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People Management's D&I Power List 2020

16 Jul 2020 By PM Editorial

At a time when diversity and inclusion has never been more vital, meet our inaugural top 20 key figures making waves in the field 

People Management’s inaugural Diversity and Inclusion Power List celebrates those impacting D&I on the ground at – crucially – a critical mass of firms across the UK. This could be through books authored, academic work, campaigning activities, speaking engagements, bringing groups of D&I professionals together… The list aims to champion influencers in a range of areas, and both those with a high profile but also the unsung heroes of D&I – practitioners or consultants tirelessly sharing best practice or working with numerous organisations. To compile this list, People Management consulted a demographically diverse range of senior HR and D&I professionals, also inviting readers to nominate those whose work has most affected them.

We're pleased to unveil the list below.

Caroline Criado Perez

Author and campaigner

Criado Perez first rose to prominence through her national campaign, The Women’s Room project, which pushed for better female representation in the media. But it was her most recent book, Invisible Women, which caused waves in HR circles. Angela O’Connor, founder and CEO of The HR Lounge, says: “I share Invisible Women with HR leaders and boards. It’s such a useful tool to generate conversation about how women and others are often excluded through systems, processes and service design. When you read this book, I guarantee you will look at the world differently.”

Suki Sandhu

Founder of INvolve 

Founder and CEO of Audeliss, a global executive search firm geared around diverse senior executive appointments, Sandhu created INvolve – a global D&I network and consultancy – in 2013. He was awarded an OBE in 2019 for services to diversity in business. Eugenio Pirri, chief people and culture officer at Dorchester Collection, says: 
“Suki continues to transform the landscape through education, knowledge and sharing. His commitment to diversify company boards, as well as help people, workplaces and communities realise how D&I can elevate us all, has inspired many of us to do the same.”

Paul Farmer

Chief executive of Mind

Farmer has been in the top job at mental health charity Mind for the past 14 years, and also chairs the NHS England Independent Oversight and Advisory Group, which oversees the long-term mental health plan for the NHS in England. A staunch advocate of employers’ roles in good psychological wellbeing, in 2017 he co-authored a review into mental health at work, which made 40 recommendations to the government. He was awarded a CBE in 2016 for services to mental health.

Ruth Sealy

Professor of management at the University of Exeter Business School

Sealy’s global academic expertise on women on corporate boards saw her play a key role in the Lord Davies review into women on boards between 2010 and 2015, and her membership of the NHS Advisory Board has led to a commitment of equal gender representation on the boards of all NHS hospitals and clinical commissioning groups by 2020. Sealy has also been the lead researcher of the annual Female FTSE Board Report since 2007.

Dr Doyin Atewologun

Organisational psychologist and diversity expert  

Known as one of the foremost experts on leadership and intersectionality in organisations, Atewologun has made an impact on D&I in the workplace through her many advisory, practical and research posts, including director of the Gender, Leadership and Inclusion Centre at Cranfield School of Management. 

How can businesses improve representation?

A number of small efforts have a cumulative effect. The work towards equality is not just up to HR, D&I or middle managers. It’s up to all of us. We all have the opportunity to ask different questions, turn a policy upside down and make a difference. 

Your work focuses on intersectionality. Why is that so important?

Audre Lorde once said “there’s no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we don’t live single-issue lives”. All my experiences of being black are linked with my experiences of being a woman, and I can’t disentangle them. 

When looking at gender, for example, we should ask what kind of woman our work is helping. We might have solved a problem for white middle-class women, but not for poor women, or disabled women, or queer women. You might find you make things better for most women if you focus on those who are most marginalised. 

Mark Lomas  

Head of equality, diversity and inclusion at HS2

Lomas has delivered numerous D&I projects in the UK and internationally for organisations across a wide variety of sectors, and won several awards for his work. Alongside his work at HS2, he is a committee member for the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative campaign and a trustee for the Mama Youth Project.

Where did your D&I work start? 

I moved to the UK after finishing my music degree to work as a classical musician, but frustratingly found opportunities were largely driven by network. I explored other avenues where competence was more important and started working with a disability charity, and challenged my regional manager on providing services for diverse groups. She let me attend the national EDI steering group meeting with the CEO and share my observations. 

What did you want to change when you first started? 

I wanted to make sure opportunities were available to all types of talented people and to put in place policies and processes that valued competence, talent and potential over network.

Have current events shone a spotlight on the importance of D&I?  

D&I is more important now than ever. The coronavirus pandemic has challenged businesses around flexible working and how they value employee wellbeing, and the period of global reflection following the Black Lives Matter protests has really forced organisations to do better. This is the time for businesses to progress and be bold around equality. Rhetoric needs to start matching reality.

Pips Bunce

Director at Credit Suisse and LGBT+ activist 

Bunce is a director at Credit Suisse and co-chairs the firm’s LGBT and Ally Network. Bunce identifies as gender fluid and non-binary and uses the pronouns ‘she/her’ and ‘they/them’. She works with organisations such as the BBC and the Government Equalities Office to highlight the importance of ally programmes in LGBT+ inclusion.

How should employers educate themselves on LGBT+ issues?

Education and insight are key aspects of being an ally. Everyone makes mistakes, but we don’t want people to be scared to talk or ask questions. One of the things that works well is producing guides around topics like being a more effective LGBT+ ally or the spectrum of identities within the LGBT+ community. They feature people from within the company who give readers insight into their experiences and challenges, which really resonates. 

What conversation do you wish businesses were having about D&I right now?

Firms need to focus more on intersectionality and the interconnected nature of ethnicity, gender identity, sexuality, gender, differently abled, neurodiversity, social mobility, etc. I also wish more businesses had ally programmes – they are a great way to empower people to drive cultural change. Until the concept of allyship became prominent, I didn’t feel comfortable expressing my authentic self at work. A lot of firms need to understand that the best way to build inclusion is through allyship.

Frank Douglas

Former HRD and founder of Caerus Executive

Born and educated in New York City, Douglas came to the UK in 1995 to join BT as head of HR strategy. He was the first (and only to date) black male to become a group HRD of a FTSE 100 firm, and has held several senior roles in high-profile companies including Shell and Transport for London. Douglas is now CEO of Caerus Executive, which supports businesses in improving their diversity and inclusion. He is also a prolific public speaker, and to date the only HRD to speak at Buckingham Palace and the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont.

Sir Lenny Henry

Comedian and chancellor of Birmingham City University

One of Britain’s best-loved comics, Henry has also become a champion of workplace diversity, particularly in broadcasting and the creative industries, campaigning against the lack of opportunity and progression for black, Asian and minority ethnic creatives, both in front of and behind the camera.

March saw the launch of the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, a research centre co-founded by Henry dedicated to holding the creative sectors to account on ethnic diversity. Based at Birmingham City University, it will research the effectiveness of policies to improve BAME representation in the creative industries.

Asif Sadiq

Global head of diversity and inclusion at Adidas

Sadiq has led diversity programmes at a number of leading companies throughout his career, including City of London Police, Telegraph Media Group and EY and, having only joined Adidas earlier this year, is well placed to begin tackling the firm’s reported issues with racial inequality. Last year, he was appointed independent chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s work on D&I in the profession. Sadiq’s work has garnered many awards, including the Asian Professional Award and an MBE in 2017.

Julian John

Disability campaigner and founder of Delsion 

Having recovered from brain damage in 2005 which left him with limited mobility, John realised there were barriers for disabled people returning to work. He founded award-winning consultancy Delsion in 2015, and has successfully transformed Swansea into the first Disability Confident city in the UK.

Where does your passion for D&I come from? 

Getting the most out of people and helping them flourish in the workplace is what gets me up in the morning. In 2005, I collapsed at the wheel as a result of brain damage caused by a bacterial infection, and I was housebound for three years as I learned how to stand, walk and talk again. I also ended up homeless for a while. After I had been unemployed for nine years I was desperate to return to work, but there were lots of barriers for disabled people. I hadn’t experienced that before. 

What was the inspiration for founding Delsion? 

Delsion has got clear social goals and aims to make Wales the leading nation for inclusion. I want to make D&I a mainstream activity within organisations. 

What advice would you give businesses wanting to energise their D&I efforts? 

It’s very easy for a company to do a lot around inclusion but not actually achieve a lot around inclusion. Organisations need to take a look inwardly to see what D&I can achieve and get a better understanding of what they need to do, rather than getting accredited or signing up to an event. It needs to touch every part of the organisation.

Sandra Kerr

Race equality director at Business in the Community

Kerr is Business in the Community’s (BITC) race equality director and a driving force on the equal representation of ethnic minority people across all levels of business. Before joining BITC, Kerr worked in the Cabinet Office advising on policies around race, disability, gender and work-life balance across Whitehall. She also chaired the Ethnic Minority Employment Stakeholder Group, sponsored by the Department for Work and Pensions, which advised the government on issues related to the employment and progression disadvantages that individuals with ethnic minority backgrounds face. In 2012, she was awarded an OBE for her work for black and minority ethnic people, and she was named a CBE in 2019.

Baroness Ruth Hunt

Co-founder of Deeds and Words

Hunt is co-founder and director of organisational change consultancy Deeds and Words. Before this she was the CEO of Stonewall, where she worked her way up from the policy and campaigning team over her 14 years with the charity. While with Stonewall, she worked with more than 700 organisations, as well as schools, grassroots campaigners and government ministers on the impact of LGBT+ representation and rights within society. During her tenure, Stonewall also became trans-inclusive after extensive consultation with trans communities. In 2019, she became Baroness Hunt of Bethnal Green and continues to fight for societal change as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords.

She is also a motivational speaker and curated The Book of Queer Prophets, an anthology of global LGBT+ voices.

Lee Elliot Major

Professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter

A leading social mobility expert and the UK’s first professor of the subject, Major previously served as CEO of the Sutton Trust, where he worked to improve the social mobility of young people through education. As a founding trustee of the Education Endowment Foundation, Major co-authored the organisation’s toolkit to support schools in improving the educational outcomes of disadvantaged young people. He argues social mobility is not about a few successful individuals securing top jobs, but about ensuring everyone is able to make informed life choices and secure decent jobs within their local communities. Major was awarded an OBE in 2019.

Joeli Brearley

Founder of Pregnant Then Screwed

Brearley founded Pregnant Then Screwed in 2015. The organisation campaigns for the rights of pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace. 

What’s the story behind Pregnant Then Screwed? 

When I found out I was pregnant, I informed my employer, and they called me the next day to terminate my contract with no explanation. I was pregnant, unemployed and terrified and, because it was a high-risk pregnancy, I decided to avoid the stress of a tribunal.

I started Pregnant Then Screwed so women could share their experiences. We started a free legal advice line and, from there, we’ve been campaigning on flexible working and extending redundancy protection for pregnant staff. 

What do you wish employers were doing to support new mothers?

We want employers to shift how they see pregnant women and new mothers. Many still view them as a potential burden or think they won’t be as committed, but that isn’t true. If you’ve spent months handling a toddler who throws a tantrum because their toast is cut wrong, there’s nothing better than being mentally stimulated by work. We want organisations to realise if you look after mothers, they will look after your business.

Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith

Politician and president of the British Chambers of Commerce

McGregor-Smith is a passionate advocate for diversity’s role in driving business performance. The first Asian woman to be appointed CEO of a FTSE 250 firm in 2007, she chaired the Women’s Business Council from 2012 to 2016, authored the government’s 2017 Race in the workplace review, and supported the House of Lords’ work on the gender and ethnicity pay gaps. She received a CBE in 2012 and was made a life peer in 2015.

Simon Stevens

Disability consultant, activist and writer

Stevens is an independent dysability (difficulty in ability) consultant, trainer and activist. He has worked with more than 200 organisations and founded the world’s first disability-themed virtual nightclub. 

What led you to work in D&I? 

I was born with now severe cerebral palsy and have picked up more medical labels along the way, including bipolar. I also discovered I was gay at 21, so D&I is natural to me. I grew up in a time of great oppression for disabled people and experienced it first-hand – I felt duty bound to make a difference.

Why is diversity so important? 

I think the question should be ‘why would diversity not be considered important?’ I believe everyone has the potential to make a contribution to society in some way. It’s about developing potential in disadvantaged people and respecting that everyone has a voice, no matter the support they need, their background or lifestyle choices.

How has the current crisis highlighted the need for better inclusion?

The pandemic has affected many people whom we should never ignore. I frequently work from home – at home I remain impaired but I am not disabled. For those who can, home working will be the ‘new normal’, which will help many people with different needs. The world has changed, but the importance of D&I has not.

Baroness Ros Altmann

Campaigner for older workers’ issues and former pensions minister

A former MP, member of the House of Lords and government business champion for older workers, Altmann is a pensions expert and campaigner on a range of issues affecting older employees. 

Why is having an age-diverse workforce important?

An age-diverse workforce will often give higher productivity and each age group can learn from the other. The same applies across the D&I spectrum. Our country is made up of a wide range of individuals, and having only one or two groups in a workforce is less likely to help most companies understand the needs of their customers.

How can employers ensure equality for all age groups?

Employment should be ‘age blind’, and workers should be eligible for ongoing training and promotions at any age. It’s sometimes assumed someone in their 50s is not going to stay as long as someone in their 20s, but older workers are often more long-serving. 

What are your concerns around the Covid-19 crisis’s impact on ageism at work?

Since this crisis, there has been a marked rise in ageist thinking, with all older people suddenly lumped together and treated as ‘vulnerable’ regardless of their actual health. This risks undoing the many years of progress we have made across the workplace in encouraging employers to recognise the skills, talents and value that workers of all ages can bring.

Binna Kandola

Author and co-founder of Pearn Kandola

Kandola is a visiting professor at Leeds University and Aston University and has been recognised by The Independent on Sunday as one of the UK’s top 10 business psychologists. He was awarded an OBE in 2008, and is a regular contributor to national media. Jig Ramji, group head of talent at London Stock Exchange Group, says: “Binna is incredibly knowledgeable on ethnic minority representation in the workplace. His research is empirical, his positioning challenging and his passion unquestionable. But more importantly, he has found the courage to work in an area many find emotionally distressing. Most of us believe in equality and fairness, and to be confronted by a reality that is vastly different takes courage and dedication. If there were more people like Binna, we would likely progress quicker.”

Paul Deemer

Head of diversity and inclusion, NHS Employers

Deemer has worked in D&I at NHS Employers – the body that acts as the voice of providers across the English health service – for more than 15 years, and before this at the Department of Health, Broomfield Hospital and children’s charity Barnardo’s. Danny Mortimer, CEO of NHS Employers, says: “Paul is a hugely respected figure in the equality, diversity and inclusion community in the NHS. He is rightly seen as an ally by communities and staff groups because he not only supports employers across the NHS to acknowledge the problems we face in relation to equality, diversity and inclusion, he also always challenges us to translate that into action in our own organisations and teams.”

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