Chris Fox was a little busy when we interviewed him. A chartered mechanical engineer, he is currently on secondment to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in their Energy Security, Networks and Markets team providing technical expertise to the UK government on EU exit.
Whatever your view on Brexit, you’ll understand that the role - ‘ensuring that Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is part of a Single Electricity Market on the island of Ireland, are fully prepared for all scenarios’ - is a challenging one. But Chris likes a challenge. He says: ‘from a personal development perspective, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get involved in a technically very complex issue’.
Seconded to BEIS from National Grid where he was Balancing and Settlement Code Development Manager, it was his thirst for a challenge that first got him involved, as a non-disabled ally, in National Grid’s Enabling Employee Resource Group (EERG) in 2017. He is now one of three co-leads.
Chris takes up the story. ‘In 2016, after being on a talent development programme, I was tasked with a study into improving disability disclosure in the organisation. It was daunting at first as a person without lived experience but during my research, I came across PurpleSpace. I learned about concepts like disability confidence and workplace adjustments. Ideas around bringing your whole self to work and being supported to reach your full potential were very motivating on a personal level but also made total business sense. My report made a number of recommendations and one of the reasons I wanted to get involved with the resource group was to see them implemented.’
National Grid’s EERG is a UK-wide network of over 200 staff. It has a steering group of 12-16 and three co-leads. There are three work-streams aimed at delivering objectives around accessibility and workplace adjustments, disability awareness and disability confidence. That Chris is able to continue as a co-lead despite being on secondment is, he says, down to this strong, clear structure.
‘My having one foot in the Civil Service who have championed disability confidence has helped us with best practice. National Grid’s new workplace adjustment standard which we launched in July drew on the best practice in the Civil Service including adjustment passports, line management training and so on. The Civil Service is already disability confident so it’s really useful to come into an organisation that’s a little further on the journey, to see the culture and the higher visibility of disability.’
Chris’s particular role as a co-lead is around coaching. He says: ‘I support those actively involved in the network to deliver the objectives we’ve set using the structures we have.
‘Choose small achievable objectives. I try to tap into the passion of those active and give it direction. I try not to give my own answers. Coaching is about the person being coached sorting their own problems with clear ownership and accountability. You tend to become less directive as the individual develops. The big thing for me is the impact on those being coached, the empowerment and the increased motivation. Given they are volunteers with already busy day jobs, that’s key.
‘I’m acutely aware that I’m an ally. As a coach I try to be empathetic rather than sympathetic. You need to be a good active listener to support someone to harness their lived experience and turn it into something productive and powerful. Only by outlining the situation as it truly is can you land the message, make the difference and have the impact. But speaking truth to power is a challenge whether you have disability or not and creating a safe environment is very important.’
Chris sees the role of the executive sponsor as vital here. ‘We have two executive sponsors and they are our route to moving blockers. They play a very active role in helping make things happen and ensuring it all fits into the bigger business picture. For me, my linking role between those trying to get things done and the decision-makers is particularly worthwhile.’
What would Chris say to those who may think coaching a step too far for a network member without lived experience? ‘My message to all non-disabled allies is get involved. You don’t need to have a disability to care about everyone reaching their full potential. What’s more, disability is the most inclusive of differences. It can affect all of us sooner or later.’
The message of PurpleSpace, and the message of the entire disability movement really, is that it’s always good to have a range of experiences at the table, whatever the group or business and regardless of its objectives. For us, at PurpleSpace, it’s about diversity of thought which means it makes perfect sense to have non-disabled allies in the room. Individuals without lived experience can also provide valuable insight into what others without that experience, including decision-makers, might find difficult or challenging. Effective non-disabled allies can allow you to view a situation and take into account some of the opposition, perhaps inadvertent, that you might face. This insight can be especially useful in a coach like Chris.
National Grid has just reached level 2 of the UK government’s disability confidence scheme and is aiming to become a disability confident leader (level 3) in the next 12 months.
National Grid are one of the world’s largest investor-owned energy companies, committed to delivering electricity and gas safely, reliably and efficiently to the customers and communities they serve.
They play a vital role in connecting millions of people to the energy they use, through their regulated utility businesses in the UK and US; with principal operations in electricity and gas transmission and distribution, as well as National Grid Ventures.
National Grid in the UK:
- They own and operate the electricity transmission network in England and Wales, with day-to-day responsibility for balancing supply and demand. They also operate, but do not own, the Scottish networks. Their networks comprise approximately 7,200 kilometres (4,474 miles) of overhead line, 1,500 kilometres (932 miles) of underground cable and 342 substations.
- They own and operate the gas National Transmission System in Great Britain, with day-to-day responsibility for balancing supply and demand. Their network comprises approximately 7,660 kilometres (4,760 miles) of high-pressure pipe and 618 above-ground installations.
- As Great Britain’s System Operator (SO) they make sure gas and electricity is transported safely and efficiently from where it is produced to where it is consumed. From April 2019, Electricity System Operator (ESO) is a new standalone business within National Grid, legally separate from all other parts of the National Grid Group. This will provide the right environment to deliver a balanced and impartial ESO that can realise real benefits for consumers as we transition to a more decentralised, decarbonised electricity system.
- National Grid’s ambition is to operate and develop their business in a way that results in a more inclusive culture. They are committed to building a workforce that represents the communities we serve – creating an environment where each individual feels respected, fairly treated, valued and able to reach their full potential.
- National Grid has 5 Employee Resource Groups in the UK, Enabling, WiNG (Women in National Grid), ONE (BAME), Pride (LGBT) and Newnet (New starters network).
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