“Take a stand. Be anti-racist. Be vocal”

16 June 2020 -

Ann Francke: Now is the Time for Careful Management and LeadershipElysia McCaffrey is in charge of the UK government’s diversity efforts. Here’s how she’ll be driving diversity after the Covid-19 crisis – and what you can be doing right now

Ann Francke OBE

On Friday 12 June, Elysia McCaffrey, interim director of the Government Equalities Office (GEO), was my guest on the CMI Better Managers Briefing. Elysia shared insights and practical tips on how leaders can use the Covid-19 crisis to double down on efforts to become more diverse. Here are some highlights.

Use the Crisis as a Catalyst for Change

We are in a different reality now, and Elysia encourages us to use that new reality to drive change. “We must keep using this crisis as a catalyst for better workplace diversity,” she maintains. “There are some real opportunities that we can grab with both hands…

“The bottom line is that diverse organisations are better organisations,” she says, “and the door is wide open for us now to allow greater flexibility.” She cites as key drivers for lasting change: more dads spending time caring for children and households; no commutes; and the flexible working environment. She calls technology a ‘’great leveller’’ that gives everyone a chance to be heard. Technology can encourage those who are from different backgrounds or are less confident to speak up, and makes it easier for disabled people to contribute remotely.

Finally, more managers are paying closer attention to the wellbeing of the individuals they work with, as they now understand more about their personal circumstances.

All these factors contribute to greater diversity and a more inclusive culture if they are actively harnessed. Elysia urges employers to make the switch to “measure people by outputs, not by how long they spend with their bum on the seats in the office.” She also believes that the many candid conversations around racism in recent weeks will heighten awareness, encouraging managers and leaders to inform themselves and, ultimately, to drive change.

Be Anti-Racist

The Black Lives Matter protests across the world are a “watershed moment” for change, Elysia believes. “Not being racist isn’t enough. You have to be anti-racist. You have to take really practical steps.” These include: talking about race more often and openly; educating ourselves by reading more; and talking with people about their experiences and how to make things better. Two practical steps you can take right now: create work experience opportunities for young minorities; and actively sponsor BAME people at work.

“You need to look inside your workforce and at what those things are that are relevant,” says Elysia. “That starts from having the right culture in your workplace and the right leadership… Everybody needs to be able to look up to the senior team and say, ‘I can see myself there, I can see a role for myself there’.”

All of us need to do better, Elysia insists. “We’ve got to pledge to make things different... Take a stand. Be vocal… I’ll be encouraging my colleagues to do the same right across government.”

Drive the Gender Agenda at Home

Due to the pandemic, the GEO reluctantly relaxed the reporting deadline of end-April on the gender pay gap, but that doesn't mean they’ve relaxed or stepped back from their commitment to it. “We’ve got to keep this going,” says Elysia, “it’s really put gender equality in the workplace at the heart of what we do and how we think.”

As evidence that there’s still much to do, she cites research that mothers are one-and-a-half times more likely to have quit or lost their jobs or been furloughed since lockdown. But there is some good news: before the pandemic women took on 65% of childcare and men 35%; now, with many men working at home, the gap has narrowed significantly.

We must all make sure that the positive effects of greater flexibility from homeworking remain after the pandemic, she says. In particular, Elysia champions opening up flexible working to more men. “We know anecdotally that men often say if they ask for flexible working it potentially sends a signal they're not taking their career seriously. We need to stop that now.” Doing so will help normalise flexible working and ensure its widespread adoption. This in turn should help narrow the gender pay gap.

Be a Visible Role Model

Elysia is herself a recent role model for flexible working. She spent five years commuting Monday-Thursday to London from her Midlands home. The crisis has taught her to change that. “I felt that to be a good leader, I need to be a visible leader and I need to be at people’s desks… What I’ve learned is you do need to be a visible leader, you do need to be active. But there are many other ways of doing that.”

She’s pledged to spend less time commuting post-Covid and more time being visible by using technology. She also wants to have more virtual board meetings where everyone is remote, rather than being the only one on the end of a call and risk missing out on the meeting’s substance. And she’s also vowed to be more open and show vulnerabilities. She recently shared with her team that too much screen time was giving her headaches, and that she was going to reduce that time.

“Lots of people told me I’m struggling in the same way, I don't think they felt they could say that beforehand. As managers, the most important thing we can do is talk to our staff, understand what they are going through, and make all of the adjustments we can.”

Five Behaviours to Drive Diversity

Throughout our conversation, and in the questions that followed, Elysia shared many practical things we can all do to drive diversity at work. So here are five practical tips we can all apply:

  • Make sure it’s someone’s job to lead diversity and inclusion in your organisation, making sure that it’s not an afterthought
  • Encourage flexible working for everyone post-Covid – men as well as women
  • Sponsor people from BAME backgrounds; actively hire women returners as part of your recruitment efforts; and make sure you embrace diversity at senior team level
  • Use technology to encourage inclusive behaviour, and get everyone to contribute
  • Take a stand. Be vocal. Act NOW to harness the heightened awareness about the benefits that diversity brings. And pledge to drive change

You can watch our discussion in full here. Why not tune into the upcoming live webinar this Friday?