Inclusion - everyday & creating a place where people can be their best

Head of Diversity and Inclusion, BAE Systems
As we celebrate inclusion week in BAE Systems this week, I am honoured to share some of my own thoughts and our work in this space.
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Living and breathing Inclusion is - in my mind - something each and every one of us has a basic human duty to do. Whether it be at home in our personal life, at work, school, on public transport or in the supermarket - inclusive thinking and behaving - in my view should be both intuitive and logical. It should be something we are educated to do from an early age and that we are called out - kindly (presuming there is positive intent) - for not doing. It should be part of the thinking process of anyone creating a system, building a hotel, teaching a child or leading a team, for example.
 
Being curious, considering all angles, reserving judgment, being vulnerable, daring to get it wrong and putting our head above the parapet to speak up for others are all traits I think we need to hone. And when exclusion happens, we need to get better at getting equally curious and taking some accountability for making change happen - in ourselves, our organisations, our homes, our work and our world.
 
As a passionate advocate for inclusion (and as someone who I am sure doesn’t always get it right!) I get particularly triggered when I hear about practice or behaviour which - to me - just sounds archaic and lacks basic human kindness. I don’t understand for example - how in this day and age we aren’t more skilled at considering the needs (and exceptional strengths!) of autistic children or how a top hotel chain hasn’t considered the accessibility needs of someone in a wheel chair. I cannot understand when it is only the outspoken, extroverted people that get picked for key roles - in school, in teams, in work etc. Or why right brained ideas are often dismissed as being ‘airy fairy’ instead of building on them with left brained people to come up with something innovative as well as realistic and more fantastic.
 
Despite this focus on inclusion being my job I can now recognise from an early age that my sense of right and wrong in this area came from my own experience of being teased and excluded at school (for having a strange sounding name and big ears!). I knew from an early age I never wanted anyone else to feel that way - an outsider in the playground of life. I can now see that some people’s inherent sense of belonging could come from fighting to be part of the crowd and fear of being different themselves. What is depressing to me is when those who have a duty of care to watch out for this and address it - just don’t – or can’t. We all need to be braver and speak up for inclusion.
 
Exclusion happens when we lack a growth mind-set and stick with fixed thinking. When we choose ignorance and fear of the unknown over educating ourselves and stepping out of our comfort zone. I think we ALL have role to play in addressing these things for ourselves, our friends, our teams, organisations and our society.
 
I love nothing more than seeing someone embrace their own and others individuality, be willing to stand out against the status quo, be an inclusive role model & advocate for individual strength - oozing and cherishing difference in whatever form it comes in.
 
Inclusion is for the minorities and for the masses - for we are all different - all human.
 
At BAE Systems we understand that a more diverse, inclusive workforce leads to more diversity of thought, which results in better decision making and better solutions. We know that if we make sure everyone feels included and respected diversity can thrive and be valued as a competitive advantage and we believe it will be key to unlocking our potential.
 
Organisations that don’t live up to their wider responsibilities - to their employees, societies, to their communities, to economies and to the environment - simply won’t have a sustainable future.
 
This includes BAE Systems. We recognise we have to accelerate change and adapt in a changing world. We work hard to make sure our policies, processes, practices, systems and daily habits are fair and inclusive for everyone. Today our managers get asked about workplace culture and our diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies and practices all the time. High standards are expected and we believe it’s a differentiator to attract, retain and develop the most talented people to work at BAE Systems.
 
We have a D&I agenda driven from the top by our Chairman and the Board as well as upwards by employees at the ‘grass roots’ of our organisation. And we’ve got some ambitious goals and commitments for our business taking into account the historic and wider societal challenges in recruiting women and people of colour into engineering. In fact, our aspiration is to be recognised as the leading employer in the defence and security sectors for valuing diversity and inclusion.
 
We’re working hard to increase the representation of race, ethnicity and gender in our workforce and we want to make sure that women make up at least 50% of our Executive Committee. Furthermore, in the UK and by 2030 at the latest, our ambition is that more than 30% of our workforce will be women. This includes more women in senior grades and in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) roles. It also means we must increase the balance of ethnic minorities to be more representative of the localities in which we serve.
 
Achieving our goals requires a systematic review of policies, practices and processes throughout our organisation. To keep on track, each of the Executive Committee to sponsor a D&I theme to help ensure we are delivering the right measures. And to help us understand exactly what we need to do, all our employees have been asked to ‘self-identify’ their characteristics, a task which is necessary if we are to deliver the right changes.
 
But of course, having the right data to determine new policies and processes is only half of the picture. Truly diverse and inclusive workplaces come about through cultural change. And this is achieved by people and how they behave. The cultural change we are already seeing at BAE Systems has also been driven by groups of employees who felt so strongly about creating a more welcoming and better workplace that they formed Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) under their own initiative. Across our global organisation, groups of hugely passionate and energetic people have created ERGs to support those of colour, veterans, those with religious beliefs, LGBTQ+ colleagues and for those with disabilities and mental health concerns.
 
Our employees have also formed inter-generational groups and support networks to discuss and raise awareness of important topics that were previously considered ‘taboo’ such as the menopause.
 
Group members know they can speak up to inform company strategy and plans and be taken seriously – each has a senior sponsor. The ERGs campaign both in and outside the company. I am very proud to have seen LGBTQ+ colleagues representing BAE Systems at Pride marches in Manchester and London in the UK and at Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Salt Lake City and San Diego in the US.
 
But doing things differently in organisations isn’t always easy and sometimes we need to have really difficult discussions. A case in point is the Courageous Conversations programme that took place across our US-based businesses as a response to heightened racial tensions last year. Here, over 1000 BAE Systems employees participated in powerful storytelling sessions providing an opportunity for members of our African Americans Committed to Excellence (AACE) ERG to boldly share their experiences as Black employees in our workplace and for leaders to talk about what they have learned in the workplace. These conversations brought about the CARE project (Colleague Advancing Racial Equity) where a diverse group of over 130 employees now recommend actions to drive systemic change and racial equity in our US business to support current and future Black employees to reach their full potential.
 
As a multinational with nearly 90,000 employees, we take our responsibilities to the communities where we live and work very seriously. And we know we can help drive change in business and in the defence sector by supporting external and expert D&I organisations. That’s why we have joined initiatives such as the Valuable 500, a global movement of organisations representing 20 million employees worldwide, who have made a public pledge to advancing disability inclusion within their organisations. This is demonstrated in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where, last year, we were awarded a Gold Category certification from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, in recognition of our inclusive and supportive work environment for employees with disabilities.
 
And we are proud too that as a signatory to the Mental Health Commitment we are working with the UK charities Mind and Heads Together to promote an open culture around mental health. In addition to our Mind-sets ERG, we can deliver support services including a 24/7 Employee Assistance helpline and the Unmind app.
 
In the countries where we operate, we also want to help address nationally important issues. In Australia for example, where BAE Systems is the largest defence company, we are assisting projects that help deliver gender diversity, inclusion and reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples. This is in addition to the Australian CareerTrackers Indigenous Internship Program - a national and non-profit organisation which is creating support systems for indigenous young adults and Diversity Council Australia - an independent not-for-profit body leading diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
 
Of course, as a company supplying defence equipment and services to the armed forces, we take our responsibilities to the veteran community very seriously. In the UK we were the first defence company to sign the Armed Forces Covenant, an important commitment whereby we ‘acknowledge and understand that those who serve or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, should be treated with fairness and respect in the communities, economy and society they serve with their lives.’ Under the Covenant we aim to recognise the valuable skills veterans bring to our business and we promote employment opportunities to those leaving the armed forces as well as offering coaching and mentoring.
 
For employees who are also reservists, we help them fulfil all their training commitments. The range of support we offer to the UK’s veteran community is echoed by similar programmes in the US including the American Legion Employment Innovations Taskforce, the Veteran Jobs Mission and the Employer support of the Guard and Reserve. In Australia too we work with the Prime Minister’s Veterans Employment Program and Solider On.
 
To address better gender representation within businesses, our CEO Charles Woodburn has committed to an ambassador role in the 25 x 25 project, which has a directional target of 25 women CEOs within the UK’s FTSE100 listing by 2025 and 25% of the FTSE350 listing thereafter. As part of this UK-wide initiative Charles’s commitment requires him to work with my teams and implement sustainable change that supports women in career planning at BAE Systems. This will need more specific support including succession planning, sponsorship and buddying, Associated with this drive for better representation for women, I’m pleased that several weeks ago, the UK’s Women in Defence Charter of which BAE Systems is a signatory, announced the same target to ours - for 30% of the UK’s defence workforce to be women by 2030.
 
Naturally we need to continue to address perceptions of STEM by females and people of colour outside our company. We have been trying to tackle these societal and historical issues for many years now.
 
Fortunately, we are beginning to make some headway with greater diversity of applicants for early careers - partly as a result of nationwide community education projects like FIRST® in the US with whom we have worked with for more than 20 years. In the UK too, we are beginning to see some signs of improvement as 23% of our 2,000 current apprentices are female and in a reflection of local area demographics, in Lancashire, 11% of our apprentice intake last year were from an ethnic minority compared to a local demographic of 13%. In addition, 25% of graduates in training with us are from an ethnic minority, and the National Security Academy run by our Applied Intelligence business attracted 46% of females to their latest cohort.
 
So, there is a huge amount of activity already underway and of course a great deal more to do. It’s an ongoing process and we won’t always get it right - personally & despite being in this type of job - I am I still feel I am learning all the time. That’s why it’s vital for organisations like ours to mark events such as Hispanic Heritage Month in the US and Inclusion Week - which we are marking in the UK, Australia and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This week is also the start of Black History Month in the UK, and in the US is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. If we’re serious about D&I it’s important to use all these opportunities to understand what the issues mean and to educate ourselves.
 
Workplaces and society are very different to 22 years ago. There is no need to conform or hide and I believe our organisations are much, much better places to be as a result. We are all human and as humans we might stumble with specific diversity and inclusion needs - we cannot always be always be perfect.
 
What is important is that we are prepared to learn - as I mentioned earlier, we must stay curious, reserve judgment and put ourselves in others shoes. In today’s world there is no excuse for ignorance. Or exclusion of difference.
 
I am personally committed to making BAE Systems a place where everyone feels respected, supported and empowered to do a great job and be their best. With the passion shown by our leaders and employees for driving change it is achievable. This is the future for successful businesses and people today.
 

 

Some of our Employee Resource Groups

 
  • Embrace
    Supporting cultural and ethnic diversity

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    Find out more
  • Outlink
    Supporting gender and sexual diversity

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    Find out more
  • Enabled
    Supporting our disabled community

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    Find out more
  • Mindset
    Supporting mental health and wellbeing

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    Find out more
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Natalie Sigona Head of Diversity and Inclusion, BAE Systems 29 September 2021