How do you, as a disability network/resource group leader, work most effectively with your organisation’s Diversity and Inclusion team? Karen Thomson, the UK and Ireland lead for D&I at Fujitsu, says that the answer to getting ‘in flow’ lies in clear roles and responsibilities, communications and, most of all, in trust.
Karen’s role involves all five of Fujitsu’s staff networks (SEED disability network; Shine LGBT+ network; Women’s Business network; Cultural Diversity network and its newest network Next Generation which is to help connect younger staff and staff ‘who are young at heart’.) She was attracted to this area of work because ‘to keep pushing yourself you should step out of your comfort zone.’
As a Russian Studies graduate who had never spoken the language before university, Karen clearly knows something about this. ‘Diversity and inclusion’ she says, ‘is about creating a work environment in which people can step out their comfort zones, to ensure the workplace is as inclusive as possible and colleagues feel confident and comfortable to be completely themselves.’
She works closely with the networks. ‘I view them as an extension of the D&I team and vice versa. We’d be able to do nothing on our own. It’s only through working together that we push the organisation to become more inclusive.
‘You need to get the basics right for a fruitful, future-focused strategy. That involves drawing the lines very early on between the network and the D&I team. Who is accountable and responsible for what? Who is taking the lead on what? We have terms of reference for my role and the network’s chairs. Network chairs fill that role alongside their day job so it needs to be interesting, creative and fun for them. We held a workshop last month looking at what the SEED network wants to achieve next year and how we in D&I can support that.’
There are monthly meetings with the executive sponsors and network chairs plus regular contact in between including collaborative calls and network ‘workouts’ at which networks consider their strengths, strategies and personalities. Karen also speaks to the wider networks regularly. ‘Good communications is key - everyone needs to feel included and up-to-date.
‘All networks share similar barriers such as creating exciting communications and getting them out to the organisation in a seamless manner using the resources of other departments. So I encourage the networks to support each other and to work with each other in getting the word out and promoting what we’re doing.
‘But trust underlines it all. Trust is built over a period of time. Showing our softer side, can help break down barriers, showing that nobody is perfect and we all have strengths and weaknesses.’
Karen has a monthly call with each of the executive sponsors of the networks to discuss activities and barriers. ‘Executive sponsors can bring vocal support - tweeting and writing blogs, for example - as well as passion and enthusiasm. They can enable us to navigate the organisation to ensure we’re speaking to the right people and help us identify new challenges or opportunities that might be coming.’
Karen believes that support for disabled staff begins long before they start working at an organisation. ‘Throughout the recruitment process we make it clear we’re a Disability Confident Leader and that we want to have a diverse workforce that reflects our customers. When people join us they are sent our Be Completely You booklet that highlights out our approach to diversity and inclusion and profiles D&I role models in the organisation.
‘We use the disability’s network’s knowledge all the time. For example, neuro-diverse staff identified the challenges they face around change, particularly on entering the organisation. So we developed an app with them called Buddy Connect. It looks to support neuro-diverse staff as they move from job offer into the role by buddying them up with someone else in the organisation. The objective is that from day one, you should be able to be completely yourself at work.’
Currently, Fujitsu are revamping their workplace adjustment process. ‘D&I will drive it,’ says Karen ‘with input from the disability network about what works and what can be improved. I’ve learned that everyone is different. Two people with same impairment or health condition can have completely different experiences and need completely different adjustments. It’s about understanding the person as an individual and in delivering a workplace adjustment the organisation needs to ensure the process takes account of this.’
Fujitsu is also relaunching their manager training which will offer line managers crucial know-how in how to support staff in a high-performing diverse team. The disability network will play a key role in identifying what works and what could be improved and how change should be implemented.
Fujitsu has been recognised as a Top 50 Employer for Women in 2019, signed the Valuable 500 Commitment and has made ground-breaking strides in Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority recruitment have attracted the attention of the FT among others . ‘It’s a very exciting time to be in D&I,’ says Karen. ‘I think mandating the disability pay gap would be a huge step forward for disability inclusion.’ Last year, the TUC reported that the disability pay gap in the UK was at its highest level since 2013. Karen has an interesting take on that. ‘Before we can truly examine the disability pay gap, we need staff to feel confident letting their organisations know they have a disability. Only then can we understand the trends in progression, recruitment and retention and really understand the barriers and how best to support disabled staff.’ A great example of something that can only really happen if disability networks and D&I teams work closely together.
- Fujitsu is the world's 7th largest IT services provider
- The company is No.1 in Japan, where it was founded in 1935
- Approximately 156,000 Fujitsu people support customers in more than 100 countries
- 14,000 employees in the UK and Ireland
- The staff disability network SEED has over 600 members
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