Episode 12: Diversity, equity & inclusion with Ella McCann-Tomlin

Jul 13, 2022

According to a survey by Gartner in 2021, women makeup 41% of the supply chain workforce however only 15% of those women are in senior positions. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg as DEI is not just restricted to gender diversity.

For Episode 12, we invited Ella McCann-Tomlin, CEO and Founder of Ardent, a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consultancy to talk about the value of driving DEI initiatives in an organisation.

This episode explores:

  • the first steps organisations should take when creating their DEI strategies
  • the value of gathering workforce data
  • why DEI needs to impact all levels, especially leadership teams

Ella McCann-Tomlin
Ella is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Consultant with a passion for organisational change. She works with companies to transform their leadership cultures, the diversity of their teams, and their social mission. She spent almost a decade working in high-growth tech before setting up her own consultancy business. It was this experience in fast-paced environments that led her to want to work with other companies on how to get their culture right, and how to live by their values, as they scale.


Helena Wood Hello, and welcome to Episode 12 of Freight to the Point, a podcast by Zencargo, I’m Helena Wood and today I’m incredibly excited to be joined by Ella McCann-Tomlin, the Founder and CEO of Ardent. Ardent is a diversity, equity, and inclusion consultancy with a difference who believe in the transformative power of diversity and work with businesses to build people focused and inclusive frameworks. So a bit of a different guest for us this week. Ella’s not someone from the supply chain space, but someone I’m incredibly excited to talk about on a topic that’s super relevant to us, just like many other industries. So Ella, welcome. Lovely to have you here.
Thank you so much. It’s good to be here.
Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood Let’s get freight to the point. Tell us a little bit about what it is that you do.
Yeah, so I’m Ella, I’m an independent consultant. So I work with organisations mostly on their DEI strategies, so their diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies, and also a little bit on their management culture and transforming that. And I tend to find that the two things are linked. You almost can’t talk about one without talking about the other. So yeah, I work with companies on both of those areas.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood Amazing. And let’s assume that many of our listeners know a lot about DEI or are already informed, but some might not be. So could you give us a bit of a school day introduction to what DEI actually is and how it plays a part in business?
Yeah. So as I said, DEI stands for diversity, equity, and inclusion. The diversity piece is about how you make your organisation more diverse. Often people focus on the demographic part of that. So are we too white? We got too many men. But in reality, actually, what you’re trying to do is think about the diversity of thought that you have in your organisation and having as many people from different walks of life enables you to have more diversity of thought.

Equity people don’t talk about so much actually, but that’s one of the really important pieces. And the way that I would describe that is it’s about thinking about actually, if I join your company and someone else joins your company, it’s taken different things for both to get there. And so how do we specifically support people from marginalised backgrounds who maybe have a lot more going on or certain things were a lot harder for them in the wider world. And then inclusion, I guess, is about culture and belonging and how you make sure that people actually can show up to work and feel like they can thrive, I guess.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood I can imagine. I’d love to have been a fly on the wall in some of those very early conversations as you rattled through ideas. What was it like in the early days? I remember you telling me about Zencargo’s origins in a coffee shop and really getting through the gritty startup story. Tell us a bit about that.Which is super helpful. Thank you so much for explaining that. And I suppose if we think about how that impacts our business, could you help us possibly see if we were to stand on the outside and look at a business that’s doing DEI well versus a business that’s maybe not, what would the opposites look like?
Well, I guess the extreme not looking at this end of the spectrum would be companies are hiring in the way they’ve always been hiring. They’re approaching things in the way that they’ve always been approaching and they’re not really doing any interrogation into the way they do things. So for instance, they might say, “We want everybody who joins this company to come from a red brick university.” And they’ve not necessarily gone. Is that needed for a product manager? Is it needed for a salesperson? Is it actually going to give us the best people? And in extreme environments where you are not really not looking at all and they’re very, very traditional industries, you typically don’t get very much diversity of any kind. You get people from the same type of walk of life, similar socioeconomic class, similar gender, similar ethnicity, et cetera.

And the problem with that as well is when you have a very homogenous organisation to begin with, you don’t tend to know what you don’t know. So you don’t really see all the areas that you could be improving because everybody thinks the same. And then at the opposite end and not many people are at the extreme opposite end, I would say very few people are doing this really, really well, but a lot of companies are now trying to do it well. And I think the opposite end would literally be the opposite.

We’re looking deeply at all of these things and we’re interrogating all of our processes. We’re experimenting with new ways. There are some experimental elements to this. We’re experimenting with new ways of hiring. Maybe we’re looking at apprentices, we’re thinking about how we retain people. We’re looking at the data. If we have a problem where we’re haemorrhaging women, for instance, why is that? If we have a problem where certain people are not progressing through the organisation, why is that? And so I think the companies are doing it really well. There’s a good degree of humility that you have to have to be able to go, “We’ve not been doing this stuff well, how can we make it better constantly?”

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood Just super interesting. And obviously, DEI it’s not a new topic, but it’s certainly got a new moment in the spotlight. Certainly people didn’t have consultancies working on DEI 20 years ago. So what was your personal journey? How did you end up in this space?
I think like so many things in my life, there was a little bit of intentionality there and there was a little bit of circumstance. So I have been in tech for about a decade and I joined a tech company that was a startup back in 2012 and went on the journey, the startup journey with that company until they were about 500 people. And so I did lots of different roles. I think one of the great things about working in tech, especially in startups, is you can there’s roles that open up that didn’t exist yesterday. And I definitely took advantage of that, but I spent most of my time on the commercial side. And I would say that whilst I was on the commercial side, I was lucky that because we were building, that really suited me well.

So I really enjoyed thinking about what does progression look like and how should we be building the team and what do we want our culture to be? And should we be hiring grads? Should we be hiring experienced people? And all of those kinds of questions actually translated really well into the role that I eventually took on within that company, which is a director of diversity and development. So I was doing those things. And then I would say I was doing some extracurricular things like rounding people up who were interested in going to Pride for instance, but all of those things were unofficial until I was officially in that role. So I would say when that opened up as a role, I was pretty well placed and I took it on. And then after that, that’s when I decided when I’ve been doing that for a couple of years to set up on my own.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood

Which sounds like the absolute perfect route to go into something like this. Obviously, something you’re massively passionate about, you have personal experience and then obviously to be given the opportunity within your work to flex that muscle and take it into your own business is an amazing journey. Now for our audience, as you know we speak to shippers and professionals who work in the supply chain space, which might not be a space you’re super familiar with, but you might have heard some of the anecdotes. So when I, for example, came into supply chain a year and a half ago, having worked at a similar set of industries to you, tech and startups, a lot of my friends asked over the dinner table, “Oh, are there many women in that space? Isn’t it very male? Isn’t it a bit pale, male, and scale? Isn’t it a bit white?”

And I think supply chain bears the burden of being a very traditional industrious industry. So by its very nature is quite male. Now, actually, I’m not sure it’s as bad as lots of us think. So for example, there was a survey run in 2021 and a reports released by Gartner, which said 41% of supply chain workforce is female. Now of that 41%, only 15% of those women are in senior positions. So I think there’s a general recognition across supply chain that there is a need for more diversity. And of course, I’ve only just given you an example of gender diversity, but there probably are many people listening to a podcast like this thinking that all makes sense, Ella, but where do we even start? So what would your advice be for someone who’s sitting understanding this is an important topic, recognising that they might be in a space that they need to make change, but not knowing how to go about that?

Yeah, that’s a really good question, I think the most common question. And so first of all, I think the first question to ask yourself as an organisation is why are we doing this? Why now? What do we want to achieve by this? And that might sound like an obvious question, but a lot of people will come back and say, “We want to be better at D and I.” Yeah, sure, but we recognise that, let’s say, in the commercial side of a business, for instance, saying our commercial strategy is to grow is not going to be a particularly helpful strategy, right? In what ways? Which metrics? Where are we trying to get to? And I think one of the first things you can do is to try and get as specific as possible about what you are trying to do here and answer that question.

And I think by its nature, people get quite overwhelmed by DEI because it covers such a range of things there’s neurodiversity, there’s gender diversity, there’s LGBTQ, there’s ethnic diversity, and all of these things are important. And so I think people struggle with how to prioritise what to focus on. But I think if you can say, “Here’s what we want to do in the first instance, that’s a good place to start, and here’s why we want to do it and we can keep reviewing it, but we’re going to focus.” I’m a bit of a fan of going deep rather than broad. And I think how you decide that, to be honest, I’d start with assessing your workplace in some way. So I think the starting point pretty much always is gather some data. The thing I would say about data is take it with a pinch of salt because by its very nature when you collect DEI data.

So if you put out, let’s say, a survey to your organisation and you ask about people’s sexual orientation, you ask about their race and you also ask about how they feel, whether they feel included, whether they feel developed and all those kinds of things. First of all, it’s very sensitive stuff. You have to really position that right. And second of all, by definition, the people who you’re probably not reaching who don’t feel included are the least likely to fill that in. So when you get that data set, you’re already getting a data set of people who are the most engaged set in your organisation. But I think it’s imperfect, but I think it’s a really good place to start because I think if you are already not diverse enough, having this be really top down and having your executives go, “Here’s what we’re going to do,” without sampling the organisation is probably likely to be a bit toned deaf.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood But it’s so interesting to hear that because normally when I sit and have conversations with supply chain professionals on this podcast, we’re talking about their stance on how companies should optimise their supply chain. And almost always the conversation goes something along the lines of start with the data. So our conversations going down the same track, which is super useful. So start with the data and it’s very empowering.

So we all know, I think, as listeners to this podcast or professionals in whatever realm of work we are in, any conversation that is structured with and empowered by data is 10 times easier. You’re got number to back you up. It’s much, much easier. So if someone in a business is wanting to start to focus on DEI and is wanting to build out a strategy and maybe they’re about to do a survey, or maybe they’re trying to even find the trigger to start doing a survey. Are there any specific data points you can think of that might be a useful metric to have in hand to take to the senior table to say, “I’m looking at this metric. It tells me something’s not right or it tells me something could be better. I now want to begin focusing on DEI.”?
So I think if you haven’t done any kind of DEI survey yet, anecdotally, most companies know what their leadership looks like. And that tends to be a really good litmus test because they’re the people who make the decisions, right? So we know what the C-suite looks like at the very least, even if we’ve not sampled them and asked them how they identify. We know what our kind of VP or director level in the company looks like as well. And I think that’s a really good place to start. When we did a D and I survey at my last company, one of the really helpful things was almost getting down in black and white, the things I already knew. So I already knew our C-suite was a hundred percent white, but there’s nothing like a pie chart that has no other colours in it to really drive that point home.

And I think that, yeah, leadership is a really good place to start, especially because one of the things that I think companies sometimes hide behind is, “Oh no, we’re really ethnically diverse or we’re really gender diverse.” But all of those people sit in their junior levels of the organisation and that’s still a problem. So I think that’s where I would start to say we need to do something about this is if you look around the board table, the C-suite, the director level people in your company, and you can see that they’re not very diverse then I think that could trigger a conversation.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood Which is great advice. And I want to keep going down this thread, which is, let’s assume there’s someone in that position. They’ve done the litmus test. They can maybe see that in the senior leadership team of the business or the C-suite there’s a diversity problem, could be ethnicity, could be gender, could be many, many things, and they want to start doing something about it. And often from businesses that I’ve seen and from things that I think we read, sometimes the most impactful DEI initiatives within businesses start from within rather than being top down.

Because sometimes I think and you and I have spoken about this before, sometimes top down initiatives start perhaps not even with the wrong reasons, possibly just without a reason. They’re done for more performative means. So let’s assume they’ve noticed there’s a challenge. They want to address it. And they now need to have that conversation with someone in a leadership position who possibly doesn’t see a problem, doesn’t think this is a priority. How can someone address that conversation sensitively, safely? What are the things that they should be bringing up and what are the things that they should be saying to get someone to pay attention?

Yeah, good question. And I think the first thing I would say here is the demographics of that person are important because often what happens is that the person who is the only Black person on the team or the only woman on the team is the person who has to raise their hand and go, “Hey, everyone, we have a problem here.” And I think your point about safety is a really important point. I wouldn’t want to encourage people who are the only anything in the room to really put their necks on the line. I think that’s really difficult and the burden shouldn’t necessarily be on them. So I think if you are that person and you want to raise this, be extra, I guess, kind to yourself and sensitive to the fact that this is a really difficult topic and it’s going to feel personal for you.

And so be especially mindful of that. If you are an ally, fantastic. And I think in a way you can use your privilege there. If you are a white man on your team, looking around your team of broadly white men saying, “I can see there’s a problem here.” You have a lot of privilege in that room to be able to push that agenda in a way that it would be hard for a woman to push that agenda. So I think that level of force is dependent on who we’re talking about. The thing I would say in those kinds of rooms typically, again, it comes back to the data is metrics. There’s loads of metrics on this.

They tend to resonate more with executives and the types of people that you’re going to need to convince to invest in this, but there’s loads of stuff on how having a more diverse C suite makes you more innovative, gives you higher revenues. There’s loads of things around that you, I think, can quote. So I don’t always necessarily love talking about things in this way, but I think finding the business outcome thing is a strategically good way to approach this. Sometimes I think if it feels a little bit too personal, then it’s not necessarily always the best strategy to get what you want.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood That makes a lot of sense. And I think hearing what you’re talking about that concept of safety is obviously incredibly important, but also it’s interesting to hear you talk about allyship because I think you’re right. I imagine too often it is probably the person in the room who already feels like they might be the odd one out for whatever reason who has to often be the voice of difference or who might even be looked to, to be the voice of difference. Oh, you’re the only woman, can’t you bring this up as a problem or whatever. And rarely is it that no one else in the room recognises there’s something going on.

So to anyone who might be, can we call them a passive ally, recognises there’s a need to change, but isn’t really doing anything about it yet. Ally in waiting

Yeah. Maybe an ally in waiting. Yes. Yeah. They’re probably not an ally if they’re not doing anything, but they’re, yeah, an ally in waiting.
Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood How can they get going? How can we get them moving and how can we make someone else who frankly is already in a position of privilege, but might not feel safe enough to stand up and talk about that, recognise the power of their position and really enable them to move forward and make change?
So I would say a good starting point is to think about who else might be an ally in waiting. So you might have a group of people who all can see that there’s a problem or 50% or 70% can see that there’s a problem. And everybody’s feeling like they don’t necessarily want to bring it up. And I think that there’s some safety in numbers there. I think if you feel like, oh, I’m the only person thinking this, then bringing it up at the next SLT meeting feels scary. So I think trying to find out if you’ve got some other allies is probably a good thing. You could raise it in an informal setting, “I’ve been thinking about the fact that we don’t have very much gender diversity on our team and maybe we’re not benefiting from enough diversity of thought when we make decisions, what do you think?” By the coffee machine.

So I don’t think it always necessarily needs to be the first time this is brought up is in a very official capacity and all eyes are on you and maybe you’re going to feel like, oh, nobody agrees with me. So I think there’s a way to softly sample that group. I also think that people should be speaking to their teams a lot more about this stuff. I mean, one of the things that is a difficult element of talking about diversity and inclusion is the fact that often, because we are where we are in terms of injustice and society and socioeconomic background and all of those types of things, as we’ve said, the more junior people tend to be a more diverse group. And often you have a load of advocates for this thing and they exist further down the organisation.

So the people who know a lot about it have a lot of life experience because they identify in a certain way or because they have a certain ethnic background or because they’re women or whatever, or sit further down the organisation and often don’t have enough power or influence to make those changes happen was I think if you can say, if you do have that privilege and you do have that seniority, if you can bring it up and say, “The organisation is telling us this and we need to listen,” then I think that’s also quite a powerful thing. So again, I think, can you talk to your teams? Can you talk to people in other teams? And without question, there will be people who are thinking about this, who are looking at your senior leadership team and going, “There’s nobody that looks like me in there.” But they might not feel empowered to raise that with you. So I think you can take the lead on raising that with them.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood Thank you so much for sharing that. And I hope because we’ve gone through quite a few very practical things that people in businesses and people in teams can do to actually get things moving on this. So I hope for anyone that’s listening and maybe wanting to make change, but not knowing where to start has a sense of how to go about that. I want to change direction a little bit and talk about hiring, but also about what comes next. Because it seems that often in the conversation about DEI and improving DEI, hiring is always step one. Go and hire more diverse people, off you go, make it better, which no doubt comes with its own myriad challenges. But of course it’s only step one. So what would your advice be on how businesses can, yes, hire more diversely? So really interested to hear any guidance you have there, but also how to actually integrate this initiative into the growth and the building of culture once people are in the organisation.
Yeah. So I think one of the first things to think about with DEI is the fact that often what companies will do is they will treat it as its own work stream that sits to the side of everything else. So it’s almost like an extracurricular. Maybe they’ve got someone in charge of it like I was at my last company. Often they don’t, maybe they’ve got a committee of some kind. But those people really sit as on top of their day job, talking about this stuff, and it doesn’t really find its way into the fabric of the organisation. And so I think the first thing to think about with DEI is how can we get it in the water? How can we make sure that it’s in the fabric of the organisation? And I think that the way to do that is to make it a part of almost every process rather than its own process.

So hiring is a good example of that. But as you say, it’s not the only example. And actually if you just focus on hiring and you don’t focus on anything else, what you’ll do is maybe you’ll be successful in getting a couple more diverse faces in the organisation let’s say, and then they’ll pretty quickly leave because by definition, if you haven’t had a very diverse team until now, you might not have a culture that is suited to having a more diverse group of people in it. And so those people don’t necessarily thrive in your pre-existing culture. Maybe they feel like outsiders or you struggle to retain them. So I think how do you improve the hiring piece? There’s quite a few different things you can do. And I think it also depends based on what roles we’re talking about and the seniority of those roles.

It’s obviously easier to hire into junior roles where you need less experience. And I would say if you’re a larger company and you pay into the apprenticeship levy, that’s a really good thing that you can use, because you’re paying into that anyway. So you can get apprentices on board. So they’re junior members of staff and you can get apprentices from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. And that’s a really good way to get more diversity into the organisation, but that’s very junior roles. And I think with junior roles, it’s also easier to think about, what are our criteria? Do we need to get rid of that one? Do we really need experience in this if it’s a junior sales role or actually do we just need enthusiasm? So those kinds of things are easier to do at that level.

The hard nut to crack is senior leadership because you need, by definition, a wealth of experience for those roles. And unfortunately, because the wider market hasn’t necessarily been promoting women at the same race as men or promoting people of colour at the same race as white people, those people are harder to find because other companies haven’t given them those development opportunities. So it’s a vicious cycle that happens. And so I think at that level, you have to really start thinking creatively about what experience you need. Do they need to be from this exact ecosystem? Let’s say if you are in freight, does this person who are hiring as a chief marketing officer need to be from freight or can they have a load of marketing experience and be from a very different ecosystem? In which case we might be more likely to get a pool of women.

So I think there’s different strategies you can employ for the hiring part of the process. And then once you get into the interview stage, you really have to think about how you’re interviewing and who’s interviewing those people. Because again, if you have an all male or white panel, that woman might not necessarily feel like this is a company that she wants to join, even if you found her. And then the other processes I think people really need to think about are how they promote, how they develop their talent, what they’re investing in that way, how they’re retaining people and also how they’re building belonging. So it’s a huge piece of work, I guess.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood TA huge piece of work, but I think your advice to actually bring DEI into all the core processes is so right, because I think there are many people who might be sitting thinking of the businesses that are doing something about this. I imagine quite a lot of us are guilty of having a committee. Let’s get a few people together and maybe even that committee’s not that empowered to actually make change. And certainly not across the business in such as systemic way as you’re suggesting across all the processes.
Yeah, exactly.
Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood So, obviously great to have that guidance. And I suppose the next challenge is of course prioritisation because something that’s happened, for example, let me give you a supply chain analogy. Supply chain as an industry has been through, like many industries and many businesses, the most turbulent two, three years than anyone can imagine. There’s been volatility caused by COVID. Supply chain’s been really impacted by Brexit. We’ve had other what we call black swan events, things that you don’t expect to happen in a hundred years, never multiple times in a decade. A significant cargo vessel got stuck in the Suez Canal. There was loads of queuing outside Long Beach in California. There was lots of lockdowns in Shanghai, which meant things weren’t moving out of port. And what that’s meant is professionals working in the supply chain space are firefighting on a daily basis.

And when we talk about how it feels and what it means to work in the supply chain space on a day to day basis now, people talk a lot about having to be very reactive. They talk a lot about firefighting and the concept of being future focused often falls by the wayside. So we spoke a couple of weeks ago on this podcast with David, the founder of a company called Pledge, which is a sustainability platform. And we partner with them to help businesses become more sustainable. And one of the challenges that he feels is businesses often talk about wanting to make sustainability a priority. They believe they want to make sustainability a priority, but then when something else happens, they drop it very quickly. I’m going to make an assumption here, but I imagine DEI probably falls into the same camp.

Absolutely it does.
Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood And the Black Lives Matter movement, which had such a moment in the spotlight a couple of years ago, I think for many companies was a trigger to move towards more focus around DEI. And I wonder where we are now two years later. From your experience, what are you seeing?
Yes. So just to pick up on your point about DEI and sustainability, all of these things that fall into the what people often call their CSR strategy, our social responsibility, they do quickly fall down the list often as soon as we’re in survival, reactive mode. I think one of the real difficulties and one of the real challenges when you’re talking to companies in moments like this we’re heading into a recession, all of these kinds of things is on the one hand, I can totally see the argument that we just need to focus on getting through this, fighting these fires. And on the other hand, actually focusing on some of these things would enable us to fight these fires better.

And so the whole point of DEI is not to be performative. It’s not to say, “Hey, look at us, we’ve got lots of women at the table.” It’s literally saying, “The more different types of people we have at the table, the more we can solve our problems better.” And so we can actually deal with these, I guess, crises better the more diverse of a team we have, but that’s a really tough argument to have when someone’s in the middle of fighting a fire. But I do genuinely believe that that is the approach to take. Sustainability is a great example of something that’s super urgent. We can’t afford to do it tomorrow, but yeah, I definitely see that argument. In terms of where we are two years on, so you are absolutely right. I think there was a huge groundswell of, oh no, we need to do something.

In 2020, lots of people were promoted into DEI positions. Lots of companies decided they were going to work with DEI consultants. I’ve spoken to different consultants who’ve said that was the surge of people on their website requesting a call, et cetera. And I think that’s one of the interesting difficult things about being in this work. When there’s some horrific crisis, if somebody is murdered and that’s in a long history of people being murdered because of the colour of their skin, you suddenly get an influx of business. And I think that’s a really difficult position that a lot of DEI consultants are in, but since then it’s absolutely died down. It’s absolutely died down. And I think that a lot of people approached it in a performative way. I think a lot of people approached it in a very reactive way.

People are telling us we need to say something, do something, put out a statement. And so we did that and now what? I think DEI is very much here to stay, but I also think that progress is never going to really be linear on this stuff. I think that was a real moment that everyone rushed to do something. And now I think we’re in a bit of almost a lull where it’s not going away, but people are realising how difficult it is.

And in some cases, that means they’re either abandoning it or they’re not investing in it as much as they should be, et cetera. So I think people wanted to do something and put things out there and then realised, “Oh no, actually we need budget for this. We can’t operate on fumes or we need to change really ingrained systemic issues.” And that’s hard and we don’t want to do that. And so I think that’s the point in time that we’re at is that people haven’t quite figured it out yet and some people are giving up. But I do think that we’re kind of come out of this and that it’s something that people do fundamentally recognise they have to start getting right.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood And I imagine it’s a double edged sword when we think about things like Black Lives Matter and we think about the performative moves that so many businesses made because, of course, I think we can all question the sincerity of those intentions, but with a large volume of action and a large volume of attention, a space is created, which consultants and businesses like yours are starting to occupy. So let’s at least hope that now that space exists and there is a platform on which many people are able to talk about these incredibly important issues and we are able to have conversations like this, hopefully that helps us build more sustainable momentum I suppose towards actual meaningful change that is less volatile and there are fewer peaks and troughs.
Yeah, I absolutely think so. And I think one of the things about the summer of 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests that were happening is companies were really being pushed by their people. I can speak from experience that’s actually one of the things that led my last company to introducing that role. It was a lot of people asking a lot of questions around what’s our stance on this. Are we going to say anything about this? Do we realise that saying nothing is complicity in it?

And so I do think that there’s this people power around it. And part of the reason I think it’s here to stay is because that people power isn’t going away. We’ve opened the door to those conversations happening in organisations. And I don’t think you can then just close the door. So I think actually so much change that ever happens in the world, it’s driven by a lot of collective action. And I think that whilst there may be some enthusiasm that’s waned on the senior leadership side, actually it hasn’t waned at all with the people who were pushing it in the first place and I don’t think that’s going to go away.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood Which is such an important point. And I’m pleased that momentum is still there. And I think that exists in supply chain space, just like it will in many other industries. Now obviously we’ve had a very serious conversation about a really important topic and set of subtopics. But we often quite like to have a bit of fun in this podcast and something that we ask all of our guests is for a ship happens moment in their career. Now, normally these are people in supply chain who’ve got stuff that’s gone wrong because in Zencargo we have the catchphrase ship happens, because we know that stuff goes wrong any day in the supply chain space and often you’re just trying to recover it. I’m imagining there might be something similar in your world. So do you have a ship happens moment that you can tell us about in your DEI experience or elsewhere?
Yes. Well, in my DEI experience, I guess the moment that sticks out to me as like a pit in the stomach oh God moment was so for Pride month, in my last company, we had decided that we really wanted to get a speaker to come and speak to us. A few different initiatives we were running for pride month. This wasn’t this year, this was previous year. And we had budget also I thought for that and we were like, “Right, who can we get in with who’s within the budget?” And we managed to get Ruth Hunt who is fantastic. Little plug for Ruth Hunt. If anyone is looking for a speaker to talk to you about LGBTQ plus history issues, Ruth Hunt is fantastic. She’s the ex-CEO of Stonewall, which is the biggest LGBT charity in Europe, I think.

And she’s a fantastic speaker. So anyway, we got her, it was great. We did a whole all hands presentation on all the things we were doing for Pride month. We were also going to integrate using pronouns into our language in the company. We did all of this stuff and we were like, “And Ruth Hunt.” And then the CEO messaged me after we had done that announcement saying, “I think that this person is too expensive and I don’t think that we should do it.” And I was like, “I’ve just announced that to the entire organisation and I don’t know if we can roll that back.”

And so we had a couple of weeks where I was in the ship happens zone, let me put it that way. And Ruth Hunt did come and speak to us and it was all fine in the end, but I had a kind of, “Oh no, this is a boo-boo. If that budget that we thought we had cannot be obtained, I’m going to have to go tail between my legs to the entire organisation and say, ‘Sorry, no speaker for Pride month, everyone.’” So yeah, that’s not my favourite time.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood To not be performative, to stick with their decisions, to invest and to follow that through. And maybe that leads on to my next question for you, which is one of our closing questions, which is what needs to change in businesses to ensure that DEI is successfully implemented and stays a priority?
I think first of all, companies need to fundamentally change actually how they think about some of this stuff. On the one hand, I’m trying not to contradict myself here because one of the things I said earlier was if you’re trying to implement this using stats and using ROI is a good way to get D and I through the door. But I also do think that sometimes our business thinking is too narrow-minded in that way. So one of the battles I was having, for instance, with the CEO at that time was, “Well, what’s the ROI going to be on this speech?”

And it’s like, I can’t really tell you that. I can tell you that anecdotally what that’s going to mean for all the LGBT people in our organisation.” And I can tell you after it happened that loads of people gave me some feedback and told me they watched it with their partner and their mum, and really impactful feedback, but I can’t tell you how that’s going to change our revenue next month.”

And so I think the way DEI sits within companies and the way people think about it, and should we do this because it’s going to make us more money? Well, no, it should do that anyway. And it should make you better across all of your metrics, but that’s not necessarily the only reason to do it. And so I think companies need to rethink the binary ways in which they think about some of these things. Some of these people focus things. Sustainability is a good example of something. It might be more expensive, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. And then I also think that we should have just some resilience around stuff as with so many things, because DEI is I like to say relatively new. There are some people who’ve been doing it for 20 years, but broadly speaking, I guess it being in the mainstream is relatively new, which means that a lot of things haven’t been figured out yet.

People don’t know exactly that. I can’t give you a playbook on exactly what will work for your hiring strategy. I can give you a series of things that might work. We might need to tweak some of them and we might need to change our interview score card. And so there’s an experimental nature to it and I think what sometimes happens is people give up too early and go, “This isn’t working.” So I think we need to have the staying power to say, “Actually, the north star is for us to be over here in the next five years and we’re going to put as much effort as possible into reshaping our processes into changing some cultural ways in which we operate into how we hire, how those things add up, will elevate the culture to a certain point.” But it’s not going to be one thing that’s going to change anything overnight. So I think companies need to have a bit of staying power with it and be willing to be a bit experimental with it.

Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood Cool. Shout out to anyone that wants to get Alex into their intake warehouse.

Some very good advice and a very good stance, I think, and a great place for us to start to wrap things up, Ella. But we do have one final thing to do in our podcast, which is our quickfire question round, something we put all of our guests through, but maybe it’s something you need to enjoy. It’s always quite fun. So we always ask our guests on the podcast a series of quickfire questions about how they might approach things in the industry. We’ve tweaked our questions a little bit for you. So don’t worry, we’re not going to ask you too much about supply chain. You can stay in your realm of influence but I hope you’re on the edge of your seat and let’s fire away quick fire questions. So one or two word answers from you, Ella. Question number one. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

I think get out of your own way.
Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood Three words to describe the current approach to diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Too much PR.
Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood Last question. Is there a DEI influencer that you look up to?
Oh, loads. But I will say Kim Crowder who did some anti-racism training for us. She is fantastic.
Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood Perfect. I should talk to Kim. Well, wonderful. Thank you so much, Ella. What an interesting conversation and though a bit of a diversion from our usual content, I think incredibly valuable for our listeners and I really hope everyone has enjoyed this. Thank you, Ella.
Thank you so much.
Ella McCann Tomlin
Helena Wood And a huge thank you also to all of our listeners who’ve tuned in for this week’s episode. Don’t forget to like, review, and subscribe to the podcast via your listening platforms. And if you have any questions or would like to reach out to myself or learn more about Ella and her business, please do get in touch through LinkedIn. We’ll be sharing some links with you so you can find out more. But thank you very much, everyone, for joining this week and goodbye.