In this episode I talk to one of my clients, Jason Smith, Managing Director of Artex, about his personal diversity and inclusion journey and how reading my book, Inclusive Growth, prompted him to bring me in to work with his team.
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Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.
Toby Mildon: Hey there. Thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Podcast, I am Toby Mildon. And today I am joined by one of my clients, and his name is Jason Smith. He is the Managing Director of Artex, which is part of the larger Saint-Gobain company. And we're going to today talk about the work that I've been doing with Jason and his team and the impact that that work has had on the company. So Jason, thanks ever so much for joining me today, it's lovely to see you.
Jason Smith: It's great to see you again, Toby, and thanks for the invitation.
Toby Mildon: You're very welcome. You're very welcome. So Jason, before we kinda get into what we've been doing for the business, can you just let us know a bit more about who you are, your background, and your role within the company?
Jason Smith: Yeah, sure. So I've been with Artex for three years. Artex, as you rightly say is part of the Saint-Gobain business, which is an organization that specializes, a global organization, specializes in construction products. And our business is quite unique within the group in that we produce products or we bag products, but we don't manufacture anything. And we bring in bulk from within the group, and then we make those products accessible to wider customers and client base that can't ordinarily access them. I guess, how did I get to be involved? I've been with the Saint-Gobain group for nine years. Pretty lengthy background in procurement, spent some time in the far east understanding more about the differences in culture when purchasing and global sourcing from across the world, and my background predominantly has been in retail and in food. I think it was at some point early on in my career, it was my mom that said to me, "If you wanna be involved anywhere, food is a good place to be because we will always need to eat." And it served me well, but here I am now in amongst bricks and mortar.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. And the food business did very well during the various lockdowns that we had for the pandemic as well.
Jason Smith: They did Toby, but it would be unfair of me not to confess also that manufacturing and construction businesses have done reasonably well too so the amount of people deciding to do DIY projects at home, so that served us well over the last few years too.
Toby Mildon: What are some of the products that you carry and that you sell?
Jason Smith: So we're predominantly around fillers, plasters, plaster board flooring, external rendering, lots of products that are available through the Saint-Gobain businesses such as British gypsum, Weber, Formula, these are all the large manufacturing sites. And we bring in bulk quantities and break that down and supply it to those that can't typically access that volume of product.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. And who are some of your customers then? 'Cause I know you work with some big retailers.
Jason Smith: Yeah. So we'll be supplying B&Q, Wickes, Selco, Travis Perkins, Jason, and then all manner of different sized and scaled independent and regional builders merchants.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So you've been with the company now a fair amount of time. When did the topic of diversity and inclusions come onto your radar as managing director?
Jason Smith: I think it was probably as we were coming through the pandemic, there was a lot of national and international press and pressure. The real breakthrough following the George Floyd incident with the exposure that Black Lives Matter and other like groups we're really starting to gain some positive traction. And I think what that did for me as an individual personally as well as professionally, was create an opportunity to reflect. And I think what it led me to conclude was probably that I needed to do more than be just an innocent bystander, if that's the right phrase, rather than being actively involved, which I probably...
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Jason Smith: Well not probably, I most certainly in reflection had not been doing enough to recognize the challenges of other groups and different types of people across the world.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. And how did you first come across me and what was I saying or doing that kind of encouraged you to reach out and have a conversation with me?
Jason Smith: So it's quite an interesting story. I was having a number of conversations with my wife about diversity, prejudices, subconscious bias, and a number of what were rapidly becoming quite prominent and popular statements and catch phrases.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Jason Smith: And it was a colleague of hers, a contact of hers, who'd read your book. And so it was a sort of secondary recommendation that I do that. So I did the wrong thing Toby, I read your book before I spoke to you because then once we'd spoken and done to work together, you gifted me a book. So I have two copies.
Toby Mildon: You can give one away as like every tracked Christmas present. [chuckle]
Jason Smith: We circulate them around our business.
Toby Mildon: That's the right answer...
Jason Smith: Yeah, it keeps the topic real. But yeah, so I had that recommendation, so I did read the book. And what I liked about the book was I'm a bit of a process person and I like to understand the start, the middle and the end. And actually that structure that you put in place was easy for me to follow and understand. And to get as well, which I thought was quite important because what it felt to me was I'd realized that as an organization and individually, we probably needed to do more, but I didn't really understand how to go along, how to start that journey and also how to engage my leadership team on that too.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely.
Jason Smith: So having read the book, it gave me the opportunity to then reach out to you and we had a conversation and it snowballed from there.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. Yeah. 'Cause after we had that initial conversation, we did it online. I then came over to Nottingham and spent half a day with you and your direct reports, so your senior leadership team and we did the discover diversity workshop. I don't know if your memory stretches back that far, but what did you take away from that half day together with your team? 'Cause obviously you were a bit of ahead of the game 'cause you had read the book, you had done your own personal journey around your connection with diversity and inclusion. And I think this is probably the first time that we had, I suppose, got the whole team in the same room, hadn't we? And started having this discussion with everybody sat around the table.
Jason Smith: Yeah. Yeah, you're right. So what did I gain from it? What did I learn? I think what was key for me was that when we came out, the four of us, five of us, we hovered around in the car park and we were all a bit, wow, I didn't realize that we are missing out or we are not doing so much. And it was a really positive conversation because there was a clear and shared recognition that we needed to do some things differently and we needed to up our game. And I think also on a light note would be that we kinda came away from that meeting thinking, Christ, we're gonna have to knock down walls in the office block and we're gonna have to buy this and invest in that and smash down the other and to make everything accessible. It was great when we had those further conversations, it was that reassurance and understanding that what the most important thing is to recognize what you may have to do in the future and not be fearful of that and be ready and open-minded to making out your business and your people more accessible to others than we were or that we are today.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. And what else do you feel that your team took away from that half day together?
Jason Smith: They absolutely, wholeheartedly had a completely joined up opinion that we had to work with you.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Jason Smith: And I think what really came through clearly was how much we all very quickly shared in the room, how much we all realized that we were in the same place. And I think working with you as somebody who's lived with it, with the challenges and these issues that we face into all of your life, it makes it really real for us.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Jason Smith: And really helped solidify our interpretation into understanding.
Toby Mildon: And as managing director of a business, what kind of impact did bringing your senior leadership team together have on the, I suppose, the rest of the business in terms of trying to shape the culture that you want to build?
Jason Smith: It was fundamental because without it, it would have probably been seen as something that I wanted to do or something that I was doing, something that I was placing upon others. But actually when we came back into the business as a leadership team and started to talk to a wider audience about where we'd been, what we'd discussed, what was gonna happen as an offshoot of it, it became very quickly understood as, it's not a leadership gimmick. It's critical, it's vital to everyone and it is been driven throughout the organization.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely.
Jason Smith: Not just being placed on our HR colleagues.
Toby Mildon: Definitely. That's such a common issue that I come across where the responsibility for diversity and inclusion is placed on the HR department to do. And that the managing director or the chief executive and the senior leadership team are not taking enough responsibility and accountability for it.
Jason Smith: Yeah. Toby I think what that does is differentiates between a change in policy and a change in culture.
Toby Mildon: Yes. That's a really good way of putting it. So presumably if you want a change in culture, then that has to be led from your chief executive or your MD senior leadership team.
Jason Smith: Yeah, absolutely.
Toby Mildon: I talk quite a lot, and this is something I mentioned in my book about the needs to have a proper change management process around diversity and inclusion. And in the book, I share different change management models, but the one that I like the best was created by John Kotter and he says that your first step is to create the right climate of change. And within that, he says, build a senior leadership coalition around the change that you want to see. Create a vision and then communicate that vision to the rest of the organization. And something that you did, which really impressed me and I now share with all of my other clients as an example of best practice was that after we did that half day workshop, you created a vision statement about diversity and inclusion and then you put it up on LinkedIn and shared it with everybody and invited feedback. Just talk me through your thinking behind creating that vision statement and why you did it and the kind of reception that you received.
Jason Smith: Yeah, so I think it was because... Well no, I don't think, I know it was because I felt me personally, I was putting a marker in the sand when about when we talked earlier around how I realized or that I needed to do or act differently. And I felt it was the same for the business, which is very easy to go away for a few hours and then come back and say, right, something's different now. But this became that line in the sand and it became just quite a visible marker to say, this isn't about me stating that whatever we've done yesterday was right, wrong, or indifferent, but to say what we do from tomorrow is now in a particular direction. And from there, it then becomes something that I can be held accountable to and everybody else within our organization can be accountable to also.
Toby Mildon: And what kind of feedback have you received from people within the business?
Jason Smith: It's been quite mixed. Mixed in terms of the level of interest. So a lot of people have been really positive about it and really grateful that it's there because it's shown clarity and it's given people an understanding. It compliments our values as well. That within our organization, we have set of values and this compliments them, but just goes into some behavioral tolerances too. And when I say mixed, I say mixed because the other aspect of it has been where people have said to me, "Why did you need to put that out there? We're not bigoted. We're not racist, we're not this, we're not that." So I don't see the need. But is it better to say the need was for me drawing a line in the sand, not questioning or challenging what happened previously, but giving us a great place to really build from.
Toby Mildon: What has been your response to those people who've said that we're not racist, we're not bigoted, etcetera, etcetera. That's quite a difficult conversation to have.
Jason Smith: Yeah. It can be. For me, it's that... And I forget what the phrase is now, but it's, you are most pro against those things, you're active.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. That's basically being anti-racist. You're proactively trying to dismantle racism that's created system structures.
Jason Smith: Yeah. It's like calling stuff out. Rather than not being the person, not being the offender, but actually calling it out and being a more... It's more than an ally, I know, but I can't remember the phrase, but that's kind of where I was going.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. We use lots of different phrases, but it's things like being consciously inclusive and being an ally and being active in this space rather than just being a bystander, which is...
Jason Smith: Yes. That's it. Active rather than a bystander.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. Yeah, which I think is a word that you used earlier on, actually, which... [laughter] So yeah. How did those conversations go then?
Jason Smith: Yeah, I think it was that learning process of becoming a proactive supporter and being active in that space and teaching people, or... Teaching sounds like the wrong phraseology, but talking to people and helping understand the difference between standing and observing and not participating is different from actively going against and speaking up against and calling stuff out.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. Yeah. I think it just goes to show that we just now we've had a conversation and we were sometimes struggling to find the right words to use. And I think this is so common with business leaders, and actually one of the things that you do while as an inclusive leader, is that even if you're worried about getting the words wrong, you just do it anyway. Whereas a lot of other leaders that I speak to, they will avoid having the conversation because they're worried about saying the wrong thing that might cause offense and then we just become inactive rather than active and proactive.
Jason Smith: Yeah. And you can't move the conversation forward either if you're not having the conversation.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Jason Smith: We will often... Yeah, if I'm heading into something where I might be fumbling around, the easiest thing to do is make the apology upfront.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Jason Smith: And then be corrected as you go. And I think the trick is not to repeat the same errors over and over.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely.
Speaker 4: If your company has a great diversity and inclusion strategy, if your organization has an amazing work culture where productivity is peaking, if the best talent in your industry are working for you, if all your employees are happy and feel included, then feel free to skip this message for about 30 seconds and continue listening to the podcast interview with Toby. But if you feel that your company is lacking in any one of these areas, your employer reputation is taking a hit. Toby Mildon is one of the UK's lead in diversity and inclusion experts who has helped top companies like Deloitte, the BBC, Sony Pictures and Centrica, as well as numerous scale of businesses who want an outstanding inclusive culture. To go further in your diversity and inclusion journey, log onto Toby's webinar at www.mildon.co.uk/free-webinar to accelerate your company's diversity and inclusion strategy in 40 minutes. Thanks for listening. And now back to the podcast interview with Toby.
Toby Mildon: Obviously we did a workshop with your senior leadership team and the journey didn't stop there. What happened after that?
Jason Smith: That was the beginning. What we then had to do was decide to what level of support we required. And that was quite an interesting debate because we didn't know really where we were starting from. We didn't really know how complex and how long it would take to make progress or to move forward and where we needed to head. But we knew that we needed to move forward and we wanted to work with your team. So we were definitely attracted by that whole concept of the survey. The survey's fantastic because it brings everybody into the conversation. When you engage all colleagues about something, they realize and understand that you are talking... Whilst it's completely confidential, you are drawing down the individual's needs rather than me and the leadership team sitting in a room with you trying to decide what we may or may not need on behalf of 60 or 70 other people.
Toby Mildon: Yeah.
Jason Smith: So that bit was pivotal. And then what some of the stuff we've been doing in the background which I think was really good anyway was we have a visible plan about learning and development. We have one about health and safety of course is critical in a business like ours. And by creating a framework that we did with yourself it sort of allowed us to really create those pillars of strength and clarity for the wider team. So that was really important at that decision making stage.
Toby Mildon: The survey that we did we had a really good response. Right? I think what was really interesting is that we had to reach a part of the organization that don't ordinarily log onto a computer either 'cause you've got people working in a warehouse. So we had to think about reaching them and the end product was that I wrote a 54 page report back to you, which I can't imagine was that riveting to be honest with you. What do you remember as being kind of the highlights of the research that we did? What did you find particularly interesting or surprising?
Jason Smith: So the highlight for me was how we'd underestimated some of the circumstances that were evident and present in our colleague network. We almost pride ourselves on being a small organization and a headcount of fewer than 70. You'd like to feel as though you know and understand everybody or you kid yourself that you do. So then when you start to pull the survey results it was incredible to see. And a lot of it was very much centered around neurodiversity and mental health but nonetheless... We might have in a lot of places our measures were similar to those that you'd taken from the wider geography of our area but within our community of just 70 odd people there are a lot of things we didn't know.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. What were some of the things that you now know that you didn't know beforehand?
Jason Smith: We've now been a lot more proactive and probably more conscious around the neurodiverse space. There's a difference between providing solutions and equipment or whatever it might be for the people that you have in your business today. And a difference between the people you may have in the future. That required us to take some steps to invest in some appropriate equipment to try and smooth that out.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that you have bought into your offices is the Nook product isn't it?
Jason Smith: We have, yeah. We have a number of Nook pods now. Which is fantastic because you can change the lighting. We've got some that seek multiple users, some that have privacy space, some that have door closings and they just allow for people to have a surrounding that suits them. That means that nowadays you don't have to avoid an office if you want quiet space and you don't have to sit at home throughout the day on your own if you want to be in a busier or slightly noisier environment. So, with trying to accommodate many different needs.
Toby Mildon: From my memory of the survey was that, one of the things that we try to measure is how representative your organization is in the area that you operate or the talent pools that you've got available. And I think that to cut a long story short, we realized that your business probably did reflect the area that you are 'cause your office and warehouse is kind of just on the fringes of Nottingham and it does sort of reflect that but I think we found out that there was particularly underrepresentation with women working in the warehouse side of things. And we know obviously you're in the manufacturing sector and we know that gender imbalance is a particular challenge within manufacturing and also a slight underrepresentation in terms of Black colleagues as well compared to the local region. But I was quite encouraged about how the conversation moved around inclusivity and that culture change in creating that right environment for people. So once we had done that survey and we had shared the feedback with you and the rest of the team, what happened after that?
Jason Smith: So that's where we started to think about what we might need to do, what corrective action we... Taking those points that you just mentioned there and you're quite right. We've done the things we can change quickly because bringing a wider or more diverse group of race, religion into an organization, gender diversity, none of these things can be changed on a Monday. We recognize that we have to take steps and we have to do the right things to, the first stage for us was let's change where we recruit, let's change the wording, let's change the imagery that we use, but making sure that we use imagery from within our business rather than from within the Google libraries of imagery that you can see everywhere.
Jason Smith: So trying to stay true to ourselves but at the same time expressing how inclusive the organization is in those different aspects. So trying to utilize the fact that whilst we may not have a multitude of Black and Asian and other diverse races and religions in our organization we do actually have, albeit as you said, not necessarily in the warehouse but more in the commercial, a number of women in senior management positions. So feeling like if we can demonstrate it in one area, we can create avenues of opportunity in others. So as long as we're attracting a good, broad, diverse pool of people as candidates for vacancies, then that's the first step.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So, I mean, we did the survey and you've got your 54 page report. We then did a bit of a audit and a gap analysis, and we pulled everything together through a kind of iterative process into a strategy for your diversity and inclusion strategy, which was great to see everything come together on a page. But then what I really liked was that you took that strategy and you then embedded it or blended it into your bigger people plan or your bigger strategy. So what was your thinking behind taking that particular approach?
Jason Smith: Yeah, I think the main reason behind that was the actually the more normalized it feels, the more likelihood participation and inclusion is gonna increase. So I didn't want us to have a people plan and a learning and development plan and a sales plan and a D&I plan. Actually, it just becomes another plan. So yeah, we took that step and we now have our people plan and that covers everything, career progression, succession management, learning and development, the cultural piece policy and D&I or I&D as we look at it.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, that's a really good point. Why do you look at I&D rather than D&I?
Jason Smith: Because personally I think inclusion drives diversity.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. There's a big debate out there about whether you put the D before the I or the I before the D? I'm with you. I think inclusion drives diversity. If you have an inclusive work culture, you're going to attract a diverse range of people to come and work with you and they're gonna stick around for longer because they're working in an environment where they feel like... Where you feel like you belong and you can progress your career. Jason, thanks ever so much for taking time out of your day to have a catch up with me. It's been great to speak with you and good luck with the rest of your D&I journey. I know it's a bit of a cliche saying that D&I is a journey, but it really is. And one of my mantras is that diversity and inclusion is not a project with a beginning and middle and an end. It's a journey. It's a way of operating. It's a way of being. And like you say, you can't change it on one day. It does take time to get it embedded into the business.
Jason Smith: Yeah, it does. And I've appreciate having the opportunity to reflect on some of it as well, Toby. So, yeah, thanks for having me on.
Toby Mildon: You're very welcome. Thank you. And thank you for tuning into this episode of the podcast with Jason and myself. Hopefully you've taken away some interesting advice and experience that Jason has shared with you that you can start to put into action straightaway in your own business. And as always, if you need any help or support from me and my team, then we're only an email away. So just go on our website, www.mildon.co.uk and reach out to us and we can have a conversation about how we can support you in your own organization. Until the next episode of the podcast, take good care of yourself. Cheers.
Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to The Inclusive Growth Show. For further information and resources from Toby and his team, head on over to our website @mildon.co.uk.