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Inclusion inspiration – from the construction industry?

Tracy Vaughan-Gough, July 2017
A close-up of a man working on a construction site, laying cement onto bricks to build a wall.

Fresh from participating in a private sector conference on diversity and inclusion, I’m inspired.

The construction industry event showcased the achievements of many companies that have embraced a diversity and inclusion agenda. Many of those initiatives are now paying dividends not only in creating an inclusive and happy staff, but also in generating more business. And this is from an industry not traditionally known as one leading an equality agenda.

So, how did I end up at this conference? The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) event seemed clearly directed towards personnel from within the industry, as opposed to something relevant to an NGO.

But when I reviewed the themes to be covered, it was evident that interesting things were happening that perhaps we could learn from – RICS agreed and very kindly offered us a free ticket.

Sightsavers’ own journey towards becoming a more diverse organisation really kicked off a year ago when around 15 staff from across the organisation held the first meeting of our social inclusion working group (SIWG). This group was formed to achieve a specific objective from our 2015 social inclusion strategic framework for Sightsavers to become a more diverse organisation, and an employer of choice for people with disabilities.

Promoting and embodying diversity

The change required to meet this objective needed to involve the entire organisation – for example, corporate services in terms of physical and online accessibility, human resources for recruitment and reasonable adjustments, and senior level commitment regarding policies and resourcing. It was necessary to create a structure that would bring those teams together, secure willingness and create an enabling environment.

We define our social inclusion working group (which is led by Sightsavers’ Organisational Inclusion Coordinator Kate Bennell) as a ‘cross-departmental team that champions positive change to make Sightsavers a leading organisation that promotes and embodies diversity’. One year on, and under the auspices of the SIWG, Sightsavers has started to see real progress in promoting diversity and inclusion. Staff have benefited from awareness-raising and training on disability, and the IT, web and communications teams are working on enhancing the accessibility of all our web-based support and external-facing communications.

A close-up of a man working on a construction site, laying cement onto bricks to build a wall.

Learning from the private sector

We are currently reviewing our progress and have even had a paper documenting the efforts of our ‘community of practice’ accepted to a journal. To be honest, I was feeling quite smug by what we had achieved in a relatively short timeframe – a result that I attributed to supportive senior management, passionate and committed staff and a creative approach to this type of organisational change.

But thanks to what I heard and saw this week, I’ve now realised that while I still think those things are true and we have made headway, the private sector has much to teach us in this regard.

In the NGO world we have already started to recognise the value of private sector innovation and how collaboration can benefit us all, whether that’s in the technology space or the advocacy arena. But I now think that is also the case in terms of inclusive and diverse working environments. At the conference I heard about Arcadis, a global design and consultancy firm, which places diversity at the centre of its business case, saying: ‘We believe that by working together diverse people with different experiences develop the most innovative ideas. Diversity hones our competitive edge and contributes to our company’s strength’. Microsoft’s Roland White talked about the technical advantages for all of accessible technology, but also highlighted the negative impacts of unconscious bias, and shared how unconscious bias training is now offered to all staff and suppliers. Not only that, but Microsoft has made this training open to all.

So – my eyes have been well and truly opened and any ‘unconscious bias’ that I may have held about the motivations, progress and achievements of the private sector have been challenged. Sightsavers is on a journey: one in which we will continue to seek inspiration and support from others and hopefully share what we learn, as we learn it.

For more information on Sightsavers’ social inclusion working group, contact Kate Bennell.

By Tracy Vaughan-Gough, Sightsavers Global Technical Lead for Social Inclusion

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