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Aiming high: how an inclusive approach keeps Sky on top

Katrina Watson - SkyDiversity and inclusion (D&I) are more than warm and fuzzy slogans at the UK’s largest entertainment company. Sky Employee Experience Specialist, Katrina Watson, speaks to Rullion about why a business model that focuses on D&I pays off.

These days, you can’t glance at an industry blog, webpage or social media account without the words ‘diversity and inclusion’ leaping off the screen. In the same way companies tried to out-do each other with environmental credentials 10 to 15 years ago, now every organisation worth its blue chips is getting its communications team to write missives about how the company is recruiting workers from a diverse variety of backgrounds. It’s understandable: the benefits of an inclusive workforce are multi-faceted, including a boon to innovation and creativity, less likelihood of ‘echo chamber’ discussion and decision-making, and, of course, an enhanced corporate image.

Sky’s commitment to D&I is independently recognised – the company is among The Inclusive Top 50 UK Employers, a definitive list of UK organisations that promote all strands of diversity, encompassing age, disability, gender, religion, LGBT and race, throughout their ranks. Other organisations recognised by the initiative, for which Rullion is a founding partner, include PwC, British Airways and Mott Macdonald.

Retaining Top Talent and Expanding Customer Appeal

While Sky acknowledges the accolade is good for its image, its impetus for promoting inclusion is shrewder than gathering gongs: it is about attracting and retaining top talent in a highly competitive environment. “We’re a leading organisation when it comes to technology, as the number of competitors in our field continues to increase so does the importance of attracting and retaining the very best talent”, Katrina says. “We know a diversity of viewpoints leads to increased creativity and innovation, two elements that are fundamental to our business – therefore we can’t afford to stay still, in order to understand the wants and needs of our diverse customers, we need to reflect them.”

“If we can attract the right people from the beginning, through our early career programme for example, and then retain them because they feel they can stay with us and continue to grow in their careers, then that adds value to our organisation and is a cost saving in the long run.”

An inclusive environment is also more likely to be a productive and efficient one. “One of the factors we focus on is the amount of effort it takes people to cover up if they cannot be themselves – it’s a wasted effort, not just for them, but for the organisation,” Katrina says.

“We truly believe that, when you promote a culture where people can be themselves, they will do their best work.” In a similar vein, Sky promotes inclusiveness in its content. “We need to understand our customers, not only in terms of their buying habits and who makes decisions within their household, but also by ensuring our content is reflective of the people who are watching it,” Katrina says.

The Core Business Approach

Sky focuses on embedding D&I into its core business strategy, rather than undertaking a trendy programme of short-term initiatives for maximum PR. “The culture is ultimately the people who work here, so we are working with people at different levels across the organisation, engaging with them and discussing how important creating an inclusive culture is: we are looking at everything from our ways of working and behaviours, the system and processes that sit behind this, our core recruitment practices and our development solutions,” Katrina says.

“We are putting an inclusion lens over the whole way we work here at Sky. This is about embedding an inclusive approach as part of our key strategies, so it has to be a core part of not only people strategy, but business strategy.

It is about getting buy-in from every single level of your organisation. People focus a lot on leadership buy-in, but it is also important to make sure you are engaging middle management and your employees as a whole. It’s important that everybody understands why an inclusive culture is important and why it matters to your organisation, so they want to feel a part of it, otherwise it will always feel like an initiative on the side.”

From Theory to Practice

It makes sense in principle, but how does it work in reality? Individual programmes play a part, albeit within a wider narrative.

Sky’s Women in Leadership Programme is the flagship of the company’s approach and is one of the programmes Sky has in place: it aims to promote better gender balance in management though strategies such as a 50/50 shortlist for all senior positions and a development programme for women with leadership potential. Today, 39 per cent of Sky’s senior leaders in the UK and Ireland are women, up from 31 per cent when the program began just over two years ago. The aim is 50 per cent.

That programme has been a gateway to a wider conversation about diversity in the workplace, according to Katrina, fostering an acknowledgement that the company needs to do better in this regard.

For example, as part of its commitment to improving diversity in media, Sky News has a two week work experience programme targeting aspiring journalists from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, or financially disadvantaged backgrounds.

There are also employee networks which promote dialogue and a sense of community among workers. Some of these networks have led to wider community and commercial links – for example, LGBT+@Sky network has fostered a relationship with LGBT advocacy group Stonewall.

Measuring Success

While the paradigm of a successful inclusive workforce is impossible to reduce to bottom line results, Sky has built on standard HR tools and data analysis to monitor the impact of its approach on engagement and retention.

The company conducts engagement surveys– a comprehensive 20 point questionnaire– using AI-enhanced software from US company Glint to provide employees with feedback in as little as 24 hours. Participation averaged 82 per cent across the two surveys this year, and the results were found to be 8 per cent above an external benchmark.

Sky has a People Insight team, whose work focuses on linking employee-based processes with business objectives, and an inclusion dashboard, which provides a demographic overview of the organisation.

“It allows me and my team to track against business priorities and gives us a quarterly checkpoint of how we are progressing as an organisation”, Katrina explains.

Lessons Learned: Transparency and Effective Communication

While data analysis and AI-assisted software can give companies a better understanding of engagement and turnover, the Sky experience demonstrates that the importance of effective communication cannot be under-estimated.

Sky uses a raft of different methods, via traditional and new media, to keep employees up-to-date with its progress on inclusion, as well as to promote discussion on the topic among employees. The main focus is on transparency and authenticity – for example, encouraging staff members from senior management level down to share their individual experiences.

“One of our strongest communications campaigns has involved employees telling their stories about inclusion and the diversity they bring to the company,” Katrina confirms. “It is not HR selling the message, it is our people, and that makes it so much more genuine and effective. We make sure all of these stories are shared on our social media platforms, so that people can access them externally and internally. It links in with our recruitment campaigns, but it is also focused on communicating with our employees throughout our network.”

This focus on creative communication underpins the wider goal of working towards longer term cultural change, in order to boost recruitment and retention of skilled, talented workers from a wide range of backgrounds.

“Ultimately, if we get the culture right, diversity will follow – talented workers will be attracted to apply for roles at Sky, and stay with us, because they know they can be themselves and do their best work,”  Katrina concludes.

“We are building a focus on inclusion into every stage that an employee will go through with us, and would encourage other companies to take a similar perspective. Don’t just make changes as part of an initiative – perform an end-to-end review of your HR processes as they stand today and put an inclusive lens over your procedures. We feel we have kick-started this process at Sky in such a way that our people have now got an understanding of the business case behind what we are doing; they understand why it is important and about how we are planning for the future.”

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