Insights from the Chief People Officers Breakfast

On Wednesday, 15 May, we held our Chief People Officer Breakfast event at Home House with Chapter 2.

In this event, Suki Sandhu OBE, Founder & CEO of Audeliss and INvolve, talked to Ola Fadipe, Senior Director People Experience at Google, and Will Serle, Chief People Officer at National Grid, about the widening gap between employee expectations and company provisions, the future of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, the impact of U.S. political and business narratives on UK strategies, and approaches for building a robust employer brand.

Key takeaways

The growing gap between employee expectations and company provisions

One of the primary topics addressed was the emerging gap between what employees desire and what companies can realistically offer in today’s competitive job market. Ola Fadipe emphasized that even leading companies like Google face significant challenges in meeting employee demands for flexibility, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. She highlighted that many employees prefer flexible work arrangements, yet companies often struggle to balance this with the need for in-person interactions and collaboration. Ola underscored the importance of creating compelling reasons for employees to return to the office beyond just mandated office days.

Conversely, Will Serle suggested that while flexibility is crucial, it is not universally desired. He noted that individual preferences vary widely, even among younger employees, and highlighted the need for organizations to recognize these differences rather than applying a one-size-fits-all approach. Will stressed that understanding and reacting to the unique needs of employees is vital for retention and motivation.

Enhancing employee experience

The discussion on employee experience revealed a consensus on the importance of listening to employees and aligning organizational practices with their expectations. Will pointed out that employee experience should be about responding to what employees want where feasible and being honest when those needs cannot be met. This transparency helps build trust and ensures that employees feel valued and heard, even if their specific desires cannot always be accommodated.

Ola added that internal mobility is a critical factor in employee retention at Google. She highlighted the importance of offering growth and development opportunities within the company to prevent employees from hitting a proverbial wall in their careers. By focusing on internal mobility, companies can foster long-term commitment and satisfaction among their workforces.

The future of DEI initiatives amid anti-DEI sentiments

The speakers also tackled the polemical issue of whether DEI initiatives should be deprioritized amidst growing anti-DEI sentiments, particularly in the U.S. and the UK. Both Ola and Will firmly argued against deprioritising DEI efforts. Will pointed out the continued lack of diversity in many professional settings, underscoring the necessity of ongoing DEI initiatives to address these gaps. He acknowledged the pressure from anti-DEI narratives but maintained that the data clearly supports the need for these efforts.

Ola echoed this sentiment, noting that DEI is integral to Google’s mission of building products for a diverse global market. She emphasized the need to understand and address fears and misconceptions about DEI, advocating for a more inclusive approach that recognizes and values every employee’s contribution.

Addressing internal resistance to DEI

Regarding internal resistance to DEI, both speakers noted that while such sentiments are present, they are not predominant at the leadership level within their organizations. Ola mentioned that at Google, the commercial imperative of creating inclusive products helps align even the most resistant employees with DEI goals. Will observed that data-driven discussions can help logical, technical professionals understand the importance of DEI, even if they are initially skeptical.

Broader perspectives on DEI

The audience’s contributions added valuable perspectives to the discussion, particularly the emphasis on invisible aspects of diversity and the socioeconomic dimensions of inclusion. Some attendees highlighted the importance of considering diverse backgrounds and experiences beyond visible characteristics, such as race and gender, to foster truly inclusive workplaces. The need for businesses to reflect the diversity of their customer base was also stressed, suggesting a more holistic approach to DEI.

Conclusion

The event enabled a rich exchange of ideas on critical HR issues, reflecting the complex landscape that Chief People Officers navigate today. Key takeaways include the necessity of balancing employee expectations with organizational capabilities, the importance of listening to and valuing employee input, the unwavering need for robust DEI initiatives despite external pressures, and the significance of considering both visible and invisible aspects of diversity. Ultimately, the discussion highlighted that achieving a truly inclusive and supportive work environment requires ongoing commitment, nuanced understanding, and proactive measures tailored to the diverse needs of employees.