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Case study

The value of External Evaluation

27 March 2020

Jean Kelly completed a Masters in Human Resources.  She joined UK Power Networks as an HR adviser, dealing with employee related issues, before finding an opportunity to improve the company’s Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) programme.

The value of External Evaluation
Jean Kelly, Diversity and Inclusiveness Lead UK Power Networks

In 2013, Jean Kelly was seconded into the role of Diversity and Inclusiveness Lead at UK Power Networks, given the freedom to bring a fresh perspective and challenge and grasped the opportunity to shape the organisation’s EDI agenda.

By 2017 the company was ready to sign up to the National Equality Standard (NES) sponsored by EY. This brought benefits and focus to the EDI work of the organisation. After only two years within the scheme UK Power Networks is now ranked as the fifth most inclusive employer in the UK having demonstrated significant improvements across the organisation and a real drive for change.

Jean talks to the Infrastructure Client Group about the journey she has been on and the key lessons learned.

The power of playback

Jean began her journey with an open and inclusive approach. Her main goal was to understand from colleagues what they believed the company values were and highlight their own values.

Jean set up employee focus groups to get a better picture of challenges individuals face at work. Jean wanted to understand what the biggest challenges were and tackle them first. She produced an art gallery of her findings which was presented back to the Executive Management Team (EMT). The results surprised some directors who had vast experience at the company, to learn that in some respects the organisation could be seen to have become complacent, so shortly after then the D&I Taskforce was established.

The importance of leadership

D&I Taskforce is a sub-committee of the EMT and comprises of five directors and five senior managers who meet bi-monthly to discuss different experiences and challenges employees face, and act on how to improve the culture within UK Power Networks. This has been further supported by the company’s CEO, Basil Scarsella, who has demonstrated vital support for ensuring that equality and inclusion is embedded into the organisation and its values. He has voiced zero tolerance to bullying and discrimination within the organisation and has been fully supportive of the work Jean has been championing for the company.

A need for greater understanding

Five years into the work and a review of EDI activity highlighted positives but also identified a “scattergun” approach which had achieved some successes but with no clear overarching strategy and no clear understanding of whether the achievements to date were better or worse than similar organisations. In September 2017 UK Power Networks signed up to National Equality Standard (NES) with a number of clear objectives, to:

  • Encourage greater discussion of equality, diversity and inclusion
  • Provide an overarching strategy to their approach
  • Help them to understand their progress by benchmarking against others
  • Accelerate the integration of equality and diversity into its policies and procedures

After only two years within the scheme UK Power Networks was ranked fifth in the Inclusive Top 50 Employers list 2019 having demonstrated significant improvements across the organisation and a real drive for change.

It is important to note that the EDI work undertaken via NES and Jean’s efforts in advance of adoption of the scheme did not take place in a vacuum. UK Power Networks had a long history of listening to its staff. Since 2015 it has been listed in the Best Big Companies to Work for which measures employee engagement. This solid background has undoubtedly contributed to the company’s quick rise from new entrant to fifth place in the inclusive list, in such a short period.

“It’s important to be proud of what we have achieved in such a short space of time, but it’s important not to get complacent," says Jean.

Among the many D&I initiatives the organisation has successfully implemented, is the EMPower Community. This platform was created to allow employees to have a voice and speak out. It is also a vehicle to allow employees to offer ideas for change and turn ideas into actions. Jean understands the importance of helping middle management, because what’s important to them will be important to their staff. This is an area UK Power Networks is doing further work on and is high on its D&I agenda.

Positives from using the National Equality Standard:

  • Provides structure
  • Speeds up the integration of EDI
  • Helps to understand how to plug the gap and get up to standard
  • UK wide standard so it is possible to make realistic comparisons with other companies
  • Helps to focus the mind re:measurement and impact
  • Investment to the scheme focuses the minds of senior execs

The challenges:

  • It requires cost investment
  • You need strong systems in place to gather data and co-ordinate actions. A dedicated data collection / analyst resource would help with these challenges
  • You may need to update your HR systems/processes

Overall lessons

  • You really need the investment and interest of senior leaders within the organisation
  • Systems need to be in place to help deliver and co-ordinate actions with the right owners to drive the changes and make real impact.

Nirmal Kotecha, director of capital programme and procurement said: “We are signed up to the National Equality Standard because it provides the necessary guidance and challenge to help us progress our equality and diversity agenda. "

“Our goal is to be the best performing Distribution Network Operator and this requires us to attract, develop and retain the best people. Diversity and inclusion is a key enabler to achieving high performance and providing great customer experiences.”

  • Manon Bradley, chair at ICG Equality Diversity and Inclusion Group