With Corps’ equality, diversity and inclusion initiative Corps Together being formally launched this month, we sat down with Seetan Varsani, who leads the campaign, and Paul Lotter, Corps’ MD, to talk through the inspiration behind it.
Corps Together aims to improve equality, diversity and inclusion engagement across the organisation. What inspired you to launch the campaign?
Seetan: Despite having a diverse workforce in all forms of the word, there was previously little in the way of active equality, diversity and inclusion engagement within our teams of more than 3,000 people. During the worldwide #MeToo and Black Lives Matters movements, we knew this had to change. The idea for Corps Together was born.
Paul: We’re a social enterprise which means our people and our communities are at the heart of everything that we do. But we weren’t celebrating the amazing diversity of our people. To ensure we can recruit and retain the best talent, and therefore deliver the highest standards of service to our customers, we have to ensure everyone feels respected and included. Corps Together supports that.
The campaign includes so many elements: an ED&I charter, a review of all Corps policies, procedures and recruitment processes to ensure ED&I best practice, the Corps Together website, the video, a quarterly magazine, a dedicated helpline/ email line, panel support for ED&I grievances, annual mandatory E&DI training for everyone, celebratory events for key faith festivals and other events. What do you think is the most important?
Seetan: For me it’s the annual mandatory E&DI training for everyone in the business. Many people don’t understand why inclusion is important because they’ve always felt included perhaps because they don’t identify with any of the six protected characteristics: age, sex, religion, disability, gender and race. The training helps them to see inclusion from a different perspective and then look at ways they can be more inclusive and contribute to developing our culture.
Paul: Training is very important but it was also very important for us as a business to review all our policies and procedures to ensure that everything we did was with equality and diversity in mind.
Corps Together is a fantastic idea but how will you know if it’s made an impact?
Paul: It’s really important that we measure the success of what we do. Corps Together is a considerable investment for us as a business and it has to make good business sense. Our annual Your Voice Matters colleague survey in summer 2021 demonstrated a growing understanding of ED&I issues thanks to the initiative. More than 60 percent of people are aware of Corps Together, just over 40 percent are aware of their guardian team members, almost 70 percent feel Corps proactively promotes equality diversity and inclusion and a similar number feel they can approach Corps if they have an issue relating to equality, diversity and inclusion. There’s clear room for improvement but it’s a brilliant start.
Seetan: In December 2020, the Corps Together team conducted an ED&I survey of all colleagues to better understand the impact of the first few months of the programme: what worked, what needed improvement and to see what further ideas people had. We then changed the programme accordingly. We’re constantly listening to our people and adjusting the initiative accordingly.
So you’ve achieved an enormous amount over the past year, what’s next for Corps Together?
Seetan: The guardians are planning an annual ED&I awards scheme and we want to use the official launch to get more engagement from site-based colleagues particularly. We want people to feel not just included but a sense of belonging to Corps.
Paul: At a business level, we’re exploring the adoption of ISO 30415 – the new business quality standard in ED&I – with the aim to achieve this in 2022. That will really demonstrate to our people that we’re taking this seriously.
Finally, Corps Together is a great name, really summing up what it’s all about. How did you come up with it?
Seetan: We needed something which was catchy and instantly understandable. One of the volunteer guardians, who represent the six protected characteristics, said the initiative was all about bringing us all together. And we suddenly thought that together aptly described our aim. We want to nurture and build on understanding across our workforce, give everyone a voice and ensure that every one of our colleagues is 100% comfortable being themselves.