As CIWM begins implementing its EDI strategy, we talked with some other organisations – both inside and outside our sector – who have already started transforming their culture for the better.
Achieving a world beyond waste needs an inclusive community with a wide diversity of voices, skills, knowledge and perspectives.
This was the message from CIWM CEO Sarah Poulter when she launched the institution’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Strategy – but how to put that into practice?
A survey of the waste, recycling and resource management sector that informed the strategy suggests parts of what we do are on the right track – 60% believe the sector encourages the free and open expression of ideas, opinions and beliefs, and 70% say their organisations have policies and procedures to promote diversity and inclusion.
But there is seemingly much work to be done. Concerningly, 40% of survey respondents said they had seen, heard or witnessed comments or behaviour within their organisations in the past year that made them “uncomfortable”.
How can we improve?
So how can we improve? How can waste and resource firms turn inclusive ideals into an automatic, embedded way of working that runs through every employee? “We will only succeed if we work together, and we will work better if we are open to the experiences, concerns and ideas of all our people,” says Elaine Holt, chair of Bristol Waste Company (BWC), which launched its EDI plan in 2022.
“We want to be a great place to work, where any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination will not be tolerated; where opportunities to progress are open to all; and where people feel valued by their contribution.”
BWC already has credentials as an EDI employer: 50% of its non-executive directors and 40% of its senior leadership team are female; and its workforce, including 22% non-white workers, accurately reflects the city’s rich ethnic diversity.
There’s obviously much more to an inclusive environment than numbers, however. The BWC’s strategy lists other existing and planned initiatives, including “colleague-led groups” (CLGs), which capture views of staff and promote two-way dialogue around ethnic and cultural diversity, gender equality, LGBT+, diverse thinking and learning, and equal access. It’s also exploring a “reverse mentor scheme”, in which members of its board and senior leadership team learn from staff at all levels of the organisation.
We are only successful because our people bring diverse perspectives.
Waste and resource firms can also learn from organisations outside of the sector. “EDI isn’t a tick-box exercise and it’s not just about being seen to be ‘doing the right thing’,” says Christos Tsaprounis, people and culture director at AutoTrader, which was recently named among Britain’s top 50 EDI employers.
“We are only successful because our people bring diverse perspectives. Appreciating each other’s differences and valuing individual experience brings productive and meaningful working relationships. If we can’t collaborate in an environment that includes and respects everyone’s contribution, logic says we simply won’t continue to be as creative or productive. EDI just makes sense – why wouldn’t you tap into and use all that personal experience?”
The CIWM strategy is based on four main principles: influencing and engaging; belonging and welcoming; attracting and retaining; and developing and growing. But how do you turn soundbites into practical action that makes a difference?
Start the conversation
The first step, says Tsaprounis, is a common understanding of what equality, diversity and inclusion means, and why it’s important for individuals and the business.
“Invite people to have open and honest discussions so you can bring them along on the journey,” he says. “Learn from each other – create opportunities for people to speak about what matters to them. Listen to, learn about and acknowledge reservations and different views that people may have. This groundwork is vital: it opens up respectful communication, and initiatives that come after that are more likely to succeed because you have created that culture.”
Use data to measure where you are and where you want to be
BWC uses its CLGs for staff feedback, but aims to improve its data capture to measure EDI. It’s also reviewing its exit interviews, grievances, and colleague survey responses to track how it can improve every employee’s experience.
AutoTrader, too, makes full use of data. “It enables us to see our company make-up across different characteristics – gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, disability, neuro-diversity, age, care and responsibility,” says Tsaprounis.
“It highlights where there might be barriers to people joining us or progressing in their careers. This is not about quotas – we avoid them because they potentially drive the wrong behaviours. We monitor because we want to see our progress.”
Remove the barriers
A truly inclusive company gives everyone from any background exactly the same opportunities to achieve whatever they want to. That means identifying and removing any barriers that block opportunities to join or advance in your organisation.
BWC’s strategy includes numerous commitments to removing barriers by (among other things): accommodating different ways of working; ensuring the suitability and privacy of amenities for women and transgender colleagues; signage for the visually impaired; access to facilities for disabled staff; and food-storage areas, prayer and washing areas that respect people of different religious faiths.
It’s also looking to break down barriers in recruitment, using initiatives from structured programmes to signposting, to ensure opportunities for groups such as young offenders, homeless people, refugees, neurodivergent people, and young adults previously in care.
AutoTrader has progressed the diversity of its workforce by working on its messaging and dispelling stereotypes about the industry. Tsaprounis says misconceptions that you need to be a petrolhead to work in the automotive sector, or that it’s somehow male dominated, are simply untrue. “Many of our staff don’t even drive, and 42% of our workforce are women,” he says.
He adds that people are key to the message: “We are proud to showcase the people we have and we allow them to tell their stories; not in a manufactured or contrived way, but genuinely and authentically – showing the honest reality of what it’s like to work here.”
Engage with other organisations
You know a person by the company they keep, goes the old saying – and that holds for organisations, too. AutoTrader works with charities and other organisations with similar values, such as Leonard Cheshire Disability, The Proud Trust, and The Automotive 30% Club (the aim of which is for all its members to have at least 30% female representation in senior positions by 2030).
“Many such organisations have specific programmes that might involve, say, educational outreach, so we can show people of all ages and backgrounds that the auto industry is a place for them,” says Tsaprounis.
Make diversity visible – at all levels
The best way to sustain an EDI workforce is representation that proves everyone has an equal voice. “If somebody, whether inside or outside the organisation, sees someone like them in a senior position – someone of their gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or age, or with their disability – they can relate to it,” says Tsaprounis.
As well as women making up more than 50% of AutoTrader’s board, and 38% of its leadership roles, one in seven of its workforce is from an ethnically diverse background, one in eight has a disability or neurodiverse condition, and one in 12 declares themselves LGBTQ+.
“All these groups of people are represented at management level,” says Tsaprounis, who points out that a lack of representation might cause some people to question whether they can make it. “But if they see someone like them up there, they will know this is an organisation of opportunity, one where anyone has the potential to achieve,” he says.
Track progress – honestly and transparently
For the past five years, AutoTrader has published its average gender and ethnicity pay-gap reports, which track its progress, and this means it openly acknowledges where there is work to be done.
This has helped its mean gender pay-gap to reduce from 15.1% to 12.1% since 2020, and its ethnicity pay gap go down from 17.5% to 16.7% in the past 12 months. It also enables the company to explain the figures and why such disparity still exists – in these cases, because of the high numbers of female and ethnically diverse employees in the company’s early careers intake.
“Publishing these figures shows people inside and outside our company and our industry that we are making progress, but also publicly acknowledging the areas where we still need to improve,” says Tsaprounis.
EDI is not an add-on. Successful organisations have it at the heart of everything they do. The representation, the monitoring, the healthy and honest conversations – all must be continuous to ensure a truly sustainably inclusive culture, says Tsaprounis.
“Our EDI strategy is summed up by its three guiding principles, which ensure we keep it as our focus: we take action, we measure impact, and we do more,” he adds.
Bristol Waste Company has an even more direct message in its strategy: “Helping Bristol waste nothing.” This clearly includes the vast, diverse, human resource available to it – a resource that, with the right EDI priorities, is also available to every other business in the country.