How to… deliver diversity and inclusion – lessons learned

How to… deliver diversity and inclusion – lessons learned

Loraine Martins OBE FRSA


Loraine Martins joined POWERful Women’s Board in 2020 to bring practical diversity and inclusion expertise and an experienced perspective from outside the energy sector.  In June we revealed that under-representation of women in senior roles in UK energy companies continues. We asked Loraine to share her own journey of devising and implementing effective diversity and inclusion strategies. This blog is based on a Mentoring Breakfast that Loraine ran for us for diversity and inclusion professionals.


When we first meet people it’s very easy to make judgements, sometimes irrationally. So when I’m introducing myself, I like to start by presenting some random things about who I am – like the fact that I am an Arsenal supporter; or that I like walking; or that I’ve won two karaoke competitions and that my parents were part of the so-called Windrush generation. Sharing these things and having conversations peppered with a healthy curiosity helps us explore our differences and commonalities, and suspend judgement and understand each other better.


Know your demographics

Part of advancing diversity and inclusion in an organisation requires understanding – understanding where you are as a business and understanding your people and the composition of your workforce.

So a useful starting point is to know the demographics of your business. Capturing that data, however, is often a challenge, because the ways of compiling it (paper-based versus online forms, having a mix of contractors and permanent staff, for example) can sometimes be uncoordinated. One thing that has worked for me has been to make the data process more uniform. Early in in my last role I latched onto a compulsory requirement by HMRC for all employees to verify personal details and used this as an opportunity to ask everyone to complete their diversity data at the same time.

It was an important start in understanding the workforce composition of the business and provided a baseline from which to develop our initiatives.  We had a 50% response rate, and we played this back to business saying “this is what we look like” in a factual and non-judgemental way.


Align the diversity and inclusion narrative with the day job

The next step was to use this data as the foundation for a new diversity and inclusion strategy. I called it ‘Everyone’, to address the ingrained assumptions that some had about diversity and inclusion being about “them” – for example about women in a predominantly male organisation, or about Black, Asian and minority ethnic people in a predominantly white organisation.

The strategy reflected that we all have protected characteristics in law. More importantly, it set out the business case for diversity and inclusion. For example: an ageing workforce needing to attract new talent; organisations with a serious approach to diversity and inclusion yielding better performance and profit; and better services or products provided to customers when employers reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.  It was crucial that people were able to appreciate how delivering diversity and inclusion was part of their day job and was part of the overall business strategy.


Set clear and appropriate targets – and get buy-in

The second iteration of the diversity and inclusion strategy was called ‘Everyone Matters’ and included clear, measurable objectives on gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, support for carers and flexible working (although the latter has since been superseded by the rapid changes in response to the pandemic). The targets included that by 2024 30% of the leadership would be women and 13% would be from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background.

Gathering data is an iterative process.  Additionally, we were aware of under-reporting on disability and sexual orientation, where people didn’t feel safe providing it or didn’t want to be defined by it. We encouraged people to “share” (not “declare”) and explained how we would be using the information, and we managed to achieve 90% data on ethnicity. It helped us shine a light on where challenges were and set appropriate stretch targets, based on demographics and what ‘good’ would look like. Drawing on the census data enabled us to identify what we would look like if we were to represent the UK population.

We consulted on the strategy across our devolved structure because we were keen for all leaders to own it. Not all regions had the same target as they were expected to contribute proportionately to our overall targets, based on their own demographics.  Finally, the strategy was agreed with the Board.


Hold a mirror up to your organisation

Through regular reporting we continually held a mirror up to the organisation to show where we were doing well and where we needed to improve. We monitored progress of our strategy and published at-a-glance summary updates on the targets, training courses completed, the activities and size of our seven employee networks, the numbers of diversity and inclusion champions, and upcoming events.


What if things aren’t changing?

We had in place the strategy, objectives, milestones, targets, sophisticated policies, and procedures.  And yet things weren’t changing significantly or quickly enough.  You need to be flexible and responsive.  And following a series of safety events where racism was a contributory factor, we devised an initiative called ‘Stand up for race equality’.  Every employee was required to watch a series of short films and attend facilitated conversations about race equality and inclusion in their teams, based on a resource pack.

We made the connection between feeling safe (which everyone in the organisation could relate to) and creating inclusive work environments, and we built capacity to understand ‘psychological safety’ and the impact on inclusion.


Useful tools and plans

Over time the number of tools available to support the delivery of diversity and inclusion has grown. Some of them help to share the story of progress and challenges, such as publishing pay gap data to call out institutional behaviours (like the fact that women are less likely to get secondment opportunities) and ways to address systemic issues. Others help to build skills, such as plans to improve recruitment, retention, and progression.

Using toolkits that cover the following have been helpful:

  • gender neutral job descriptions and advertising on Mumsnet
  • an inclusive recruitment-by-design framework and mixed interview panels
  • training for all hiring managers in inclusive recruitment
  • early engagement and improving culture
  • creating employee networks
  • bespoke development programmes – inclusive leadership; and women into leadership.


Leadership, culture and attitude challenges

Challenges remain and insufficient numbers of leaders are stepping up or driving change in the ways that they can or are necessary. Discrimination still happens in businesses and in our daily lives. Leadership needs to improve, and this can be achieved with clear objectives and actions and by building their confidence to speak out more. We need to think about leadership capacity, competence and capability.

Leaders sometimes get comfort from saying “it’s not us, it’s them” i.e., middle management or people in the frontline.  However, we are all accountable. Businesses’ culture is cast in the shadow of its leaders, who have a vital role to play in creating and integrating the right culture through role-modelling and influencing. Managers and other employees will then know that inappropriate behaviour isn’t tolerated and will feel confident that they can speak up.

Each organisation is different – with its own demographics, objectives, and challenges. Nevertheless, I hope my experience of leading a diversity and inclusion strategy in another sector can provide some inspiration and practical tips for my fellow diversity and inclusion professionals!  Do get in touch if you have any feedback. You can contact me at and find me on LinkedIn.


About Loraine: Loraine’s career in diversity and inclusion includes ten years as Director of diversity and inclusion at Network Rail for which she was awarded in OBE in 2021.  Loraine also led an equality, inclusion, jobs, and skills programme for the construction of the Olympic Park for London 2012, for which she was awarded an MBE.  Loraine was named one of the top 100 women influencing engineering in the UK by Inclusive Boards and the FT in 2019.  She is currently Global Director for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the Nichols Group a strategic transformation consultancy.