Companies tend to highlight diversity as an integral part of their workforce, but inclusion is often a grey area. Whether it’s gender, race, religion, sexuality or disability, businesses have a duty to employ a workforce that is made up of individuality. We understand the importance of every employee feeling comfortable in being themselves – their true self. ‘Being me’ is our new inclusion and diversity forum that has really taken this to the next level. I felt that now was the time to personally get more involved, for both myself and my colleagues across the UK and Ireland business.
Diversity doesn’t equal inclusion
A diverse workforce doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone feels included. Diversity is often compared to being invited to the party, whereas inclusion is being asked to dance. And what’s the point in being in the room if you feel like you can’t take part? I realised this was my mission. I wanted everyone to feel confident that they could be themselves and contribute to the discussion – I wanted everyone to be able to dance.
Wherever you work, you should feel represented and safe to be yourself. Most importantly, there should be a culture that facilitates conversation; where starting the discussion isn’t feared or frowned upon. It was that idea that made me ask the question: how can I help Pladis in its mission to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace?
I started to support and co-lead the official inclusion and diversity network. We coordinated a launch event with more than 300 Pladis employees in attendance, which kicked off with a panel discussion. Each panellist represented a different diversity – from someone struggling with their mixed cultural identity to an individual who felt the need to keep their sexuality a secret from their colleagues, the discussion was open, honest, and necessary.
We also looked beyond our own walls and invited along some external speakers to provide further insight to broaden the discussion. Jane Kenyon, founder and CEO of social enterprise Girls Out Loud, provided an inspiring and motivational speech about the importance of being authentic and helped attendees think about what was holding them back at work.
I invited Jane, who I met during my time as a mentor for Girls Out Loud’s Big Sister programme, because she is a phenomenal speaker who can captivate the whole room. As someone who has dedicated her career to fighting for gender equality, it felt only right to have Jane present at the launch.
In the future, we hope to offer a mentoring programme, a LGBT+ network and more panel events with external speakers to help people feel more comfortable in opening up and having that discussion.
Finding your lightbulb moment
You’ll always hear different stories of when and where people experienced their lightbulb moment, in which something sparked them to take action. For me, it was during my time as a Big Sister mentor. For 12 months, I was paired with a 13-year-old girl to help guide and inspire her, but she did the same for me.
It’s extremely empowering to be a mentor; you can see first-hand you’re making a difference to someone’s life, and that is incredible. For me, becoming a mentor gave me the courage to step up and bring about change, and the confidence to become a leader. Now, whenever I’m in doubt or wondering what to do, I think about what I would tell my 13-year-old mentee – my ‘little sister’. I always spoke to her with honesty and passion, so I now need to do the same for myself.
I spent so many hours persuading my mentee to be nothing but herself and to be proud of who she is, it made me realise this problem stems far beyond adolescence.
Why every business needs an D&I network
Many might wonder why it’s important for organisations to invest time and resources in these types of initiatives. By investing in inclusion and diversity networks, companies not only improve worker wellbeing and productivity levels, but also help grow a more successful business.
Some of the most successful organisations in the world are made up of the most diverse teams. They bring a variety of voices and viewpoints to the table that enable good decisions. Target customers and audience groups are diverse, so the people that make up a business need to reflect this.
If employees feel confident in being themselves while at work, they will excel and be able to reach their full potential. It’s therefore imperative that organisations provide the necessary tools and support to encourage this. I’m grateful that Pladis allowed me to contribute to this movement and lead the way in ‘being me’ and I’m excited to see what else we can achieve.
Nicola Coulson is manufacturing capability lead at Pladis Global