How Publishing Giant Moved the Dial on D&I

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John Athanasiou, Director of People, HarperCollins UK

John Athanasiou is Director of People for HarperCollins UK. He has been with the publishing company for 13 years. His role encompasses people strategy and culture and sees diversity and inclusion as a key part of that.

Data and Strategy

In the early days of John’s role, HarperCollins took a more ad hoc approach to diversity and inclusion, based on implementing different interventions and building up to a full strategy.

As part of the annual employee engagement survey, John asked Toby Mildon to analyse the employee survey results from a diversity and inclusion perspective. Toby presented the insights back to John who was then able to take the findings to his Chief Executive with recommendations.

John was impressed with the investment of time it takes to conduct an in-depth analysis to identify the trends and themes from the data. A lot of the data from the survey was quantitative data, but Toby’s expertise helped to define some of the key themes and messages that were coming out of the survey.

John said this analysis based on rich information had helped to frame his conversations upstream. He added,‘That piece of work alone had a huge impact in messaging to the exec team, the CEO and all the way through the organisation. It helped inform our strategy and we’ve used a similar methodology this year. Toby’s initial analysis had a long-lasting impact, not just in the way we are now collecting data and providing it back in an insightful way, but because it’s actually enriched our strategy.’

Diversity Includes Everybody Training Programme

Toby developed a bespoke course for HarperCollins UK called Diversity Includes Everybody. To date, almost 1000 people from the company have completed the course.

John says that one of Toby’s strengths in designing the course was to keep it simple. Another is Toby’s ability to tailor it to a diverse audience. This is important at a company the size of HarperCollins where there is a diversity of backgrounds and job roles.

The course covers three key areas: privilege, bias, and microaggressions. John chose to work with Toby on rolling out the programme because he wanted to land the message and raise knowledge levels for the organisation. John was keen to establish this shared base of understanding for the whole organisation and empower people to go away and then do things for themselves.

It’s the empowerment to act differently after training that creates the impact. There’s no point in doing a two-hour training session and just forgetting about it afterwards. HarperCollins delivery model was for 50 or 60 colleagues in a live online session. This ensures the quality of conversation and training impact is maintained but also means the programme can be rolled out across the business, with a budget in mind.

The murder of George Floyd and the subsequent visibility of Black Lives Matter hit in the middle of the programme rollout. Toby was responsive to this context, adding in and refocusing content slightly to make sure it was current specifically on racism and anti-racism.

What’s it like to work with Toby Mildon?

John says working with Toby is very straightforward.

‘Toby’s consulting background means he is clear upfront. It’s great that he provides clarity at the very outset of a project. Toby asks the right questions. I value him because as an expert in this space he challenges our thinking appropriately.

That really helps when you trust someone. Where you can have a two-way respectful conversation and have fun along the way. I am getting a real expert helping us drive our strategy forward.

Toby is relatable and credible. From keynote speeches to internal speaking events, Toby relates to people. He intrinsically gets D&I and extrinsically understands it in such detail, that is such an asset.’

Business Impact

Working with Toby over the last five years has supported HarperCollins to continue growing their thinking around D&I as well as develop their initiatives and interventions. His input has helped define the strategy.

Specific areas of impact include recruitment processes and building an inclusive culture. John’s conversations with Toby have helped develop the thinking around recruitment. An example of this is that the business has now run blind recruitment processes for five years. John added that having Toby’s expert input has impacted the end to end employee journey,

John said the training programme Toby developed and delivered has been completed from the exec level across the whole business has impacted the inclusivity of the culture. It’s increased understanding and empathy, listening and awareness. It’s given people the confidence to be able to talk about the subject, feel able to bring it into their jobs and be accountable for it.

He added, ‘What’s really shifted is that people now have an understanding that this isn’t the HR director’s job or one D&I practitioner’s job to change a culture, it’s everyone’s responsibility. Nurturing culture isn’t a one-off intervention, it’s ongoing. The training really shifted our culture, particularly in the last year.’

John highlighted that HarperCollins core business is about publishing great stories and the D&I work with the workforce has aligned with that mission. For the first time, the company’s internal data is showing diversity and inclusion as one of their strengths, including publishing diverse content and diverse authors. These metrics have shifted in only a year, and whilst there’s more the company wants to develop John said the dial had ‘moved tremendously’ in the last twelve months.

The impact HarperCollins is seeing isn’t about doing one thing. Toby helped the company think strategically about the whole journey from attraction to retention, development and rewards, as well growing an inclusive culture.

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