National inclusion week 2018

During National Inclusion Week, Jo Harrison, our Director of Asset Management, shares her thoughts on workplace diversity and the importance of inclusivity.

National Inclusion Week is an annual week of activities and events that celebrates the importance of inclusion in the workplace. It is a fantastic opportunity to think about and engage with people on the topic of workplace diversity. Of course discussions on diversity in the workplace are not new and more and more we are understanding the huge benefits, both socially and economically, of increasing the diversity of our workplaces. But the stats are not great, for example it is forecast to be many decades before we achieve gender parity, both in the UK and globally, and this must change.

For us in the water industry low levels of diversity in STEM industries is a particular challenge and in attracting and promoting the best talent the balance between male and females is a hotly debated topic. However, whilst there is more that can be done it is always worth celebrating that during National Inclusion Week there is such an increased focus on the positive action and improvements that can be made. When I joined the water industry 20 years ago, I was really surprised by the relatively low number of women, particularly in management roles. I am really proud of the progress we are making at United Utilities. In the last few years we have established several employee diversity Networks and worked with partners like Teach First and ‘all about STEM’ to promote the industry and support balanced recruitment and succession processes for the next generation of talent. But in many teams and departments there is still a long way to go.

In my mind the benefits of workplace diversity are only really realised in a healthy workplace environment. That's one where employees feel comfortable to share their perspectives with their colleagues and leaders, with an open and inclusive environment where individuals can be themselves. It's sad, but perhaps not surprising, that new research reveals nearly two-thirds of UK workers feel they keep an aspect of their lives hidden at work. The research from Inclusive Employers found family difficulties was the most likely hidden issue at work, followed by mental health. One in five also admitted they would hide their sexual orientation while at work. The research found this lack of openness can have negative impacts on workers and employers, with over a quarter of workers admitting they would feel less connected to their workplace if they hid an aspect of themselves and nearly a fifth saying their performance would suffer as a result.

For national inclusion week I really encourage you to engage with your teams and colleagues, especially those who are underrepresented in your organisation, to understand what, if any, barriers there are for them in your department or organisation, and how you can help.