ED&I Leaders Summit Reflections - What progress are we making on inclusion

What progress are we making on inclusion?

The ED&I Leaders Summit featured a panel discussion of future leaders. Kate Matthews of bp was in the hot seat to chair the panel of the day, with the objective of greater understanding of how far firms – and the wider business community – had progressed on inclusion in recent years.

Anna Dilku, Aviva was first up. She believed that people were increasingly comfortable discussing and raising such matters at work. Things had to change – employees expect more now - and for many organisations, the tragic death of George Floyd was as much a turning point as anything else. Inclusion does remain a polarising topic for many though and she urged businesses and staff to allow ourselves room to make mistakes in how we talk about ED&I – learn from it and move on. 

We then moved to Holly Simmons, Founder of Niya. Holly argued that the biggest change in recent years – driven by a growing societal awareness of intersectionality - has been the slow shift away from inclusion being considered a tick-box exercise by management. The moment you integrate ED&I with wider business functions – and not as one-off projects – ‘you’re building a legacy’.  

Vincent Egunlae, Grant Thornton, was up next. He stated that inclusion had undoubtedly made his business better, most certainly in how it recruits and retains a young pipeline of talent. While diversity in senior management had certainly improved, he argued there was still some way to go on many Boards at the very top of a business. 

Finally, Yasharn Smith, National Grid, spoke of the importance of intentionality in his company’s inclusion efforts. He and colleagues have spoken on ED&I issues in the workplace for some time, but in recent years it’s now the real-life, concrete actions that the business is taking that is making a difference. 

The vital role of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) – and their need to evolve

One of the success stories at Vincent’s Grant Thornton was the creation of an advisory group to the CEO taking in staff from all backgrounds and walks of life. This group is consulted on major business, internal and strategic decisions. One of the benefits of his previous participation on this group, he felt, was a sense of belonging and confidence that he could make a successful career at that company.

ERGs can be vital, respected communication centres for a company’s ED&I efforts, but they should also have input and be allowed to collaborate in policy-making as strategic partners. Yasharn spoke glowingly of the insights that ERGs can bring to a business – the facts on the ground, how people are feeling. At National Grid, each ERG has an executive sponsor, helping to get leaders much closer to the issues.

Later in the session, Anna spoke up for those actively working on inclusion in an organisation when it’s not part of the day job. The commitments you can make, sometimes makes it feels like you have two full-time jobs. She looks to build ED&I efforts into all of her work, to make it business-as-usual, rather than a separate enterprise altogether. She urged those in the room to look after their own wellbeing, especially when it feels like ‘you’re pushing treacle uphill’. If it’s not good for you then you simply won’t be able to perform to the levels you would hope.

Final thoughts?

Holly rallied leaders in the room, urging them not to under-estimate the impact they can have through their own ED&I strategies – closing skills gaps, providing opportunities where there were none and having a knock-on impact to wider society. Vincent challenged leaders to pick 3 or 4 people in your business from a different background to you – and invest your time and effort in them to help make them a success. Anna urged firms to break out of a mindset of ‘over-mentoring but under sponsoring’ those from under-represented groups, much to the agreement of the audience. In Yasharn’s business of utilities, ‘safety’ is the watchword that hangs on every action being taken. He wants business to get to the point where inclusion in every business is taken just as seriously as safety is in his.


  • Anna Dilku, Senior Social Media Manager, Aviva
  • Holly Simmons, Founder, Niya
  • Vincent Egunlae, Manager M&A, Grant Thornton
  • Yasharn Smith, Director of EHS and Risks, National Grid Electricity Distribution
  • Kate Matthews, VP DE&I Global External Engagement Talent Development, bp (facilitator).
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