DIVERSITY and inclusion must be everyone’s responsibility, not just a leadership responsibility – and data, used effectively, will go a long way to changing the culture within an organisation. These were just two key points highlighted by various speakers and panellists at The Herald & GenAnalytics Diversity Conference yesterday.

Gary Kildare, the former chief HR officer Europe and global head of labour relations for the IBM Corporation, said that when it came to diversity and inclusion in business there was no longer any room for bystanders. “The more conversations we have the better,” he said. “The agenda continues to develop and done particularly so over the last 15 months since the pandemic and lockdowns.

“What makes a good leader in D&I? It’s everyone’s responsibility, not just a leadership responsibility,” said Mr Kildare. “I’m seeing more boards getting involved, more becoming increasingly active – it’s much more prominent just now and increasing numbers of CEOs are speak out about diversity, climate change and so on.”

Quoting Stan Bergman, the CEO of Henry Schein, a Fortune 500 company, he said: “Clearly the business of business is no longer purely business. Our constituents are watching us.”

Reputation, Mr Kildare noted, is “everything”. He said: “It used to be about getting your organisation noticed but you can be noticed for all the wrong things these days. Remember that in the technological age there is no such thing as ‘off the record’ – once you say it, it can’t be removed. People are watching to see that what you say in your company report plays out.”

Panellist Mhairi Taylor, head of equality, diversity and inclusion at the University of Glasgow, referred to a report into racism at the university that found half of black and minority ethnic students surveyed had been harassed with staff also experiencing racism. The report, prompted by the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s 2019 inquiry into racism on UK campuses, led to principal and vice-chancellor, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli making a public apology.

“The report was quite shocking,” said Ms Taylor. “We took a lot of time to reflect on it and we had to face up to the fact that racism does exist and that we need to address this. Our principal addressed it in a public manner and we have an action plan based around four main principles over a five-year period.”

Another panellist, Enoch Adeyemi, the founder and CEO of Black Professionals Scotland, an organisation established to support black and ethnic minorities in Scotland, called for equity and fairness in the workplace for black colleagues particularly in relation to hiring and promotion. He also referred to racism that was “not in your face but still racism”, noting: “It’s the system that is inherently unfair,” adding that minorities tended to have slower career progression.”

Aneela McKenna, diversity, wellbeing and inclusion manager at the Scottish Parliament reiterated the way in which data could help organisations. “It is the starting point for asking what your organisation looks like, what the applications are like, what the appointments are like – you cannot ignore detail when you publish it,” she said, pointing to how the Scottish Parliament has used data to influence change.

At the start of the conference, keynote speaker Matt Evans, managing director (recruiting) at J.P. Morgan spoke about how he spent nearly 20 years concealing his struggle with depression until the bank’s “This Is Me” campaign in 2017 prompted him to share his experiences. In an honest and candid account of his journey, Mr Evans – who has dealt with depression for many years but was later diagnosed with a bipolar disorder, spoke about the support he had received from employer.

“It has not affected my career – I was promoted to MD afterwards – and if speaking about it can help just one person then it is worth it,” he said, pointing out that working from home during the pandemic had been beneficial and helped him find a better work-life balance. Asked if he might not have flourished with a company that was not so supportive, Mr Evans said: “If a company did not want me because of my mental health issues I would have no interest in working there.”

Mr Evans – and other panellists – also spoke about the importance of “prioritising yourself” when dealing with a raft of issues thrown up by the pandemic, such as homeschooling, living and working in shared accommodation, not being able to see family and friends, missing the buzz of the office, and having poor connectivity. He also shared the names of some apps he used to help him manage his day.

Asked in a poll if they think that the pandemic will have a positive or negative impact on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, 68.8 per cent said yes while 79.6% said that efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in their own workplace had increased in the last 12 months.

The Herald & GenAnalytics Diversity Conference was sponsored by BAE Systems, CMS, Diageo, J.P. Morgan, Skills Development Scotland and s1jobs.

Other speakers and panellists included: Lynne Connolly, global head of diversity and inclusion at Standard Life Aberdeen; Charlene Sweeney, media relations director at The BIG Partnership; Connie Crawford, senior IT auditor, KPMG; Dorileen Forbes, occupational health wellbeing programme manager, UK and Ireland, at Diageo; Mike Douglas, director of Age Scotland; Michael Hilferty, construction site administrator, City Building; Meghan Logue, technical success manager, Odro; Cameron Smith, development worker, Scottish Commission for People with Learning Disabilities; Carolyn Anderson, director of human resources, Skills Development Scotland; Colin Macfarlane, director, Stonewall Scotland; and Tressa Burke, chief executive, Glasgow Disability Alliance.

Commenting after the conferences, Carolyn Anderson at Skills Development Scotland said: “The Herald & GenAnalytics Diversity Conference has been an extremely valuable experience. I was so heartened to hear and learn from all those who took part as speakers and the engaged delegates.

“At Skills Development Scotland, we have committed ourselves to supporting our colleagues to maintain their mental wellbeing, drive greater inclusion in our workplace and, of course, continue delivering a first-class service to our customers. I am really hopeful that we can continue working, learning from and collaborating with many of the inspiring organisations and businesses we have heard from today.”

Lee Corless, global technology diversity and inclusion EMEA lead at J.P. Morgan added: “It’s incredibly valuable to hear from other businesses that are focused on the D&I space and the conference provided me with plenty of food for thought, as well as inspiration. I’m also proud we could share what we do at J.P. Morgan and how we’re working to make inclusivity and equity central to everything we do.

At CMS, Gillian MacLellan, partner, commented: “We are delighted that so many delegates attended The Herald & GenAnalytics Diversity Conference, and participated so fully in this event.

“How we keep diversity and inclusion front and centre as the Scottish economy reopens, taking into account the variety of lived experiences over the last year, was discussed by our first panel. While Covid-19 has been an incredibly difficult time for everyone we heard about many positive developments within workplaces that will hopefully remain in the future.

“Mental health was made personal by our first keynote speaker, Matt Evans, as he gave a very honest account of reconciling his condition with the demands of his job.

“We heard about the fact that workplace racism still exists and the steps employers should be taking to address this – not only in relation to race but also disability and LGBT+. Lynne Connelly from Standard Life Aberdeen shared her insights on her diversity journey and the need to keep this conversation led.

“Today’s event has been a great example of how experts coming together and sharing their stories can open up possibilities to develop new ways of implementing diversity and inclusion. I hope that delegates gained ideas and solutions to take back to their organisation and expand their approach to diversity.”