For those in the pensions industry, there has been increasing discussion in the last couple of years about equality, diversity and inclusion (“EDI”). A lot of focus to date has been around improving diversity, with inclusion being more overlooked.
Inclusion is of equal importance to create a productive workplace environment and to increase productivity and employee satisfaction.
As an EDI champion at Sackers, associate director Emily Rowley talked to senior partner David Saunders about how organisations can think outside the box to create a more inclusive environment.
Emily: A number of organisations, including our pension fund clients, have been focusing in recent years on developing business practices to promote inclusion. Where do you think businesses should start when looking at improving inclusive practices?
David: From an employer perspective, the starting point is to look at the recruitment process. Whilst many businesses require minimum levels of qualifications or experience for certain positions, it’s important to challenge this and consider whether there are ways of recruiting at different levels so that these criteria are not as relevant, to open the business up to a wider talent pool.
Of course, when it comes to the interview stage, it is also important to be as flexible as possible to accommodate any requirements of the individual and challenge any existing practices. Do you have to meet in person for an interview or could you do it via video call? If a business offers the candidate a choice, it makes it less difficult for them to come forward and flag a need in advance, which they may be nervous to do during the recruitment process.
Emily: Is there a way for organisations to create a workplace culture that feels inclusive?
David: Absolutely. One of the key things we find that helps is creating forums where people have an opportunity to speak and be heard. To our clients, trustee boards of pension schemes, we recommend practices such as having an annual one to one with the chair, or taking five minutes at the end of every meeting for the board to provide feedback on how the meeting was run.
From a business perspective, we employ similar practices. Each department receives regular (usually monthly) updates from the management team about the work they have been doing and has an opportunity to provide feedback. This means that all staff are involved in, and understand the needs and priorities of, the business and we can spot issues before they become problems and resolve them at an early stage.
Emily: Is there anything else that you have seen that you think has helped to improve the inclusivity of the workplace culture?
David: Knowledge and understanding is key. We’ve been running a series of spotlights for a few years now on different religions, the menopause, neurodiversity and LGBTQ+ issues. The more we promote and highlight differences, the more normal it becomes for us to be different and be comfortable being so.
Emily: And do you think focusing on creating an inclusive workplace drives beter results for your clients, and so the business?
David: By creating an inclusive environment, our staff are comfortable about sharing ideas and challenging each other without fear of speaking out of line. This means that any legal advice provided to clients has been challenged by various perspecves before it is delivered. We encourage all members of staff to make suggestions as to how we could be more efficient or productive.
Emily: Finally, what do you try to do as senior partner to lead by example in this area?
David: Whilst many operate an “open door policy”, I’ve really tried to make my office as welcoming as possible. My door is always open and I always pick up the phone: I never require people to book an appointment and will be as flexible as possible to accommodate discussions with any member of staff.
Being senior partner comes with perks, such as having a large office! So instead of filling this with law books, I’ve tried to make the environment appealing by putting in a comfortable sofa and chair, lots of pictures and plants. This makes it feel like a nice space for an open discussion, rather than a formal meeting room.
I also make sure I spend at least 30 minutes with each new joiner in the first week of them joining to welcome them to the business but primarily to learn about them; I’m more interested in what they are going to bring to work and who they are, than telling them about me and the firm.