Robert Half meets... Compelling Culture

By Robert Half on 8th October 2021

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has been part of the Robert Half brand since it started. Our founder, Bob Half, even testified before Congress about discriminatory practices in hiring, but the world has moved on, and there is always more that we can do to be more inclusive.

That’s why we jumped on the chance to meet with Catherine Garrod, Founder and CEO of Compelling Culture – a company which helps businesses develop DEI strategies that meet their organisational ambitions in a way that everyone can get behind.

So during a video call on a Friday afternoon, we got to talking about the pandemic, trends in the DEI space and Catherine’s lockdown hobbies. Here’s what happened…

You started Compelling Culture during the pandemic - what was the driving factor?

I’d been facilitating a networking group as a way for businesses to learn from each other as people were regularly seeking advice and I was aware what works in one organisation doesn’t necessarily work in the next. We had a call just after George Floyd was murdered and people were feeling really deflated and fatigued having experienced organisations initially under-reacting and then panicking about what to do; I realised that I could genuinely help.

As Head of Inclusion at one of the largest broadcasters in the UK, I’d been living through the practical applications of embedding change into company culture and now everyone was needing to do it. I had the knowledge and experience they needed, so it was now or never.

How quickly did you decide to start something new?

After George Floyd was killed in May, I took some time to think about it, to get feedback and research it. I wanted to take the time to test my approach, what was going to work, what was going to resonate and what people needed so that I could be valuable – I officially launched six months later.

So it took you a while to get it all started. How has it been since?

It’s been amazing. Clients come to me at the point when they are really ready to embed change into their business, but I’m always very conscious that people are at different stages. At first, businesses were asking me to talk to staff about diversity and inclusion or to help them with steering groups or employment network groups – quite tactical things.

Within six months that had shifted to become more strategic. Clients now want to understand if what they’re doing was working and what else they need to do. They also want to understand how to embed change into their organisation plan, linking with ESG and define the right measures to track progress. That kind of maturity really accelerated in 2021.

What do you think is driving businesses to step up their approach? 

I think the killing of George Floyd is going to be a massive catalyst in our history – people have had a hugely traumatic and emotional response – and those conversations between employees, leaders and consumers created a groundswell. The pandemic has really pushed societal change too, with more people understanding the disproportionate impacts on different groups for something that was happening to us all.

People are speaking up more for groups outside of their own, to think about the impact of events on their friends and colleagues and to look at their own privilege, so they are really engaging with the idea of change. Consumers are now challenging brands and employees are asking how their employer is responding.

Regulators are also elevating their focus on DEI because across the board people recognised progress hasn’t been fast enough. Many industries and sectors have discussion papers out to seek feedback and find the right way of doing it.

What would you say to a leader who wants to be more inclusive?

I once heard someone say ‘Unless you are consciously including people, you are probably excluding people’ – and it always sticks in my mind. If you want to include a specific demographic you have to be conscious about it - you can’t just hope that you’ll include people as part of a wider campaign without thinking it through.

We also need to think about measures of success. We often do that in a homogenous way, like an engagement score or net promoter score (NPS). We’re always looking at the collective score, when actually the larger groups will just drown out the smaller ones, so they might be having a much worse experience and you wouldn’t know about it.

I’m curious - you spent your lockdown setting up a business rather than watching boxsets like the rest of us. Did you have any time to kick back and relax or try new hobbies?

I took up netball! Before lockdown I spoke at an event straight after a sports presenter and someone from the England team and it inspired me. I set up a team at my old job but we only got to play a couple of times before lockdown happened, so I ended up finding a local club – I’m trying to be a goal shooter, but I definitely have my training wheels on.

I also discovered I could draw from watching Grayson’s Art Club. I just remember him saying ‘don’t worry if you’re any good or not, it’s just about enjoying the process’. So, I ordered a sketchbook off eBay and it turns out I’m not bad – I’m definitely not good at human faces though.

What about reading?

From a personal point of view, I liked Untamed by Glennon Doyle – it was written for women but it’s a good read for anybody. It’s all about how highs and lows and good and bad feelings are a normal part of the human experience and you need to ride them out – that really sticks in my mind.

I also really enjoyed Quiet by Susan Cain – about introverts and extroverts. Businesses really favour extroverts, so introverts often have to work harder to navigate an environment that doesn’t immediately recognise their strengths.

Do you think introverts are excluded from workplaces?

That’s the root problem of diversity and inclusion. ‘One size fits all’ is tailored to the dominant group and works less well for others. Inclusion is mainly on protected characteristics, and it also applies to things like introverts, levels of seniority or even length of service.

In terms of public campaigns, which brands are getting it right and which are not?

I don’t think anyone has cracked it – no one is doing it perfectly - and organisations are at different stages of maturity so it’s not fair to compare them. I share examples of things I find interesting in a weekly newsletter (sign up here), but the brands I really admire are the ones that are thoughtful and considerate, and that build initiatives and campaigns with their employees so there’s an authentic approach built with people who know their business the best.

To get it right both internally and externally, it’s important to do your research, make sure that you’re not just doing things for PR, lay the groundwork and take progression step by step. You’ll get it right more often if you don’t restrict decisions to five people behind a closed door – and most importantly, make sure you can measure your success accurately.

We like to get to know the people we work with, and the ‘Robert Half Meets’ series means that you can get to know them too. Keep an eye out for Active Interviews with Patrick McCubbin, as well as our regular meetings with clients, consultants and external partners. If you’d like to work with us, get in touch.

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