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Understanding the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion journey


March 2022


Businesses need to understand the current state when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to build foundations. Donna Biggs and Michelle Sequeira discuss why DEI is such a huge topic for businesses today and the pressure of them delivering in these areas is ever increasing. Where do employers start to make the biggest impact to their employees? Wherever you are on the journey of DEI, it’s important to understand quantitative and qualitative data to help prioritise actions.

  • Understanding the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion journey - Podcast transcript

    Podcast host:

    Tiree Houghton: Client Strategy Director, Mercer Marsh Benefits


    Guest speakers:

    Donna Biggs:  UK HR Leader, Mercer

    Michelle Sequeira: UK Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consulting Leader, Mercer Marsh Benefits


    Tiree Houghton: Welcome to Mercer's, energising the employee experience podcast, with me, your host, Tiree Houghton. Each week, I'll be joined by guests who will share their experiences and insights to help you create a people first workplace to attract and retain the best talent. On today's episode, we're going to be discussing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. And I'm delighted to be joined by my brilliant colleagues, Michelle Sequeira and Donna Biggs. Thank you both so much for joining me today. Michelle, could you give a quick intro into who you are and what your role is?


    Michelle Sequeira: Absolutely, thank you, Tiree. I lead a Diversity Equity and Inclusion consulting practice here at Mercer UK. And what we do is advise all sorts of organisations in a numerous amount of industries on their DEI strategies, and also implementation going forward as well.


    Tiree Houghton: Fantastic, thank you and Donna?


    Donna Biggs: Yes, thank you, Tiree. Yes, I'm Donna Biggs. I am the HR leader for Mercer here in the UK. And of course, heavily involved in our own DEI strategy and how we bring an inclusive environment for our Mercer colleagues across the organisation.


    Tiree Houghton: Brilliant, thank you both. I'm really, really excited about this podcast. So let's just jump right in. Diversity and Inclusion is a huge topic for businesses to tackle and the pressure on them to deliver is ever increasing, which is fantastic to see, but comes with its own challenges. So as a business or an HR person, when a topic is so broad, when it's a topic that means something different to each person. Where do you start in order to make the biggest impact to both your employees and your business?


    Michelle Sequeira: I often think it's not about you know, any quick wins or delivering things in silo as an organisation can get bogged down with having so many things to do to help move the needle. Often I talk about understanding the current state to actually build foundations. And wherever you are, on the journey as an organisation, it's important to understand that current state using both quantitative and qualitative data as that will really help prioritise actions. When I talk about data, it's three types of data that we typically look at with organisations. The first is examining one's workforce data, for the, for the most impactful levers for taking action, so promotion differences, pay equity data. The second is the employee voice. In order to understand how employees are experiencing the culture and to understand the impact of policies and programmes, you really need to hear from your employees directly. And then the third is reviewing your policies and practices to ensure that you are meeting your employee’s needs. And analysing all three is critical to then develop that template to move forward one cannot exist without the other. So I really recommend as a starting point, looking at all three to understand one's current state.


    Tiree Houghton: Thanks, Michelle and Donna from your perspective and in practice. What's worked for you?


    Donna Biggs: Tiree, yes, it's really, it's really interesting, because DEI strategy seems to sit very firmly with HR. But of course, HR are not the experts here. We don't have all the answers to all the questions that get raised as part of a DEI strategy, and how do we achieve our goals in this space. So it's really important for us to seek advice from experts, to look at all of our data, as Michelle referenced, to hear our colleagues’ voice, to make sure that we take a systematic approach. And to anchor everything back to the information, we have to sort of find our baseline, and then we can build on that. But the other thing that's absolutely vital is that your executive have bought into the process. This can't be simply a HR led exercise done on the side of the rest of the strategy. It has to be central to everything you're doing around your people in your culture strategy. And it has to have the buy in of all of your exec or your C suite or whoever it is. It can't simply be an HR people process because it's vital to the success of the business.


    Tiree Houghton: The most important things where you said and there's a couple of points, that sort of takeaways is, one it's that pausing, it's that getting that data and I think so often, people want to make quick, impactful changes and they try to do something in silo and as you said, Michelle, it can't be done in silo that actually it's that taking that step back and understand that this is a long process, it's not something that's going to be achieved in a short term. So I think that was really important. And then the other part that you talked, Donna was around the accountability and DEI forms part of businesses strategies. And as you say, it falls with HR and you need to get that buy in. But how do you go about elevating those discussions to get buy in and support on your strategy at all levels in your business from your C suite, but also all your employees because ultimately, they've got to buy in too?


    Donna Biggs: Firstly, yes, you're absolutely right about the C suite and the exec and the CEO needing to be accountable and have buy in. But it's never just the C suite’s responsibility, it has to be cascaded throughout the organisation, because every single person in the organisation has a role to play. But if you can tell a story that everybody can understand, and all colleagues can really feel that they are part of that story, then that's half the job done. The colleagues need to understand what it means for them, how it's going to help their careers, how it's going to help them feel happy at work and thrive and be themselves at work, which ultimately, everybody wants to feel that they can be themselves at work.


    Tiree Houghton: I love how you talk about telling a story with it, because I think it's just such a powerful way to do it.


    Michelle Sequeira: If I could just add to that, because I completely agree. You know, it's important to tell the story and engage everyone. And yes, I agree, you know, start with that C suite and senior leadership team. It's helpful to understand that company data. For most organisations, they love to see the impact and the numbers behind it, but it helps to have those local change leaders to then start to cascade across. If I just touch on the line managers and individuals for a quick second, if you don't mind. Mercer wrote a report in collaboration with Reba in 2021. And we actually found that line managers lag far behind when it comes to policy and everyday practice at that line manager level, particularly around factors with DEI. And so engaging our mid-level managers is going to be imperative to ensure that the employee experiences is truly felt and is one that will ensure that everyone thrives and, the way that it's worked with organisations is including them in coming up with initiatives and ensuring they have the right guides and the templates and the conversation starters to help enable them. And then the second piece was on individual contributors that I wanted to add, I do think that change, you know change starts and continues with all of us, we can all influence that. And Drew Dudley talks about everyday leadership. There's a TED talk that he did about lollipop moments, which anyone can have a listen to, in their own time. But essentially, we all can act as leaders, even as individual contributors, and we could all make a change. And I think, you know, the reason I'm saying this is that the accountability should be felt across the organisation, so we can all influence and make each other's lives better every day.


    Tiree Houghton: Thanks, Michelle. And I was talking to one of my clients the other day, and he was saying to me that one of his biggest challenges is that everyone's perception is so different. So when you are trying to get that by and how do you cover all bases to address each person's interpretation of it and each person's needs? And I think that is a massive challenge when trying to put a strategy in place.


    Michelle Sequeira: Yeah, absolutely. We often talk about inclusive leadership and inclusive training as journeys, because it's to that point, right. You can't have a session that will cover everyone's definitions and everyone's understandings. So having, you know, longer term journeys that have touch points, and continue to embed the understanding and challenge people's behaviours may often make the most impact. So I would start with that, I also think that there is an unbelievable amount of importance and power that can be had with the right communications and consistent communication. So not something that's ad hoc, because then you know, you are reiterating the right messages you are helping all employees to understand what are the values and behaviours that we want within our organisation, what is the culture that that we expect and we want to be driving towards? And I think that that helps overall with all colleagues irrespective of where they are on their journey.


    Donna Biggs: Yeah, I think to add to that, Michelle, that this, the process we've been through as an organisation is a really, really interesting one. Because, yes, we set out our stall and our strategy at the start end of 2020, for, you know, the 2021 and beyond the three to five year strategy. But it's not a once done piece of work, you have to continue reiteration and reviewing and taking a look at the macro environment that's changing as well as what's changing in your organisation. So, yes, we talk about looking at data. But that's not just once, when you start to set this out, it's on an ongoing basis. And a good example in Mercer is that, you know, we have got a change of leadership and a change of CEO. So it's an important point to sit back and sit again and say, right, okay, does our strategy still, is it still reflective of where we want to go? Is it still reflected of what we want to achieve? And going through that process on a regular basis, and reiterating that message, and continuing to cascade and learn and educate on, like, it's, you know, it's completely embedded as part of our culture. And a lot of this is cultural, and a lot of it is about having a culture that is completely inclusive, forever, if you like.


    Tiree Houghton: I love that Donna, where you were talking about a different CEO and needing to, like, think about it again, essentially, and understanding that the strategy may have shifted, and it's not a strategy that stays in place, but it's just constantly evolving with different people, different climates, everything impacting it. And I think that's probably something a lot of people don't think about. So we've talked about how do you tackle this as a topic, and we've talked about the importance of understanding accountability and getting the buy in. So the foundations are all built, but how do you actually execute a strategy? And this is probably a very long answer for people to give. But if you're able to sort of give the top three tips that you have around how to do it and how to achieve maximum success.


    Michelle Sequeira: Why don't I start with that one? So beyond your current state, right, there are three areas that are prioritise, aligning to your top three tips. The first, as we've already reiterated, is engage senior leadership and all employees in the actions to progress DEI, organisations need to think you know, how do we engage every stakeholder on the journey, and actions that typically help are those awareness and collaboration sessions that I mentioned, getting managers to help with prioritisation of programmes and initiatives and the organisational voice. The second is taking action, a clear DEI strategy that ensures equality of opportunity experience, and pay is one that's most successful. And actions that make a difference there is around surround capability building, bias free talent management processes, robust pay equity practices, and change management and communication. And then the third piece that is critical for success, in my belief, is accountability. We need to measure results, demand accountability, and share transparently. Only a quarter of organisations actually have goals that are tied to reward. And I often say that what gets measured and rewarded actually gets done. And you know, actions that really make a difference in that space is establishing suitable metrics and goals, implementing a dashboard, reviewing and communicating how one's progressing with their metrics, and how they're getting on as well.


    Donna Biggs: So I think when we were looking at our strategy, there was a lot of things to do. So I think my first tip would be, prioritise what you need to do and do some big things really well. So find the things that will have the greatest impact and do them really well rather than taking a scatter-gun approach. Number two would be listen to the organisation and by that I mean colleagues and adjust and reflect what you do, what you need to do to reflect the wider community. Black Lives Matter was a really good example of that. You need to adjust what you're doing if something happens in the macro environment that impacts everybody. And continue, the third thing I would say is continue to read review your strategy, don't leave it as a once and done, don't treat it as something you've, oh, I've done it and put it in the draw, keep it, keep reviewing it, keep looking at your data and your metrics. And so it's a continual process. It's an evolution.


    Tiree Houghton: Thanks, Donna. And to not fully put you on the spot with this, but Michelle talked about measuring results. And it'd be good to understand what impact you've seen for what you've done so far.


    Donna Biggs: Yeah, our biggest measure of the employee voice, for want of a better term is our all colleague survey. Now we do poll surveys, but we do an annual all colleagues’ survey, there are lots of areas where we know we need to improve across different aspects of our employees experience at work, but we see results in our diversity and inclusion areas that are really strong. So for example, 86% of our colleagues feel comfortable being themselves at work. And 86% of colleagues in the business are treated with respect regardless of their personal characteristics or background. And when you see results like that coming through, where you know, in a survey that goes to every single person across our organisation, then you know that you're getting something right. I wouldn't say that we absolutely get everything right. And we know we've got to, we're on a journey. And as I say, you know, we're reviewing things again now to see what we need to do next. But those sorts of results, I think, are ones to anchor our success to.


    Tiree Houghton: Brilliant, thank you for sharing that. Donna. Probably a tricky question again, for all of you. But companies are all at different stages of their journey. Some of them are just starting, but for those that are early adopters, what's next for them? What to you does true success look like with this?


    Donna Biggs: So you can look at very sort of ambitiously at this. And I think sometimes, Michelle and I have talked about this. Ultimately, where you want to get to is a position where you don't have to have a DEI strategy. You don't have to have a podcast like this. You don't need to have training for colleagues or for people managers on your unconscious bias and the like, because we're living and breathing a truly inclusive environment where every colleague thrives, and therefore the business thrives. As I say, it is kind of utopian, but that's what we need to be driving towards, is that future where diversity and inclusion is no longer a thing.


    Michelle Sequeira: And I would completely agree with that. Yes, we've had many conversations, and we have the same thinking there. It would be ideal, a situation where DEI was integrated into the DNA of the whole employee experience. It would be, true success will then be you know, where all our colleagues feel like they truly can thrive.


    Tiree Houghton: Well, thank you both so much for joining me today. I've really loved our conversation and hopefully it gives you a bit of a framework and some top tips for some people out there who are just about to embark on their journey.


    Michelle Sequeira: Thank you for having us.


    Donna Biggs: Yes, lovely to talk to you Tiree and Michelle.


    Tiree Houghton: We hope you enjoyed today's podcast and thank you for listening. Please subscribe to keep up to date with our latest episodes and if you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us at


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Guests this episode

Donna Biggs

UK HR Leader

Michelle Sequeira

UK Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consulting Leader
Mercer Marsh Benefits


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