Inclusive Growth Show

Build Inclusive Cultures by Doing the Right Thing

June 27, 2023 Toby Mildon Episode 105
Build Inclusive Cultures by Doing the Right Thing
Inclusive Growth Show
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Inclusive Growth Show
Build Inclusive Cultures by Doing the Right Thing
Jun 27, 2023 Episode 105
Toby Mildon

This episode of the Inclusive Growth Show features Nadya Powell from Utopia, an award-winning diversity, equity, inclusion and culture change business which works with global clients to create inclusive and healthy workplaces. 

If you're enjoying this episode and looking to boost equity, inclusion, and diversity in your organisation, my team and I are here to help. Our team specialises in crafting data-driven strategies, developing inclusive leaders, designing fair recruitment processes, and enhancing disability confidence. With a blend of professional expertise and lived experience, we're ready to support you on your journey. Reach out to us through our website.

If you want to build a more inclusive workplace that you can be proud of please visit our website to learn more.

Show Notes Transcript

This episode of the Inclusive Growth Show features Nadya Powell from Utopia, an award-winning diversity, equity, inclusion and culture change business which works with global clients to create inclusive and healthy workplaces. 

If you're enjoying this episode and looking to boost equity, inclusion, and diversity in your organisation, my team and I are here to help. Our team specialises in crafting data-driven strategies, developing inclusive leaders, designing fair recruitment processes, and enhancing disability confidence. With a blend of professional expertise and lived experience, we're ready to support you on your journey. Reach out to us through our website.

If you want to build a more inclusive workplace that you can be proud of please visit our website to learn more.

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'm Toby Mildon, and today I'm joined by Nadya Powell. And Nadya is the founding partner of Utopia, which is an award-winning diversity, equity, and inclusion culture change business. It was founded in 2017 on the belief that businesses could be better and they help clients around the globe create inclusive and healthy workplaces. So Nadya, it's lovely to see you. Thanks ever so much for joining me today.

Nadya Powell: It's a pleasure. I'm so pleased to be here and thank you for inviting me.

Toby Mildon: You're very welcome. So, Nadya, I gave a very brief introduction, which doesn't do any justice to the, the great work that you and your team do do. Could you let us know a bit more about who you are, what you do, and what your business is all about?

Nadya Powell: Yes, of course. So I'll just start off with a little audio description of myself. So as you so currently said, I'm Nadya Powell. I'm a 47 year old White straight cis woman without any disabilities currently. And I also identify very strongly as someone who comes from working class background and a very trauma-based working class background, which we will not go into today 'cause we're gonna talk about business today. But the reason why I mentioned that is because I kind of accidentally and purposefully fell into the DEI space. So I had a very enjoyable and very successful career in marketing and advertising for many, many years. I went through crash for those of you old enough to remember it. And yeah, just had a absolutely brilliant time. And then when I had children, I came back into the workplace and I looked around me and I saw that I had suddenly become a minority.

Nadya Powell: I'd never been a minority, as I've just described myself, there are many, many White straight cis women in business all over the place. But I suddenly discovered as a minority and I reflected on a conversation I'd had with my Auntie Harriet. Now my Auntie Harriet is very important to me 'cause she was a feminist in the '70s and '80s and she ran a theater troop and when I was about 15, I remember I was in the car with her and I said, dear Auntie Harriet, you can stop now. We don't need any more of this feminism stuff. The world is very, very equal and wonderful and I'm doing fine. So do you know what, all you feminists can just take a little bit, step back and we can just get on with the world 'cause it's all good. And I jumped to the age of 32 and I'm just like, oh my word.

Nadya Powell: I am so naive. So not seeing things that I should be seeing because I suddenly realised that I had become a minority. I then did lots of different projects. I did a project called Millennial Mentoring where I worked with young people at Hackney Community College who came from a very low socioeconomic backgrounds. And I saw that the chances of them getting the sort of jobs I'd had, 'cause I'd had some really lucky breaks in my teens and 20s were very low just because of their circumstances of birth. I then did some work around the great British diversity experiment and I started to see how so many different marginalised individuals were not being given the opportunities or the equity in order to thrive in business, whether that's whether somebody with a disability or somebody of color. And I then did something called Christmas So White, when I realised that just even the algorithms within Google were presenting this White heteronormative without a disability world. And it was a big moment for me because I'd gone from this like, la la la isn't life wonderful?

Nadya Powell: Yes, life was quite hard for me when I was younger, but it's all good now to going, this just isn't right. This just isn't right. The world is deeply unfair, deeply inequitable. And my marketing work suddenly started to fade slightly into insignificance being a brilliant career. I'd loved it. It was so much fun. And so in 2016 I left that world. And in 2017 founded Utopia again, I think slightly naive, that has been a constant theme of my life. But naivety sometimes means that you do things that you would never normally do. And as you so currently said, we founded it with the belief that businesses needed to be better, that all the people in work, and I was meeting them more and more and more who were made to feel that they didn't fit, they didn't belong, or they weren't right.

Nadya Powell: They needed to change or they weren't even allowed through the door. It just wasn't okay. And it was their brilliance that businesses were missing out on. And the mental health impact on that exclusion just wasn't okay. Fast forward to today. So yes, at Utopia we work with awesome businesses such as Procter & Gamble or Coca-Cola Europacific Partners or Spotify or Google. So many different businesses. And our main focus is on creating and working towards a thriving world where everybody gets to feel like they belong in business no matter who they are.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. That's really good. I find it so inspiring because obviously I've set up my own diversity and inclusion consultancy and we've got a very similar mission and vision, so we are both on the same page and trying to achieve the same thing. We've got a lot to get through.

Nadya Powell: Actually Toby, I'll just say one thing. You've probably, we call it Survivor's mission. I don't, I hadn't heard that phrase before, but totally you mentioned it to me.

Toby Mildon: I haven't come across that.

Nadya Powell: No, for me, it really sums it up. I feel like I survived a very, my first 20 years were very problematic. And I feel like I survived that and now I'm like, well, my mission is to make sure that people don't have to survive that kind of thing. So I find that a really useful phrase. I don't, like you said, I hadn't heard of it. It sounds like you hadn't heard of it, but I say the reason why I do this is I've got survivor's mission. My mission is to meet, to ensure that anyone's surviving anything. It's being helped, but hopefully some people just don't have to survive prejudice at work 'cause it's not happening.

Toby Mildon: That's not a phrase I've come across before and it does resonate with me. And I think there's some truth to that for me. As somebody who's disabled, I've faced my own barriers in trying to get into the workplace or get ahead in the workplace. And I don't want the next generation of disabled people to have to experience similar barriers. So that's actually a really, really useful phrase. So today we are going to be talking about Allyship and your own journey and what you've learned on that. Obviously, you do specialise in culture and you work with senior leaders. So there's a lot that you can share about what senior leaders should be doing on this journey and the conditions that are needed to make real change. And then I think we'll end up by talking about what the person listening to us right now could actually do some practical things, maybe how they could be aware of their blind spots and how they can check in with their own privilege as well. Let's start with the basics right at the beginning. What is Allyship?

Nadya Powell: So as hopefully all your listeners know, Allyship is active. So, it is not good enough to see something or hear something and go, "Oh, that wasn't right, that made me feel uncomfortable, or that person shouldn't have said something, or that person shouldn't have done something." Allyship is where you are not a bystander and you intervene in whichever way possible. Or if you are a leader, you take actions to drive equity within your business. 'Cause I think often Allyship is seen as if you hear a microaggression or if you hear something, you should intervene. Yes, 100% it is that, that's day-to-day Allyship. But when we're in the business world and when we're leaders, it's about going, "Okay, let's take a look at this recruitment process." And the moment everyone we're hiring seems to have a very similar demographic, they're fitting into the dominant majority. I'm gonna talk to my recruitment people about that and I'm gonna challenge them to diversify our recruitment. Or we are looking at our talent for the next year. So doing the talent identification and succession planning. And actually when we look at our succession planning, then we'll match the dominant majority.

Nadya Powell: So I'm gonna challenge my HR leaders and my people managers to, are we, have we got the right criteria? Is the, are we actually just cookie-cuttering all our people that we have and doing culture fit rather than culture add? So for me as a leader, it's about taking definitive action to drive equity through a business, not just delegating it to HR and going, "Oh, I'm done." Or delegating it to people like you and I and saying, "Oh, well the externals are gonna sort it out." It's about, as a leader taking real, genuine action drive change. And I think often leaders think, well, I don't have the answers. You don't need to have the answers, you just need to ask the right questions. And then the answers can come from your HR team or your DI team or from externals, but it's up to you as a leader to be really, really just like you do when you look at the numbers or you look at the marketing plan or you look at the sales forecasts asking the right questions.

Toby Mildon: Definitely. It reminds me when I do inclusive leadership training, I talk to people about Simon Sinek's model, the start with why, the book that he wrote. And he says that it's the responsibility of leaders to start with the why and then empower other senior managers to figure out the how and then enable everybody else in the business to figure out what needs to be produced. And so many organisations actually start from the outside-in. They start with the what. They get really busy just, chasing their tails, organizing all sorts of events, but they don't actually know.

Nadya Powell: Why.

Toby Mildon: Why, why [laughter], why inclusion is important for the future success of their business. So sounds like, Yeah, it's quite key there.

Nadya Powell: Yeah, 100%. And I think that's, what we see as well all the time, and I really like that analogy that you've, used A classic for me is a lot of business will go, "Oh, let's set up ERGs." We need employee resource groups, or we need a DEI ambassador network because they think they should have one. And they think, well, if they look at their little box of DEI things, it's missing. And so they'll set it up and yes, they might do some really good events, but very quickly the ERG members are just like, "Why are we doing this? What's the objective?" And leadership aren't brought
in. They're not supporting them. So we always say, if you're gonna, if you do want to activate your people, and that is a really powerful thing to do in DEI, you've got to know why. And you've got to set them up with some really clear objectives, some resources, some rewards. You can't just ask marginalised people to solve the problems that they didn't cause.

Nadya Powell: So yeah, for me that's a classic part of leadership is, if you're asking the right questions, okay, why are our employees not engaged day to day and DEI? Well, the why might be cause there's no ERGs. So why would we need an ERG only then are you gonna get proper Allyship.

Toby Mildon: Definitely. So what's been your personal journey of Allyship and...


Nadya Powell: So this is something which I think is, hopefully really helpful for everybody out there. So I described myself at the beginning, and as a woman in business, it's very easy to identify very strongly as a marginalised individual. So, and also because of my background coming from a low socio-economic background and a trauma-based background, I very much felt like I was an outsider. I was other, I was different. I didn't fit in. And that became a real big part of my identity. And yeah, it defined me. It really, really defined me. The challenge with that is that, and this comes back to the naivety, when I was doing DEI work in the beginning or when I was interfacing with my amazing team, I was often centering my perceptions of thoughts of marginalisation on my lived experience.

Nadya Powell: So I would often feel that I knew a lot that I understood what it felt to be marginalised and that my opinion on DEI was the most important in the room because I had that perspective. And I see that a lot in women who are very, who have a similar makeup to me because we are brought up to... We're told repeatedly, especially at my age, we're told over and over again that we are marginalised, that we are experiencing discrimination, prejudice. It becomes a really big part of our identity. As I started to do more complex and more sophisticated DEI work and go on a very personal journey, there were one moment where I really felt like the reality of the world was removed from my eyes. I started to understand that my experience of marginalisation was my experience. It is not generic. It is not applicable to every sense, every situation. And also it's really not the most important in the room depending on the conversation.

Nadya Powell: Obviously if it's very much a White female discussion, then my perspective is quite important. But I don't have a right to talk and to lead on sessions, which are about racism. I don't have a right, and this may sound really, really obvious, but I see it happening over and over again where women who look like me are trying to own lead and dominate spaces where they just shouldn't belong. I don't have a right to own a space which is around disability. I can, obviously, I understand the levers that need to change within a business, but I don't have the nuance of understanding that can bring the real intimacy to the solution that will make the solution really, really powerful. So for me, one of my biggest, biggest lessons around Allyship is to make space and to not take up space. So I've always had this one line in my life, which is my guiding value, which is do the right thing.

Nadya Powell: So whenever I get stuck, when anything is complicated, I just go, okay, what's the right thing? I don't care. Block off all the noise from everywhere else and now I have do the right thing and make space. I am naturally quite a dominant personality. I'm a big personality for people who have met me. [laughter] So I, it's just a rule I should apply to everything anyway. But being really humble and understanding that some of the nuances of experience are so important to understand and if you have a loud voice, you could be inadvertently silencing those nuances. One example of that was I was on a call with one of my team members, Wagu, who is LGBTQ+, and we were, the client was asking us to come up with a solution around an LGBTQ+ topic. And I immediately go into, we could do this, we could do this, we could do this. And I'm looking at it very top-down because that's my, I'm a leader, that's my experience. And then Wagu comes in with three other suggestions, which I would never have seen or thought of because they came from his real nuanced understanding of the topic.

Nadya Powell: And it was the combination of me and him that made for brilliance. And my kind of golden rule is that if somebody, if we're talking about a very specific topic, if somebody from that community is not in the room, then we're not gonna talk about that topic. Now that's really hard. If you're a DEI leader in an organisation and you are the only, often they're very isolated roles. You might be, I've got many clients who are DEI leader globally and they're the only one. And the majority of DEI leaders we work with are White women. Sometimes they're LGBTQ, sometimes they may have a disability, but they are typically White women. So for building that nuance is really, really hard because people are looking at you to lead all the time. So in this instance, my advice is find your allies, again I think there's a phrase in the disabled community, which is nothing about us without us.

Toby Mildon: That should apply to everything no matter how obvious it might appear. Nothing should ever happen in this space without the community that it impacts being integral with their voices having equal, if not more weight than the culture change experts, or the discipline experts that might be in the room. And the last point I'd say on that is I think there is a partic, and this is potentially sounding a bit mean, so I'm just gonna apologize now, but I think there is a particular, we hear about it a lot of particularly violence that White women, White straight Cis without disability, women will can undertake because we have such a strong identification with marginalisation. We really can have the tendency to silence people. And I hear that especially from women of color, that they find their biggest barriers to inclusion are not the White straight men in the building. It's the White straight women. 'Cause the White straight women try and identify with them and try and say, yeah, I get it. I understand that. I can't ever understand what racism feels like. I can have empathy for the impact, but I cannot ever understand it. So that humbleness for me is absolutely key to allyship and that real mantra, nothing about us without us.

Toby Mildon: Thanks for sharing your personal journey with us. That's some really great learnings. Now, a lot of people that listen to this podcast are senior leaders. We get a lot of heads of HR, chief people officers listening to this show, lots of company directors who are running departments. What can you share with senior leaders about what they should do to become a great ally for underrepresented people within their own organisation?

Nadya Powell: Thanks for asking that question. So I think the first point will be what I mentioned just a minute ago, which is really think about what you're not seeing because of your lived experience. There will be many, many things which you just don't understand are happening. So something that a senior leader will often say to me is that, but well there's no racism in my organization. I'm like, but no one will be racist to you 'cause you're White. So and also 'cause you're a leader, so how would you know it's not happening? Or they'll say, well, we are a really LGBTQ+ inclusive building. And I'm just like, well, how do you know how your trans people are feeling? Or your non-binary people are feeling who tend to be right on, or your intersex people are feeling, you tend to be right on the edge of the community or they'll say, well...

Nadya Powell: We've done an accessibility audit and we know that we're very accessible as a building. And I'll be like, but how does that translate culturally? So think, what do you not know? Ask those questions. And you will probably realize that you don't know a lot. Look at your data. Data generally has a horrible hole in it. It, tends to be like engagement surveys will catch agenda and then by department. So all the other marginalized identities are just, their voices aren't being heard. So how can you hand on heart, say you don't have a problem if you haven't been listening. So as leaders, really think about what are you not seeing? And then what can you not know because you don't have the data. Collecting the data can seem really, really scary. It's actually really, really easy. We do a DEI people audit.

Nadya Powell: It's very straightforward, getting the data. You just need to be brave and do it, and that's the only hurdle. And then if you're in multiple locations, there are ways you can get something like that to work, whether it's in France or Germany or the UK. So I think for me, that's a really big thing. Take ownership. This isn't an HR issue. It's not a DEI issue. It's a culture issue. If your culture is not inclusive, then your people are not performing to their best. And due to technology, businesses are only as good as their brains of their people. And if the brains of their people are not being made to feel safe, included, able to be creative and innovative, then your business is not as good as it could be. So you as leaders, it's your responsibility to ensure you have an equitable and inclusive culture.

Nadya Powell: It's not someone else's. To your point, Toby, you can make the how about your leaders. And you can make the what about your people, but you have got to take ownership of the why.

Toby Mildon: Definitely.

Nadya Powell: And then I often talk about the hourglass of change. I love talking about the hourglass of change 'cause it's deeply unsexy, but I still think it's quite nice, which is, if as a leader you are doing the why, you're asking the right questions, you're starting to look into what you're not seeing, you're doing the data, you're really starting to understand the situation. Similar to what I was saying before, then you engage your people, because as a leader, as I was just saying earlier, you cannot see the nuance of the solutions. So if I was to try to solve the problem of how to make an organization more disability inclusive and more LGBTQ+ inclusive, I'll go to quite simple quick fixes because I don't have the nuance of understanding.

Nadya Powell: So you have to then engage with your people to help, for them to help you solve. So once you've got the data, once you've got the strategy, once you're starting to go, these are our big challenges. This is where we need to go engage your people to help you solve it. And you can do that through ERGs. Like ERGs, when they work brilliantly, they are brilliant. So you can engage with specific ERGs or engage with your ERG leaders and just say, "Look, we think we've got some real problems here, here and here. What do you think?" They all probably already know those problems exist. They just didn't have hard data.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Nadya Powell: And so then create that hourglass. So you've got leadership really driving it, really clearing space, giving the resources and budget really articulating the why. And then you've got your people who really understand the challenges, defining the solutions, and with your support, working them through.

Nadya Powell: And then the third thing I'd say is look at your governance infrastructure policies ultimately decide what happens or doesn't happen in an organization. And a lot of policies are really two dimensional. Now I know organizations will do really deep work on their menopause policy or on their parental policy or on their mental health and wellbeing policy. But they don't tend to look at them holistically. They tend to look at just like the DEI components. Whereas if you really want to get the scaffolding for an inclusive business, really digging into your policies, auditing them, working out where they could be improved. And often that does cost money improving your policies. But that's where you get the real sense of how serious a leader is. 'Cause if you're gonna say you're gonna make an inclusive culture, but not be prepared to change your health insurance policy so that it's trans-inclusive, then okay, are you really an inclusive organization? So then look at that scaffolding. Look at the policies.

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 talents 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 leading diversity and inclusion experts who has helped top companies like Deloitte, the BBC, Sony Pictures, and Centrica, as well as numerous scale-up businesses who want an outstanding inclusive culture. To go further in your diversity and inclusion journey, log on to Toby's webinar at 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: You've given a really great and concrete list of things that a senior leader really should be thinking about, which I think is brilliant. But what are the conditions that need to be put in place to make change effective? And I know this is your sweet spot because you are [laughter], you and your agency are culture experts and I know that you are change agents and you help organizations transform. So hopefully this question's right up your street [laughter] But what are those conditions that need to be in place?

Nadya Powell: So first of all, Toby, you could join every single new business meeting I have. Now you've said that 'cause that was so kind. [laughter] So thank you.

Toby Mildon: You're welcome.

Nadya Powell: I think one of the things I want to disrupt on conditions is I think we have this a lot. People think if they have an inclusive organization, it's gonna be quiet. So they think an inclusive organization means everyone's just wafting around being their identity. No one's challenging them. And the organization is just like a utopia. Hence why we're called Utopia.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Nadya Powell: That's just not the case. An inclusive organization is really noisy, noisy, noisy, noisy. Because we can't stop all the prejudice and discrimination that's happening in society from coming into our offices. So we're never gonna have a workplace where microaggressions don't happen, where prejudice doesn't happen, where discrimination doesn't happen. It's a sad thing to say, but it's true. We're humans and we're messy and if we try and ignore that or avoid that, we're never gonna solve anything. We have to just accept we're humans and we're messy and we come into the building with beliefs, with prejudices which are not always inclusive to everybody. So a really, really core condition of creating a culture where change can happen is one which is psychologically safe. So where people can share how they're feeling. So something we hear all the time is you engage with ERG is a person of color will say, well I've raised this issue for five years, but I just get told I'm difficult. I get told I'm making a fuss about things. I get told what, it's too expensive to do that. We hear that a lot when it comes to disability inclusion, but that would be really expensive.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Nadya Powell: Okay. But let's just flip that. If you had to change something to let women into a building and you said it was too expensive, what do you think the headlines of a newspaper would say about that office doesn't allow women into building because it's too expensive. Like...

Toby Mildon: Yeah. Yeah.

Nadya Powell: It's just not an acceptable thing to say so, or to think or believe. So you want people to be able to say, this needs to change. This isn't right. I'm not happy about this. Somebody said this to me. It was really upsetting because only through the noise can you solve. It's a bit like if you're in marketing without understanding your consumers and your market, your marketing plans are gonna be really, really rubbish. It's just the same in DEI. If you're just met with silence and everyone's just like, yeah, everything's fine. I mean, yeah, totally fine. Yeah, if 10 people of color did leave in the past year, but that's just a coincidence.

Toby Mildon: Sure. [chuckle]

Nadya Powell: There's no real reason.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Nadya Powell: If you've got that silence, then the condition is not there to drive inclusion. So the work you need to do really early on, and you can do this before the data and before the strategy even is you need to create a common language and understanding and a set of expectations around DEI so everyone understands this is acceptable and this is not acceptable.

Nadya Powell: And create psychological safety and tools so that if someone does make a microaggression or does say something which is prejudicial, a conversation can be had there. And then it doesn't need to be White or straight fragility of like, I didn't mean it. Oh my God, you must hate me. Don't report it. It needs to be, I'm so sorry. You are right. What I said was, was actually really harmful and I'm just gonna go and do some research and think about this and think about why it happened. And if you feel comfortable, I'd also love to have another conversation with you about in the future. But totally if you don't feel comfortable, I know it's on me to educate myself. You want those kind of conversations to be happening all the time. So for me, that's kind of like one of the most important conditions that shared and common language and a base level of understanding combined with the psychological safety and permission for people to say when things aren't quite working and aren't going well.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Nadya Powell: And that will create lots of noise. And as an HR noise often feels like it's bad. You're like, oh my god, there's lots of people saying something's not right or something's not happening. But it's not, it's brilliant 'cause it means people can actually authentically be themselves and they can thrive in the workplace and you're releasing with that noise. You're releasing all their creativity, all their innovation, all their passion. Whereas when you've got silence, then that is people holding back all their creativity, innovation and passion. 'Cause they don't feel safe, they don't feel like they can be who they should be. So that's a big condition for me.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. A model that I use a lot is, Patrick Lencioni's, Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Nadya Powell: Oh, I love that. I've not heard of that. I'm gonna have to check that out.

Toby Mildon: Yeah.

Nadya Powell: I absolutely, because he's saying dysfunctions are good in this instance or is he?

Toby Mildon: So his book is called Five Dysfunctions of a Team. He's basically got a pyramid with five layers and he has five dysfunctions. So, these are the things that a dysfunctional team has. And then he's got the opposite of that, of what a high performing team would have. But the bottom of the pyramid is actually trust.

Nadya Powell: Yeah.

Toby Mildon: So he says that a dysfunctional team has mistrust of one another. That they don't have psychological safety, that people don't feel able to speak up.

Nadya Powell: Unsure.

Toby Mildon: Therefore, yeah, like you say, therefore they are held back and they can't...

Speaker 1: They're silent.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. They're silent and they can't contribute. They can't be creative. And then yeah, you go up the pyramid and one other thing that you touched on actually was that, I think it's the peak of the pyramid is accountability. So he's saying, and in dysfunctional teams there's no accountability.

Nadya Powell: No accountability.

Toby Mildon: And accountability in the DNI space is somebody saying, you know what? I put my foot in it, I got it wrong. I'm gonna learn from it. I'm sorry. Rather than, like you say, get really defensive, which doesn't help the situation at all.

Nadya Powell: Yeah. 100%. And so yes, for me and what I do, you know what I love about that phrase dysfunction though, is I would love to flip it 'cause for me there's this like norm of what a functioning team is, which is everyone's polite, there's no conflict. We all just have nice cups of tea together. The leaders aren't...

Nadya Powell: Like iconic heroes and we don't really speak to them. And I'd love to do five elements of a dysfunctional team, as in not the norm. So it's really noisy, It's quite hectic. Obviously there's structure, but there's no hierarchy. Everyone can speak to each other because I think, especially in an Anglo-Saxon culture, we always see quiet and no conflict as success. And I'm like, no, quiet and no conflict means everybody's just agreeing with each other. Nothing's changing, nothing's developing. Obviously you want kindness and compassion at the heart of every single team, not anger. And I don't know what another frustration, but yeah, I'd love to say actually I want dysfunctional teams because I think what's seen as functional nowadays is a nonsense. It's a total nonsense, but I'm gonna check that out. It sounds brilliant.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. It's funny you should say that 'cause the second level of that pyramid after trust is dysfunctional teams avoid conflicts. So he's saying that I guess functional teams or high performing teams have healthy conflict so that they feel able to challenge one another. They are able to have candid debates. I think that's the terminology that he uses. Yeah, and it's funny 'cause when you were saying that, I was just thinking, I had a conversation with a client of mine one day and they were saying that they felt their culture was toxic positivity. Have you come across that before?

Nadya Powell: Yeah. That is such a problem. Everything's fine, we are lovely, we love each other, it's a lovely place. And it silences anyone who's just like, I'm unwell at the moment, I'm having a bad day, or I've experienced this toxic positivity I think is a real leftover from... I think it's sort of came out of like the '90s, the naughties and it's still there. And actually the most important thing is that people could just say the truth of what they're thinking or feeling at any time. And sometimes that's really difficult. I remember one client saying to me, this is ages ago, oh millennials are really hard because they always tell you what the problems are. And I was like, isn't that amazing?


Nadya Powell: Like, you want to know what the problems are. If you don't what the problems are, they're gonna be there, whether someone says it or not, how are you gonna solve them? And it's the same in DEI, if you don't have people of color saying, no one believes I'm the leader of this team and I am the leader of this team, or somebody who's non-binary saying, nobody is getting my pronouns right. No one seems to understand what I'm trying to do and people are misgendering me all the time. Or someone with a disability saying, people are treating me like I'm the assistant, not the leader. How can you solve it? So that noise is just critical and toxic positivity is boo, boo to toxic positivity. I'm being un-positive about toxic positivity. [laughter]

Toby Mildon: Maybe that should be the topic of your next book.

Nadya Powell: Yes. Un-positive.

Toby Mildon: Boo to positivity.

Nadya Powell: Yeah, boo to...


Nadya Powell: Let's get real is what it should be. It's just like, let's, yeah, let's just get real. It's not great.

Toby Mildon: So we've talked about what allyship is. We've talked about your journey and what you've learned along the way. We've talked about what senior leaders should be thinking about and the conditions that are needed to make changes. I'm assuming that the person listening to us right now, if they're still with us, which is a good sign.


Toby Mildon: They're probably on the same page as us and they're like, yeah, this is good, I'm gonna step up, I'm gonna be an ally, I'm gonna go on this journey myself, I'm gonna follow your advice as a senior leader, I'm gonna create the right climate for change. What does the person listening to us right now need to unlearn and relearn in order to be effective?

Nadya Powell: So unlearn, if you're a leader, what you believe to be true in your organization is probably not true. So you are probably sitting there with a set of beliefs about your people, about their mental state or their diversity or how they're enjoying working in the organization and it's probably not true, because you're so distant. There's something called the neurology of power, which says that the more senior you are, the less empathy you have. And it makes sense, as someone who's gone up through leadership, you have to make so many tough decisions as a leader that you sort of have to almost divorce yourself from what's happening below you, so the unlearn for me is just unlearn what you believe to be true and go out there and find out what's really happening.

Toby Mildon: Sorry to interrupt you. I was just thinking when you were saying about empathy, I interviewed a researcher from Catalyst organization. They wrote a report saying that they found that the number one quality that was required and missing was empathy. And also me and my team do inclusive leadership assessments and empathy is one of the six traits that people are benchmarked against. So I find it quite shocking that when you said it's missing the higher you go up the hierarchy. But it's actually such a needed skill.

Nadya Powell: It's so needed. And it goes back to that... The personal story I was sharing. Whereas because I was situating myself so much in my lived experience, I was lacking empathy for everything else that was going on around. So you have to step outside your lived experience and say, I cannot know everything, I cannot experience everything, I cannot have a right to have an opinion on everything. So therefore I need to collaborate in a really empathetic and structured way in order to lead me to the right places.

Toby Mildon: It's that humility again, isn't it? That you mentioned earlier.

Speaker 4: It's which again is really hard as a leader 'cause everyone looks at you to be inspirational leader. So if you end up saying, I can't do this alone, especially the DEI space where you feel vulnerable anyway 'cause it... Like you don't wanna say, I can't do this work 'cause it makes you look like you're un-inclusive [laughter] You're just like... So unlearning for me is just yeah, really evaluating questions, the assumptions you have about the health, diversity, sense of belonging that people have in your organization. And then relearn... Would be relearn your organization, so listen to your people, look at the data, spend time with your ERGs, spend time with people to relearn what's really happening. That would be my kind of big unlearn and relearn.

Toby Mildon: I love it. I love it. Now the penultimate question that I ask everybody when they come on this podcast is, what does inclusive growth mean to you?

Nadya Powell: So I've had to think about this one. So inclusive growth means to me, your survival. Something we talk a lot about with businesses, is the huge demographic shifts happening within the UK and Europe more widely and incredibly amounts in the States. So if you're based in London at the moment, 51% of London is people of colour. This year, the university entrance, 16% of them have a neurodiversity and I'm glad to share that by 2025, 20% of people will identify as LGBTQ+ in some way. Now, that's really challenging as a leader 'cause you probably don't sit on any of those demographics. So you are in a way in the out group of the huge demographic shifts that are gonna happen in your organisation. So if you don't do the unlearning and the relearning and really get to grips with this, then you in your role will not be able to survive 'cause you will no longer be relevant. And it's not about your identity. You don't have to be a person of colour to be relevant within this discussion. You have to be someone who is empathetic and collaborates and is inclusive to everybody.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant.

Nadya Powell: But also your business isn't gonna survive because if your business isn't tapping into these huge demographic shifts that are occurring all over the place, then it is also gonna become irrelevant. So for me, inclusive growth is a fundamental requirement for survival.

Toby Mildon: Yeah. I'm glad you used the word survival. I did a workshop with a client of mine, their hospitality business. They employ 40,000 people. And I had a two-hour conversation with the chief executive and the board about why diversity and inclusion was important to their organisation and what their unique business case was. And at the end of the conversation, the chief executive basically stood around and said... Turned around, sorry and said, it's basically about our survival, isn't it?

Nadya Powell: Yeah, it is. It is, which is why it shouldn't just be the HR responsibility. It is fundamental to business survival. It wasn't in the '80s. Like in the '80s, the world was a much less diverse place. And that's why DEI could wax and wane and wax and wane. We can't turn back time. I know there's lots of very nasty organisations that are trying to turn back time. The change has happened. And now we've just got to respond to it in order to survive as a business.

Toby Mildon: Absolutely. So just as we come to the end of this podcast episode, if the person listening to us would like to follow the work that you do, maybe they want to go along to one of your events that you organise, what should they do?

Nadya Powell: So a really useful thing to do is just, and it sounds really mundane, but sign up to our business letter, our newsletter. It only comes out once a month. It's super focused. But most importantly, we hold free breakfast briefings all the time on topics such as DEI data, on how to create... How to fight the tide of hate towards LGBTQ people. And so by signing up to that newsletter, you'll get an invite to those free events. And they're an hour long, typically 9:30 to 10:30 in the morning. And they are excellent. So go to our website, and sign up for our newsletter.

Toby Mildon: Brilliant. Well, Nadya, thanks ever so much for joining me today on this podcast. I've thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. And I've learned loads from you. And hopefully the person listening to us has learned some really practical things that they can take back to their own organisation.

Nadya Powell: Thank you so much, Toby. I have loved it and also learned loads from you. And it's been an absolute pleasure. An hour has whizzed by.

Toby Mildon: Thanks ever so much for tuning into this episode of the Inclusive Growth Podcast. If you would like to get in touch with Nadya and her team to see how her organisation can help you, please do go over to their website which is That's And if you are looking for any further support on your diversity and inclusion strategy, or your inclusive leadership, then please do get in touch with me and my team. We are at Until the next time, and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of this podcast, which will be coming up very soon. Until then, take good care of yourself.


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 at