S?: Welcome to the Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.
Toby Mildon: Hello, and thank you ever so much for tuning in to this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon. And on this episode, I’m joined by Mark Dearlove. Mark and I know each other because we are both trustees of Spinal Muscular Atrophy UK, which is the national charity which represents the disability that I was born with. SMA is a rare genetic condition. And Mark is the chair of the charity, and I’m one of his fellow trustees. But Mark has a really interesting career working in finance and banking, and I just wanted the opportunity to have a chat with him on this episode to talk to him about his experiences of diversity and inclusion, being a senior leader within the finance sector, but also what it means to be an inclusive leader working in the not-for-profit sector as a trustee as well. Mark, welcome to the show.
Mark Dearlove: Toby, thank you very much for having me on your podcast.
Toby Mildon: It’s great to have you. It’s great to be chatting with you. Now, Mark, I’ve given the informal introduction, but can you let us know a bit more about your career background and what has led you to becoming the chair of SMA UK?
Mark Dearlove: A little bit about myself. As you mentioned, I spent a long 35 years in banking, financial services. I’ve now retired. I retired a year ago. And during my career, I worked with three large investment banks, and during that time, I lived and worked overseas in Japan. Of my 35-year career, I spent nine or 10 years living and working in Japan and traveling throughout Asia. You asked me about my involvement with SMA. My involvement with SMA first came about in the end of 1999-2000 when a good friend of mine’s son was diagnosed with SMA, it’s a condition that I haven’t heard about. And I began by supporting the charities that had supported him through him and his son’s journey by raising money, running marathons, and doing that type of thing. And then I became a trustee of a charity called SMA Trust, which raised money into research for SMA. I became the chair, and then when I went to Japan, I stood down, and subsequently, I’ve been appointed the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of SMA UK, which is the combined charity of SMA Trust, the research charity, and another charity called SMA Support UK that helped people with SMA and their families to deal with the issues arising from SMA.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, ’cause I’ve been involved with SMA UK since I was a child. My parents and I would go along to the annual family conference with my brother, my brother has got the same condition as me, and it was a really great support network. And the charity did do work around research, the scientific research of SMA, but it’s only in the last, I would say, five years that really the scientific findings into the condition have really accelerated, and now drug treatments are being developed and trialled as we speak. So, it’s a really exciting time for the community. When you were… I’ll take you back a few years. I appreciate… You’ve retired, but you’ve got a long career working in finance and banking, and you became a senior manager and leader within the sector. Why is diversity and inclusion important within the banking sector?
Mark Dearlove: Well, I think a lot of people would say, very simply, it’s the right thing to do, and I always think that that’s just a bit of a cop-out when people say that. For me, it’s very simply opportunity. And let’s be honest, business sense and commercial opportunity, imagine a group of very diverse individuals with diverse ideas, that’s got to be good for business. Different people from different backgrounds with different experiences will have different views and different ideas. And also, with that diversity in your company, you’re probably reflecting the type of diversity that you may well have within your customer base. How can you serve your customers if you don’t have diversity in your own planning strategy and thinking?
Mark Dearlove: Now, of course, the headline is diversity is good. For me, the real question is, how do we make diversity work? And what I mean by that is people will very easily default to the first answer which I gave, which is why I gave it, which is the right thing to do, because I think a lot of large corporations, by being very cynical, have been trained and people have been trained to say that we must embrace diversity. But embracing diversity doesn’t mean that we’re actually doing anything about it, what a company is doing about employing people with diverse backgrounds. And I think that is the real key, and the tone has to initially come from the very top. If the top management are driving it and have specific programs in place, this will work over time.
Mark Dearlove: The problem is within middle management and below, and I’m being a little bit unfair perhaps on the new younger generation that are coming through, which are much more aware, much more focused on diversity. Within some of these large corporations, you still have a middle management that are a silent majority. And I’ll give you a good example. I remember a colleague of mine coming to see me and said, “This program we have with respect to gender diversity,” I think it was, he said, “look, I’m very supportive, but I’m very afraid of saying something that I shouldn’t say. What I want you to know is that I’m supportive but I’m not gonna speak up about it.”
Mark Dearlove: And that’s the challenge that a lot of the large companies have to face and work out how to deal with. And one of the things that helped me is being able to find people who I could talk about it in a safe space. I could sit down and talk to people about some of the challenges that they may face. My language that I may have used might not have been particularly appropriate, and what they were able to do is to help educate me and enable me to speak much more freely and openly without being worried about being criticized by other people. And I don’t think companies do enough about creating safe space to allow people to talk about or air their views about diversity. And if you get that, you create a situation where people will start to talk, they will start to lead, they will start to encourage, and they will start to be on the front foot about how we can tackle diversity and inclusion at large corporations. I think that was a very long-winded answer to why you asked me about why diversity is important.
Toby Mildon: No, it’s brilliant, it’s brilliant to hear your perspective on that. And I really like your point about creating that safe space to have the conversations, because I think people are wary of talking about diversity because they don’t want to say something that might offend somebody. And if I’m being honest, there are people that don’t want to look stupid, so they hold back. And what that means is that we’re not really being inclusive of everyone. I’ve had personal situations of, say, I’m in a wheelchair, and I have been since I was a toddler, where I’ve worked with people who have been really afraid of talking to me about disability. They are not sure what language they should be using, they don’t want to offend me, they make assumptions or presumptions about what I can or can’t do in the workplace. And what that means is we’re all held back because we’re not just having that open, honest, vulnerable, frank conversation.
Toby Mildon: And I’ve been in meetings with people where… I suppose I’ve been quite fortunate where I’ve worked with a manager who said to me, “Look, I don’t know anything about disability, I don’t know anything about what it’s like for you to be in a wheelchair, but I’m eager to learn. And I don’t know what language to use. Am I allowed to say that somebody is handicapped? Is it ‘somebody with a disability’ or is it ‘disabled people?'” And I was like, “I don’t care what you call me as long as you don’t call me a window-licker. That’s the only thing I take offense to.” [chuckle] I guess we had that relationship where we had that kind of rapport, but for this manager it was important for them to have that safe conversation space with me.
Mark Dearlove: Yeah. And you’ve hit it right on the head. There are so many people that faced with somebody who has a disability in a room will not know what to do or not know how to act, and by leaving that room, by not asking a question, it leaves you ignorant. I would encourage people to ask and engage, and I think if you ask and engage you will be rewarded with what you get back. In fact, Toby, you and I had a discussion, I called you up the other day because I was writing a piece for our members and I wasn’t quite sure exactly the language to use, and you were able to help me edit it. So, I very much appreciated that at the time.
Toby Mildon: No, it’s cool. Over your career, working in finance and banking, what examples of good inclusive leadership have you seen?
Mark Dearlove: Well, the most recent organization I’ve worked with, worked for, the tone has really come right from the top, from the CEO. And he has gone out of his way to promote diversity and demonstrate it by making appointments that are clearly forcing and pushing diversity issue. This, of course, raises another question, which is, do we promote people into roles that have a diverse background for the sake of it, to make up the numbers? Or as a lot of people say, we should do it on a meritocratic basis? And a lot of people will turn around and say, “Well, when I interview people, I didn’t notice whether they were Black or whether they had a disability or whatever, because I’m diversity-blind as it were. I’m just meritocratic about the way I go about doing it.” Of course, the reality is that’s not true. You have an unconscious bias.
Mark Dearlove: And so at my last organization, one of the things that we would insist on is through the whole process, when we were interviewing people, was to ensure that a set amount or a certain amount of candidates had a diverse background, and therefore they had the opportunity to sit in front of people, to make their case, to demonstrate why they are good, why they deserve their opportunities which otherwise they may not have been able to do. And that is one example of an organization, the tone being led very much from the top, about how to include or how to employ people with diverse backgrounds into an organization.
Mark Dearlove: The next step, of course, is that if you have a process of employing people with diverse backgrounds, how do you ensure that they’re successful within the organization? And I think that becomes a little bit more difficult, because at that point it’s about training the management team, training managers, training colleagues. And I’ll give you a good example. When you’re sitting in a meeting, human nature dictates that there are one or two people who are louder and more vocal than anybody else. As a manager, it’s really important that you let everybody voice their opinions. Of course, if you are a manager or you have a manager that thinks they know best, that’s difficult. And I’m just being very practical because not all managers are good, training for management is generally pretty poor, but when you have a good manager that is able to… Or if you’re in your career or approaching a point where you are becoming a manager, it’s really important to give time to everybody, and let them speak their views and share their views. However crazy they may sound or how different their views are, without putting those views on the table, you may not have the best answer. And those views may not end up being the right way forward, but they may create a conversation or debate, which enables you to end up in the right place.
Toby Mildon: Absolutely, yeah. And that’s a nod to the power of diversity and inclusion, it’s about creating the environment where everybody can be heard, be able to put their ideas and perspectives forward. And that’s where the magic happens. We know that innovation increases with more inclusive workplaces, ’cause people bring all of that shared experience and different perspectives to the problem. In your career… One of the most interesting aspects of your career is that you’re a Brit working in Japan, and then you would fly out of Japan and work in other areas of Asia. What did diversity and inclusion mean to you, as an expat in Japan, and more widely in the region?
Mark Dearlove: Well, it was a very… The last job I had, I was responsible for division across Asia, but I was based in Tokyo. And that business was based in several different locations, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Mumbai. I came across a lot of people with a lot of different backgrounds, a lot of different ethnicities, and that made my job both very interesting and also extremely demanding. But if I take a step back and tell you a little bit about my journey, I first moved to Japan in about 1990. I was working for an American company, there were not a lot of expats in that company, and like a lot of people, you tend to hang out with the people you are familiar with it. They might have the same education as you, they may look like you, whatever it was. And so for my first two or three years in Japan, I think it was a real wasted opportunity, because the people I hung out with looked like me, thought like me, and had the same interests as me.
Mark Dearlove: And when I went back to my second trip to Japan, it was slightly different because I had young children then. But the company I worked for then had less expats and more Japanese, and so I started to make more and more Japanese friends. And it wasn’t until I came back to Japan in 2015 that I think I really properly embraced diversity and the power of it. I was one of the handful of expats that worked for my company. The vast majority in Tokyo were Japanese, the vast majority of my colleagues in India were from India, and so on and so forth.
Mark Dearlove: And I was responsible for this division. And what was fascinating was really seeing diversity at work. The idea that a colleague in India would have a particular view and thought, a colleague in Japan would have another idea. And, of course, we had different markets and different customers, so they might not have all been… An idea that came out in Japan may not have been appropriate for India, but the fact that we were all talking together meant that we were able to sharpen ideas, to sharpen a strategy, and it was incredible. And again, it’s taken me quite a long time. I think a lot of people in my generation are probably ashamed or too shy to admit, but it takes time to understand this, but when you see the power of it, you’re a convert immediately. And I just wish that what I know now I knew when I started my career, because it would have been so much more powerful, and I would have been able to be so much more effective in the roles that I had.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. It could be that the person listening to this episode is just starting out on their career, and your words of wisdom will help them with their own career development journey. We started to… Sorry, go ahead.
Mark Dearlove: I was gonna… Sorry to interrupt, but one thing I was gonna say is that probably one of the most challenging things for me was that the vast majority of the colleagues I worked with in Asia, English was not their first language. So, there’s two parts to that. One of which is you need to, again, create a safe space where they are prepared to share their thoughts and not be laughed at, or not be frowned at, because it’s slightly more difficult for you to understand what they’re saying. But you also have to understand that you’re a guest in their country, in their region, and you need to make a big effort to make sure you understand and you listen. And if it takes a little bit more time and it takes a little bit longer, I tell you, the outcome is well worth it.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. And based off those points that you said are actually covered by the six signature traits of inclusive leadership, which Deloitte created. One is about being open and being inquisitive about other cultures, and the other one is about creating that psychological safety for the team because, as a leader, you can impact the psychological safety of the team. And we know that, with higher levels of psychological safety, people can speak up, they can share their ideas, they can point out their concerns, and that’s of huge benefit for the whole team. You and I are both involved in SMA UK, you’re the chair of the charity, and I’m a fellow trustee on the board. Diversity and inclusion is particularly topical within the not-for-profit sector, and particularly talking about the diversity of board level appointments, why do you think that diversity and inclusion is particularly important for the not-for-profit sector?
Mark Dearlove: Well, I’ll go back, Toby, to the answer that I gave you right at the very beginning. And I don’t like to use the word “client base” when I am talking about the non-for-profit sector, but the fact of the matter is that the community that your charity is serving will be made up of people with particular challenges, particular difficulties that they need to overcome, and it’s important that your team, your trustees understand that. And surely they can only understand that if they have people who have similar backgrounds as your clients. I said I didn’t like that word, but it’s… You know what I’m trying to say. And without that insight, without people who have had those experiences… And by the way, when I think about SMA, and we’ll perhaps come to that later, it’s not just about having people who have SMA on it, but people who have had other challenges in their life. We can learn from other charities about the way they have done things, the way they have helped their communities, and that’s why diversity and inclusion is so important for the not-for-profit sector.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. I think, particularly for our charity, the condition is non-discriminatory. You can have the condition regardless of your ethnicity, regardless of your socio-economic standing, regardless of your agenda. People come to us from all sorts of backgrounds because they don’t choose to get SMA. They’re born with the condition or they’re related to somebody who has the condition. So, I think it is particularly important for a charity like us that we recognize that our community is naturally diverse, and this is important that we reflect the diversity of our customer base and our membership. In your position as chairperson, what are some of the things that you’re consciously doing to be an inclusive leader for the charity?
Mark Dearlove: A couple of things. First of all, with living through this very difficult period of COVID and the tragedy aside, and we mustn’t belittle that, but it has allowed us to think about ways that we can cope during this difficult period. And one of the interesting things is that the board meetings we used to hold were always in person. And, Toby, you said you’re in a wheelchair, you are currently our only trustee who has SMA, who’s in a wheelchair, and the ability for you to get to meetings and for people who have SMA is very challenging and very difficult. And notwithstanding that, the point you made, we have… The SMA community is not just based in London, it’s based throughout the country, so a lot of our representation is really centrally based in London, and that can be good. COVID has given us the opportunity to change the way that we do our meetings. As you well know, we’re doing them virtually, and we will continue to do them virtually. I do think, as an aside, there is always a powerful reason for us to get together in person, but technology is such now that it’s becoming less important to do so.
Mark Dearlove: We’ve currently asked for people to apply as trustees. In fact, if you listen to the podcast, that process is now closed. And I was very pleased that we had eight applications, six of whom are people who have SMA. One person lives up in Scotland. And we have, I think, through technology now, reached out to the wider SMA community and enabled them to be able to join as board members, and that’s got to be very good for us. The other thing that I hope I’m doing, and again I alluded to it earlier, is that when you gather in person, it’s very easy for one or two people to dominate a conversation. And if you are the chair, you have to be very good at cutting people off and giving time for other people to speak. Zoom has been a fantastic tool for chairpeople, because if you try and interrupt somebody online, it’s a little bit difficult. When people start to talk, they are not run over by the bully in the room, as it were. And so I found that everyone has now had more chance to speak and more chance to air their views, and that, again, has got to be good.
Mark Dearlove: Those are a couple of things that we have done. What’s interesting is, would I have thought about those before COVID? Perhaps not, if I’m really honest with myself. Toby, probably you would have pushed me into it and suggested I do, which is very good. That’s a great example of diversity. But this situation has given access for people to become trustees that they would not perhaps in the past been able to do.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, absolutely. When you were talking about chairing meetings over Zoom and people dominating the conversation, I thought you were gonna say that as the chair you can just hit the mute button to shut them up.
[laughter]
Mark Dearlove: I haven’t yet done that, but you’re quite right, I can.
Toby Mildon: It’s tempting sometimes, isn’t it? Just as we bring this interview to a close, this is, of course, the Inclusive Growth Show, what does inclusive growth mean for you?
Mark Dearlove: That’s a good question. For me, inclusive growth is ensuring that people who are part of the majority understand that inclusivity and diversity is something that is hugely beneficial for them, for their businesses, for their careers, and for their outlook. So, I wanna see people growing in their thinking about diversity and inclusion.
Toby Mildon: Well, Mark, thank you ever so much for joining me on the show today. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. And thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show. I hope you enjoyed listening to Mark and I talk about diversity and inclusion, and his background in finance and examples of inclusive leadership, and also inclusive leadership within the not-for-profit sector as well. Please tune in again for the next episode of the Inclusive Growth Show, which will be coming up shortly. Until then, take care, and thanks very much.
S?: 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 mildon.co.uk.

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