Diversity & inclusion - transforming cultures

4th of November 2015
Diversity & inclusion - transforming cultures

Diversity & inclusion – one of the buzz phrases for the 21st century workplace. But what does it
really mean, and how are cleaning sector companies embracing the concept?

Diversity & inclusion. It’s a phrase we have all heard many times but do we know what it means, and how many businesses can say they are truly embracing its objectives in their business culture?

In broad terms, diversity is any dimension that can be used to differentiate groups and people from one another. It means respect for and appreciation of differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education, and religion. But it’s more than this. We all bring with us diverse perspectives, work experiences, lifestyles and cultures. As a source and driver of innovation, diversity is a ‘big idea’ in business and in society.

Inclusion is a state of being valued, respected and supported. It’s about focusing on the needs of every individual and ensuring the right conditions are in place for each person to achieve his or her full potential. Inclusion should be reflected in an organisation’s culture, practices and relationships that are in place to support a diverse workforce.

In simple terms diversity is the mix, while inclusion is getting the mix to work well together. And within the cleaning sector there are numerous examples of this being put into practice with dedication, and with success.

UK-based facilities services company Mitie has been committed to embedding the concept of diversity & inclusion in its business. It started a steering group devoted to this goal in 2010 and has a group diversity & inclusion manager, Karen Govier. She insists Mitie’s progress in this area is about hearts and minds, rather than being policy driven. “It’s about transforming a culture, changing behaviour,” she says.

Govier’s own particular passions are in disability and the recruitment of ex-offenders. “Disability is very interesting for us,” she explains. “Transparency of the workforce is a real challenge because we do not always know that a member of staff is disabled, for example. Some people do not declare their disability because it may be seen as a barrier to their employment. It may only come to light when there is an incident at work, or long-term absence through illness for example. To overcome these difficulties requires education, in order to tackle unconscious bias.”

Mitie has now employed more than 400 people with disabilities through its formal partnership with the organisation Remploy. Remploy delivers training programmes for Mitie people in mental wellbeing and disability awareness days workshops. “We have just completed our Diversity Week – Celebrating Differences in September 2015 and Remploy was one of our key partners,” explains Govier.

External benchmarking

 “I think it’s fair to say that no organisation can truly say they have disability ‘sorted’ but we are fully committed to the inclusion agenda,” she adds. To demonstrate this Mitie, in 2015, is one of only a very small number of organisations which provided evidence for  benchmarking externally around race, gender, age and wellbeing for four parts of the business. The company has also achieved accolades and awards for its work in diversity.

Tackling the issues of inclusion and diversity – whether it is related to race, gender, disability, age etc – is indeed a major challenge. “We cannot pretend otherwise,” says Govier. “Commitment must come from the top and at Mitie we are fortunate to have our senior leadership team committed to champion the diversity agenda, and not just internally, but in partnership with key clients  and within the sector as a whole.”

One of the current areas of focus, for example, concerns the rehabilitation of ex-offenders. The business also has a charitable arm, the Mitie foundation, and its Ready2 Work scheme provides work experience opportunities for unemployed people who are now wishing to return to the workplace. Govier explained that the most recent London programme, the first of its kind, was dedicated to women with criminal convictions.

“The women we have been working with on this scheme have proved to be incredibly focused, determined to get their lives back on track and totally driven to prove themselves in the workplace. Exceeding all expectations, seven out of nine women who completed the scheme have secured permanent positions with either Mitie or its partners,” she explains.

Implementing a proactive diversity & inclusion strategy also brings many business benefits. “Above all we attract and retain the best talent,” Govier says. “What’s more, diversity of thought brings out the best ideas and that’s a huge benefit for our clients too.

“We have also discovered that if you have a good mix of people at all levels of the organisation, you have a much more rounded business.”

In terms of inclusion, inter-generational is key on the next stage of Mitie’s plan. “We now have more people than ever before caring for other people at both ends of the age spectrum simultaneously - children, loved ones  and parents.

“To be inclusive has to be the way we are moving because we aspire to be a business that people want to come and work for. Where they feel safe and won’t be judged, where they will feel supported.”

And Mitie’s clients have reacted “incredibly positively” to the company’s work in this area. “They appreciate what we are doing and actively want to be involved. Often we see it’s an inspiration and motivation for them to take their own agenda forward, to start taking some action,” Govier concludes.

Another service business that has taken steps forward in its diversity & inclusion agenda is Principle Cleaning, based in London – through its involvement in a project to help people who have suffered from mental health issues back to work.

The East London NHS Foundation Trust provides people with mental health services and support. The East London Business Alliance (ELBA), Broadgate/BritishLand and Principle Cleaning (ELBA members and Broadgate suppliers) have joined forces to support the foundation in its commitment and have partnered to create opportunities and open doors through an employment and skills project called ‘Broadgate Connect’.

Principle Cleaning recently opened the doors to the site of one of its clients, Lloyd’s of London, hosting three East London Foundation trust users sourced through Broadgate Connect which included an overview of Lloyd’s and Principle Cleaning including logistics, cleaning roles available and employer’s expectations.

Operations director David Saville explained how the company got involved. “During a presentation organised by ELBA a professor from the NHS explained the significant problem in getting people back to work after a spell of depression – partly because of the stigma and partly due to those individuals’ gaps in employment.

“So we decided to see if we could help, and committed to trying to get people with mental health issues back to work. The ultimate hope is to give them a job, after offering them an initial period of work experience in clients’ buildings.”

The people Principle is working with are recovered and ready for work, however they still require some care. “They need mentoring and help with their confidence in most cases,” continues Saville.

Although the project is still very much in its infancy, Principle is keen to commit and continue with it. “The good thing about cleaning is there are always new things to be done, the routines are good for people, it’s supervised, it’s a people business and it’s fairly social,” says Saville. “So it lends itself to this kind of project. And as far as we’re concerned, it’s important to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. To really do something to help make a difference.”

How have clients responded to Principle’s new initiative? “They’ve been extremely receptive,” replies Saville. “A number of our clients are actually pushing for CSR initiatives. However it’s vital a project like this is carried out in a very controlled way.”

Chantell Brown is project manager for this initiative and is employed by ELBA. She explained that the aim of the programme is to offer candidates an insight into employment in a corporate environment, and also to raise awareness of the opportunities within the cleaning sector. “To highlight the fact people can really make a career in cleaning, to raise their aspirations and educate them about employers’ expectations,” she adds.

Employability skills

Brown explains how it works for the candidates when they join the Training into Work scheme. “It’s a three-week programme. For the first week we concentrate on training in employability skills - issues such as communication, body language, appearance, CV development, money management. We are ‘polishing’ the candidates.”

During the second and third weeks the candidates go on placement with an employer on-site. “The candidate who has now been employed by Principle went to Lloyd’s of London and was mentored and supported there.”

What are the greatest challenges faced by potential employees who have experienced mental health issues? “The length of time candidates have been out of work can look bad on a CV. We encourage them to be open and honest about the reasons why they have not worked for a period of time.”

The candidates put forward by Brown to companies are considered to be ready and fit for work – they must undergo a detailed assessment before they go on-site.

“We are literally changing people’s lives,” says Brown. “Thanks to the companies that are participating in the programme we are giving people a reason to get up in the morning, a purpose.”

What does she consider to be the key attributes required by people being put forward for cleaning jobs? “With cleaning, I believe you have to be a practical and physical person. You must be a team player, and willing and flexible to do tasks that may fall outside your job description. Candidates must be self-motivated because they are not always supervised, and capable of taking the initiative.

“Cleaners are often more customer-facing than they were in the past so they must look the part also.”

So what’s in it for the cleaning company (the employer)? “We hope we are presenting them with productive members of staff who they can train to work in the way they want them to work – and who will be loyal and effective.”

Another business offering employment opportunities to people who may otherwise experience difficulties in finding a job is ECMR in the Netherlands – a company specialising in the recycling of used cleaning machines. Co-founder and managing director André de Vonk explained why the company started its own initiative. “When we launched ECMR unemployment in the region where we are located had increased significantly and government support had declined. So the local council and companies decided to offer support where possible.

“The business we are in involves fairly basic tasks, therefore it was an excellent way for us to give something back to society. This initiative also sat very well with our own vision to promote sustainability in the broadest sense through the ECMR business.”

Working with local authorities and employment agencies, ECMR selected candidates who had been out of work for a long time, or maybe who had never had a job for various reasons – drug addiction, or social and physical handicaps. De Vonk says: “Our main objective has been to create a safe learning environment that enables employees to re-enter the workplace, improve their standard of living and provide a basis for individual growth.”

Each candidate is looked after by a supervisor at ECMR and their progress monitored against a set of KPIs. Employees each have their own tailor-made programme and an initial limited contract of six months.

“The majority of candidates have become active members of the business, their confidence has grown and they are making a real contribution. That does not happen in all cases of course, however our overall success inspires us to continue our commitment,” de Vonk concludes.


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