Pride in the commercial sector – interview with Kristofer Phelps, Diversity and Inclusion lead for Stafford Long
Our Pride series has looked at where progress has, and has not, been made regarding LGBTQ+ equality in the sectors in which we work. We’ve looked at the public sector, the private sector and interviewed key figures in the ongoing Pride story.
In this piece, we speak to Diversity and Inclusion lead for Stafford Long and consultant for Stafford Long Diversity Solutions, Kristofer Phelps.
Kris, tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you are doing at Stafford Long?
“Stafford Long are an independent, award-winning employer communications agency with 30 years’ experience. We specialise in employer branding, events, and marketing to graduates and experienced hires.
I joined Stafford Long in January 2019 to work on their Diversity Solutions offer; supporting organisations with attraction of diverse talent and creating inclusive culture. Before joining Stafford Long, I spent 4 years at Stonewall, Europe’s largest LGBT charity working with private sector clients.
A particular focus of our work at Stafford Long Diversity Solutions is creating events which target diverse student and graduate talent. We then pair these individuals up with top employers. For instance, we run LGBTQ+ attraction events for LGBTQ+ graduates looking for careers in the city.
I strongly believe that when you join an organisation, if there aren’t clear messages of diversity and inclusion you start to conform to what you see around you. It’s important that your work environment lets you be yourself. It’s a true passion of mine to ensure young talent can start the first day of their professional life as their authentic self – without having to worry about leaving a certain part of their identity at the door. So for students, these events are necessary and relevant.
The events we run also act as a springboard for us to coach students on employment skills such as what to ask in interviews so that they can ensure that the organisation they are considering joining is going to be a good fit for them too.
But our work doesn’t stop at pairing diverse graduate talent with organisations. We also work with our clients to ensure that diverse hires are entering an inclusive organisation – with a supportive, open culture and senior buy-in to their diversity and inclusion initiatives and policies. We effectively see what their challenges are, what are their barriers and blockages to attract and retain diverse talent and whether there is any bias within the recruiting process.
We’re also experts in helping employees – such as middle managers – understand the importance of diversity and inclusion. It’s important that line managers know that diversity and inclusion is not just an optional add-on or tick-box exercise. Instead, it’s something which should be on the minds of everyone at work.
In the organisations which you work with, where are you seeing major investment, improvement and change?
“I would always comment on the legal sector, they have really progressed. When you think of the sector and its historic, traditional image – both the sector as a whole, and specific firms within it, have really advanced on LGBTQ+ inclusivity in the workplace. Notably, 16 out of the top 100 companies to work for in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index are law firms. That statistic speaks for itself.
But it’s not just about the work done internally in the legal sector. Many law firms use their influence to lobby for inclusive legislation. This is a real and tangible corporate social responsibility output from a sector and should be applauded.
Another sector which I would highlight for their LGBTQ+ inclusivity work is in financial services. Lloyds Banking Group is a particularly strong example. The corporation recognises that if ‘we are to become the best bank for customers then we must ensure that this vision is inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community’. Their inclusive approach is visible and backed up by internal policies supporting their diverse workforce.
I would say that there is a conversation to be had around the potential pitfall of Diversity and Inclusion agendas at corporations gaining tunnel-vision momentum, perhaps missing intersectionality opportunities between diverse groups. When you focus on attracting a particular demographic, it’s important to recognise that true diversity is representational – and doesn’t simply stop at gender parity, for instance.
My advice to organisations? Don’t rest on your laurels when it comes to diversity and inclusion. There’s always more to be done.”
Thanks Kris. Why do you think organisations are embracing Pride and LGBTQ+ inclusivity?
“There has been some controversy around corporates attendance at Pride marches. I see this as a positive step for the LGBT community. When an organisation marches in Pride, they are outwardly supporting their own LGBTQ+ employees and demonstrating they work hard to create an inclusive workplace. Of course, you have to live the values of the celebration beyond Pride month. For those organisations who just throw money at Pride without working on their internal culture, I would advocate a more introspective approach.
It’s important to demonstrate that you are an inclusive, welcoming employer of choice for the community – and that people can be their true selves both in and out of work. Pride must be a space to discuss and understand that there is still more to do to achieve equality in the workplace, and generally, for the LGBTQ+ community.
Corporations can help in the ongoing journey. They can be powerful allies who – when they walk the walk on diversity and inclusion – can help make change happen. I would argue that there is a moral and social responsibility for corporates to make a tangible contribution to advancing equality for the LGBTQ+ community.
More generally – there are business gains to be made from allowing people to be their true selves at work. Businesses perform better when diverse voices are heard and enabled to contribute. Hiring managers are missing a trick when they recruit diversely, but don’t let their hires have strategic contribution.
It’s also about reputation and responsibility for customers – brand perception is hugely influenced by ones claim on how inclusive they are. Organisations need to understand the power of the consumer.
A lacklustre approach to diversity and inclusion is simply not going to cut it with the next generation. There are palpable examples of where product teams have had no diverse employees around the design table, and organisations have released racist products.”
What advice would you give those needing to change pace?
“Look internally. The biggest opportunity to make change is to listen to the lived experiences of your staff – have a frank conversation with your colleagues. You can do this through internal audits, focus groups and walking through the employee life cycle with colleagues across demographic groups. Then enable the changes they recommend.
The important thing is, do something – not nothing. Whether this is to communicate your policy better or empower your employees to start a network group. It’s important to ensure the executive level is on board too – your C-Suite can be very powerful in setting and scaling strategy on diversity and inclusion.
At Stafford Long, we’re here to support organisations wherever they are on their diversity and inclusion journey. We do this by being a strategic partner – defining what you have already achieved, looking at your culture, what you would like to achieve and then helping you get there with a range of solutions.”
Kristofer Phelps, Diversity and Inclusion Manager for Stafford Long and Stafford Long Diversity Solutions