Forging ahead into the new year, here at Orbis we continue to prioritise our company culture, D&I goals and our partnerships within the industry. To unpack the how and the why, as well as highlighting one of our newer and most influential industry partnerships, we’ve got a special interview piece for you.
In Conversation with Joanna Jewitt, our People and Operations Director, and D&I lead at Orbis, and Cat Wildman, co-founder of the GEC, an app and community driving for equality everywhere, working across workplaces and schools.
So Jo, when you were looking for a new Orbis partner to support us on our D&I strategy and provide some Equality know-how, there must have been a lot of choices out there. What stood out to you about the GEC?
“One thing that massively stood out was their approach of Supporting not Shaming.
It’s a challenge within D&I that unfortunately there will always be someone who wants to point out what you haven’t yet done. This stalls the conversation and slows down change. Whereas, when we talk openly online, we encourage others to do more. So even if we’re two years behind another company in reaching a certain milestone, we’re still going to announce it, to shine light on D&I and cause a ripple effect of increased awareness.
I look at big leaders in D&I, like Google, LinkedIn, Netflix and the impressive things they’re doing, and it can be all too easy to negatively compare ourselves to those big corporates. At Orbis we are lucky to have the support of Founders who recognise our progress; they bring me back down to earth, reminding me that it’s all relative and we can be proud that we’re doing things for the right reasons. The GEC have a similar ethos.
And Cat, does this align well with what you see as the GEC’s mission?
I’d like to see more people standing up and confidently talking about their DE&I work without the need to qualify it with the phrase “I’m not an expert at DE&I”.
For far too long it’s felt like doing great things in DE&I was only an option for those who could afford expensive consultancy – or a head of D&I.
We researched this and found that organisations and individuals had been completely disempowered from finding and closing their own gaps.
So our mission became to re-empower organisations – using their own data plus our ground-breaking framework and incredible collective of over 320 subject matter experts.
Nobody is more of an expert at running your organisation than you are; our role is simply to add the data, education and support you need to break your own new ground in DE&I.
Authenticity and confidence seem like they’re really central for both Orbis and GEC. Jo, with a strong existing set of principles, what is it you hope to improve on moving forward?
Firstly, provide the team at Orbis with a safe and confidential platform for feedback. I receive plenty of positivity about our work, but I don’t want to take that at face value without digging a bit deeper. There are obstacles involved in face-to-face feedback. If someone has experienced discrimination in the workplace, I don’t expect that they’ll be comfortable discussing it in that same environment.
Secondly, understand where we are and identify what we can do next. There’s no point in me guessing how people feel, so we simply asked them. This provided a host of genuine, diverse voices and insights.
Cat, from the other side of this process, across the many companies you work with, what are the most popular areas of improvement?
It varies with size, industry and age.
There’s a theme emerging in some younger, more dynamic companies around balancing workload and recognition, inclusive banter and socialising.
There’s also a theme emerging in some older, more established companies with progression and advancement, trust and psychological safety.
It differs between industries too – we tend to see really purpose-driven organisations that work closely with their end customers being more aware of wider societal DE&I context, and their drive to close gaps is more fuelled by the desire to create a fairer society.
In some B to B companies there’s still strong motivation but for different reasons; they might be looking to better represent their customers or clients, or to be more competitive.
Again we can also apply the lens of looking at data between demographic groups; parents and non parents, different races and ethnicities, sexes and orientations. Interestingly when we see issues of internalised sexism in organisations, it tends to show up in males and females pretty much equally.
Last question for you Jo, as a People Director internally at Orbis, how do you prioritise people within your organisation?
We say here that people come first, that’s before making money, before doing deals – which may sound unusual, but in recruitment we’re influencing career journeys, so we’re fastidious about that.
D&I can be seen as non-business essential, especially in recent months many companies have had to scale back in this area. We never had this mindset. We think in these challenging times Inclusion is needed more than ever.
Externally, we have a responsibility as a recruitment business to make change. Dealing in people and jobs comes with what we see as a duty of care. When we place a candidate for instance, the responsibility falls to us for how they are treated. So, we try to encourage mindfulness across the industry.
Brilliant insight, and our last question for Cat fittingly is about how we can encourage allyship in the workplace?
I think this one is all about allowing employees to walk a mile in each other’s shoes without placing the labour of making that happen onto marginalised colleagues.
After the murder or George Floyd, a lot of our Black collective members commented that it was their Black colleagues who seemed to be tasked with fixing the problem – by being asked to sit on panels and share their (very personal, often traumatic) stories with the whole organisation, answer questions and educate everyone on why they shouldn’t be racist anymore.
We see this with lots of other marginalised groups; LGBTQ+, women, disabled, trans and those with gender variant identities. Whilst those employees might feel a strong drive to do something to help – actually it’s not their day job and it shouldn’t be automatically made their responsibility either (unless they expressly and enthusiastically volunteer for it). If they are happy to do it, great but it shouldn’t be an expectation.
There are thousands of people in the country whose living it is to train organisations on these topics, either by sharing their own stories or educating on the topic more generally – usually both. We have 320+ of these people and I’d love to see organisations investing in professional speakers and trainers and relieving the pressure and expectations on their own employees, who came into the office to be an accountant or designer, not to educate their colleagues on how not to marginalise them.