Rapport Guest Services provide corporate organisations with fully managed front and back of house services, including reception concierge, and help desk support. They’ve received many awards for focus on employee engagement, and have been publicly recognised for their approach to driving the diversity and inclusivity agenda in the workplace. I’m joined today by Emily Abbam, diversity and inclusion business partner, or thanks for joining me today, Emily. First of all, let’s start if you just tell me a little bit about your role, and what your current responsibilities are.

Emily Abbam

Absolutely, Bianca. So first, Hello, thank you so much for having me. It’s a real pleasure to be having this chat today about diversity and inclusion. So thank you so much. And thank you for your wonderful intro about Rapport. And so yeah, my role is diversity and inclusion business partner. So I’m responsible for the delivery of Rapport’s diversity and inclusion strategy. So I work incredibly closely with our teams, both frontline and leadership, to really implement our D&I programmes and initiatives, as well as looking at how we can really share best practice. And also a big part of my role is also measuring that impact of what we do. So I guess, to really encompass all of that, I like to say, I’m kind of helping people to ensure that they can show up to work and bring their whole selves to work. That’s kind of how I like to sum it up.

Bianca Talbot

Yeah, that’s great. It’s an interesting role.

Emily Abbam

Definitely, definitely. And, of course, you’ll know, I’ve been with Rapport for just over two years. So prior to that, I was learning engagement of business partner. So I’m really able to kind of take all that I’ve learned in that role, and kind of transfer it across to this new role as diversity inclusion business business partner, so very exciting.

Bianca Talbot

Thank you. And Rapport are doing quite a lot in terms of raising awareness and educating the team in the area. Why is the topic of diversity inclusion so important at Rapport?

Emily Abbam

Absolutely. So report does do so much around raising awareness. And education really is at the heart of much that we do. And I guess we believe that D&I is everyone’s business. It’s not just just mine, our leaders, it’s really kind of how we approach it. And a diverse workforce, as many of us will know brings with it so many different benefits. For example, you know, diversity of thoughts, having people in a room from different backgrounds, different walks of life working together. And that can really ensure that we’re viewing things from different perspectives and coming up with the best and most innovative ideas to really drive the business forward. And to make sure that we’re being inclusive, so that’s, so that’s a big benefit there. And we’re also really committed to ensuring we’re fostering an inclusive environment, which again, it’s going to encourage that innovation, that creativity and support our teams to really reach their potential. And this links to our core values, our Rapport core values. So we’ve got the brilliant Create Rapport in its innovative spirit, walk taller and stronger together, and a diverse workforce and an inclusive environment to support our teams to demonstrate those values in everything that they do, whether that’s in their personal life in their professional life or work. And I guess this really does sum up why we continue to do so much in this area.

Bianca Talbot

Yeah, that’s really great, how you’ve got the kind of values really woven in and embedded throughout that as well. Absolutely. And so can you share a little bit on your kind of what does an inclusive workplace look and feel like to you? What’s what’s the ultimate goal? What is your vision of what you’re trying to create?

Emily Abbam

And so I think you can really understand whether a workplace is truly inclusive. If you look around and you’re seeing happy smiley, you know, obviously, genuinely happy and smiley team members. And you know, you would walk into a work environment into an office and everyone is welcoming you smiling, they look comfortable, they look relaxed. They just seem comfortable, to bring their whole selves to work. And that rapport we want our ambassadors to feel completely empowered to do anything to delight their guests, and to really go the extra mile. And we do this well because it is genuine, we’re really empowering our teams to do so. And we know that it’s really important that our teams feel comfortable and in a safe environment. And I really do believe that’s what we foster. With regards to our vision and the way we roll out our D&I initiatives. And this really is our goal. And we work incredibly hard, as I say, through leadership, right through to the front line. And one of the things I wanted to talk about today’s our Be Yourself Rapport networks. So our employee resource groups are our networks really provide opportunities for our teams to come together, to support each other and actually to be really good allies. So this idea of learning about other people’s differences, or learning about another community or a more marginalised part of the community is also important. So we can share those ideas and really learn from each other. And our teams understand the importance of this, that we come together and hear lived experiences that we may not have experienced ourselves and hear people’s challenges and, and through that we can really support each other, help provide a voice for other people and ensure that everyone is really treated equally. So that’s a big focus for us at Rapport.

Bianca Talbot

Yeah, it’s interesting that you touched on safety, or creating a kind of safe place at work, because I think it’s something that can often get overlooked. We’ve got so many priorities of safety, usually health and safety, but actually emotional safety in the workplace is one of the things that really encourages us to bring our best to work. So it’s what, what are some of the barriers? Do you think, to achieving that vision? Or what some of the key challenges you think we’re facing around this?

Emily Abbam

Yeah, and I mean, you kind of already touched on that in terms of barriers, I guess, maybe a few years ago, diversity and inclusion or wellbeing wasn’t so high on the agenda. And people didn’t necessarily understand the direct correlation between business success, and ensuring our workplaces are truly inclusive. And so I think that certainly has been a barrier, you know, changing those mindsets, educating people understanding those links, looking at those real hard statistics that back up all the fantastic things that that D&I brings with it, it’s not just the nice to have, it’s not the fluffy stuff, it actually serves a purpose, there is an impact. So I think that’s probably a big barrier, certainly for organisations that are starting their journey within D&I. And also this idea of, of, I guess, judgments or preconceived ideas, unconscious bias, and I’m chair of our race and ethnicity networking Race You. And we started this in the summer of last year. And actually, it was incredibly new, you know, some of the conversations that we were having were a little bit uncomfortable, just because we’d never open that door, so to speak, we’ve never provided that safe space to have those types of conversations. So again, that could potentially be a barrier to some organisations to say, “well, actually, I don’t have the expertise. I don’t know much about that.” And so therefore, I’m not going to go there. And it’s actually about just stepping outside of our comfort zones, having someone to really champion certain areas of D&I and make it that priority. And so I would say, that’s definitely still a barrier. I think we’re getting there, you can see that there’s a real change, you can feel it. And hopefully that continues. But it can be uncomfortable for some people.

Bianca Talbot

Yeah, for sure. And you’re right, it is quite a challenge. I mean, changing mindset, stepping out of your comfort zone. It’s not always what you first think of you’re trying to kind of floor at work with colleagues. But yeah, it’s definitely something that is rewarding, actually, it’s really weird to begin in the workplace to have those conversations. Not everyone’s comfortable, not everyone knows everything, but just to kind of share those experiences together is quite something that’s really nice to bond.

Emily Abbam

It is it is and, that’s what really bolsters the culture of an organisation. And it’s incredibly refreshing when you get a group of people together with that kind of mindset, that they just want to be open and willing to learn, obviously respectful coming from that right place, but just wanting to learn more about something that they may not know. And, you know, may not have experienced personally but actually they just want to be or become a really good ally for a different part of of the community. So yeah, I think it there’s so many benefits in that area to really bolstering that that culture.

Bianca Talbot

Okay, and then I guess so for organisations who are participating in national inclusion week who might be a bit nervous about some of these challenges. What would you say are the business advantages of getting through some of those challenges and creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace?

Emily Abbam

Goodness, there, there are so so many. You know, I think so many organisations are now putting D&I at the top of their agendas, because there is definitely absolutely a tangible link between D&I and business success. And as I’ve already mentioned, it shouldn’t be or a nice to have any longer, you know, organisations are understanding that the focus in this area is the right thing to do. It’s something that we have to do. And just to bring in an example here, one of our networks, one of our Be Yourself networks under our umbrella is Be Well, our Be well, network. So that’s our network that focuses on wellbeing of our ambassadors. And, you know, we recognise that well, being has many different strands. But we constantly are looking at ways we can deliver content and initiatives that promote wellbeing holistically. So looking at that whole person, you know, what do they need at work, but actually, what do they need outside of work, so they can continue to bring their best selves feel comfortable? And and ultimately, therefore, that’s going to lead to retention, improved mental fitness, and less absenteeism? And right there, that’s, again, a tangible benefit to D&I. And that’s just one kind of area that that organisations can look into.

Bianca Talbot

Yeah, it’s definitely something not to be kind of i don’t know, cast to the side of the kind of fad or yeah, flavour of the week.

Emily Abbam

Yeah, absolutely not. And again, you know, there’s so much research out there. And, and I just wanted to kind of make a note, just to kind of add, I guess that, you know, feedback that supports what we’re talking about. So there was a study from McKinsey and Company, yes, back in 2018, but still incredibly relevant, which showed that gender diversity was even more relevant in company performance. And they said, with gender diverse companies performing I think, 21, 20 something percent better. And than national average. And so again, that really does, you know, defines how important it is. And also, I think they were talking about ethnic, ethnically and racially diverse companies. And again, you know, 43%, or something like that their performance or outperforming national average. So again, that just demonstrates how important is.

Bianca Talbot

Yeah, fantastic, excellent, no, those are really powerful statistics. So could you tell us a little bit about some of the things that before you have done or you are doing that have been really successful?

Emily Abbam

Yeah, and, and again, I think a big focus on our on our networks, which I’ve already kind of touched on, so are Be Yourself at Rapport network. So we’re doing so many amazing things at the moment. And they’re really led by our teams. They’re not led by head office, they’re not led by leadership. And they are really engaging with our front lines across the business, whether that’s within the UK or outside in the regional hubs. And we’ve also started to link in with some of our teams more globally, as well with some of our initiatives that we’ve got coming up. So these are the things that they really care about, you know, we’ve got pride Rapport focusing on our LGBTQ plus and allies, community, Embrace that I’ve already mentioned, our race and ethnicity network. And we’ve got our newest network Be The Change, which focuses on the environment and sustainability and doing some good. And it’s just really refreshing to work with our ambassadors, on the things that they really care about, because they are really looking for ways that they can do good in their in the in the community around them. And they know the importance of this and it means so much to them. So I think that’s really been so successful. And our networks have been incredibly successful. So that’s definitely something that I would shout about.

Bianca Talbot

Oh, yeah. I love that. You mentioned that their team lead as well. It’s so important that you’ve got the for the success of any organisation or any business. Ultimately, it’s the people that make it and if they can really have some ownership and responsibility, we think that’s really important as well.

Emily Abbam

Yeah, we’re not here to dictate, you know, from naming the network from the mission statement, the vision, the objectives, everything is created within that committee. So you know, we’re starting it from scratch. We’re calling upon our team members that are passionate in those areas that want to know more and genuinely commit to these things. Because we know it’s extra. And of course, we’re gonna have some fun along the way. But we also know the importance and they understand the importance of these networks. So, yeah, they’ve been great.

Bianca Talbot

So the World Health Organisation estimates that people with a disability make up around 10% of the world population, so about 150 million people. I know that you aat Rapport them doing things to raise awareness, specifically around physical or sensory or educational disabilities. Could you share a little bit more on that?

Emily Abbam

Yeah, absolutely. And so we have partnered, or we are still partnering with RNID. So the Royal National Institute for deaf people. So that’s basically our nominated charity at Rapport. And they provided us with a lot of support, so sign language training for our teams, and also supported our teams and our within our clients sites with their induction loops at the desk. So making sure everything works, and they understand how to use them. So they can support the clients and guests coming to to their offices. We’ve also continued to mark Deaf Awareness Week, which happens every year in May. And again, we continue that partnership with RNID. And, and one of the new initiatives that we had earlier this year in February, we raise money for sign health by taking part in their scientists sing initiative. And so Rapport actually has a choir. So this is led by Rapport choir, and we learn one of their songs called together where we we sang, so we recorded our voices, but we also signed and we were able to raise just under 500 pounds for for that charity. And I guess another big part of of the area there is we’re working with Wesley school, and with their supported internship programme. So currently, we have one of their interns working for one of our clients sites. And so again, you know, we’re looking at carving out a role making sure they’re, of course supported working with their job coaches, and we intend to provide more opportunities for their interns with special educational needs in the future as well. It’s a fantastic programme.

Bianca Talbot

Wow, you, you’re really active in this, just champion. You’re really emphasising example. So many activities. It’s great to hear. As part of national inclusion week, you’ve probably got even more activities.

Emily Abbam

Yeah, we got a lot.

Bianca Talbot

Can you share a little bit of what the team at Rapport have to look forward to?

Emily Abbam

Sure, my goodness, I can’t believe it’s next week. Where does time go? Yeah, absolutely. Bianca, we have a full schedule. So we some thing going on. Each day of the week, as you probably know, already, there’s a theme for each day, which really helps to guide us our teams. Why are we doing this? Because it’s great to have lots of initiatives and events. But actually, why are we doing this? What’s the impact? What’s the results? And how are we going to really take this forward. But yeah, so on Tuesday, it’s United for anti racism. So I’m actually going to be running our understanding race and ethnicity workshop for our teams. We’ve also partnered up with so excited for this one, sorry, my do work. So one of our partners in the LGBTQ plus space. So one of their consultants is running a workshop around power and privilege, and basically giving us some tips on how we can become better allies and hopefully commit to some actions moving forward. And, of course, no week, no initiative would be a good enough without a competition. So we’re asking our teams to tell us how they make their teams, new team members feel included. And again, there’s a prize for the lucky winner there. And finally, there’s more, there’s loads more, but we’re also encouraging our teams to host their own inclusivity. And so, essentially what they are is you could call them kind of listening groups. But this year, because of the pandemic, things have just opened up. We just want to encourage our teams to come together, whether that’s over a cup of tea, coffee, beverage of choice, and just have a chat, you know, it can be you know, topics around D&I but actually, it’s about connecting. It’s about saying wow, I’m not in front of a computer screen anymore. Yay. Let’s let’s see if we can do something in person. So we’ve got a little handy guide to support our teams to do that. Get the most out of it, hopefully, and just encourage them on that Friday to get together. And then I guess one more plug for me. We also have our Rapport choir, so they’ve we’re currently putting together a special film entitled we are beautiful. So we’re singing Christina Aguilera song beautiful. And we’re putting together a really nice film. And actually, some of our US team members have also been able to come in on that for the first time, which is amazing. So really excited to share that as well.

Bianca Talbot

That’s great. It’s really nice that you thought about having a quite a nice balance or more kind of formal organised things, but then also relax in the middle. So people can really have those moments to say, like, really make a deeper connection and kind of, you know, break the ice a little bit, but then have a little bit of informal as well. That’s great. That’s very, very exciting.

Emily Abbam

Bianca, I’ll send you the invite.

Bianca Talbot

All right, well, then the last question was just for people who are thinking about what they can do to further the conversation at their workplace, consider how they can make their workplaces more inclusive. What’s one piece of advice that you’d give them?

Emily Abbam

And goodness, I could probably do a whole conversation just around that alone. And I mean, don’t approach it from a tick box exercise point of view. And it’s very obvious when organisations are doing that. It’ll be very surface level things. It’ll be, you know, a couple of, I don’t know, webinars here and there. But actually, they don’t have that deep dive. They don’t have that strategy that underpins they don’t have maybe the KPIs they don’t have, you know, the data that they’re actually looking at and evaluating. So I guess a big piece of advice is spend some time really mapping out what you want to get from your D&I agenda or your strategy and trying to weave it in with everything that you do. And it shouldn’t be siloed D&I shouldn’t be separated, it should be in everything that you do. And I think that’s when you’re doing things well. And that’s when you’re making lasting change. And also, there’s no one size fits all approach. There are many businesses and organisations you can imagine I do a lot of research and doing great things out there. Yep. And they are in the D&I space. But I think it’s important to really connect in with your values, and the culture of your business. And and what your teams will get onboard with enjoy resonate with, to make the right decisions to form inform the right actions that you will take. And I guess the last thing I would say is about embedding. And so as I’ve already mentioned, it’s not a separate entity, and it should continue to be a focus, continue to champion it, and speak up and hopefully make that lasting change.

Bianca Talbot

Oh, that’s some cracking advice. Emily, thank you for taking the time to have a conversation with us today. Thank you for sharing everything that you’re doing at Rapport, I wish you and your team the best for national inclusion week. I’m sure it will be really, really amazing week at Rapport. If you would like to learn anything more about creating an inclusive and diverse workplace, please have a look at our insights and resources area on our website, thewowawards.co.uk and also have a look at the career space of the Rapport website if you’re looking to join a diverse and inclusive team. It certainly sounds exciting and something that everyone should be a part of. Thank you very much Emily.

Emily Abbam

Thank you so much, Bianca.