Mildon Diversity and Inclusion Consultancy

Ep. 30: Inclusion in the boardroom

Speaker 1: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon, future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.
Toby Mildon: Hi, thanks ever so much for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon. And today, I’m joined by Dr. Alice Maynard. So I met Alice years ago because we share the same disability, which is spinal muscular atrophy, which is a rare neuro-muscular condition. And I remember meeting Alice at one of the annual conferences that SMA UK organises, which is one of the charities that represents our condition. So I’m gonna interview Alice today because she is an expert on inclusion, but she’s a particular expert on inclusive leadership and diversity at the top of an organisation in terms of senior leadership and diversity of non-exec directorships. So Alice, thank you for coming on to the show. It’s lovely to have a chat with you.
Alice Maynard: Thank you for having me.
Toby Mildon: Alice, that was the unofficial introduction, but could you let us know a bit more about your career background and what you’re currently up to?
Alice Maynard: Right, so I have a long career. Now, about 40 years long. So I started in the 1980s, beginning of the ’80s, which was a difficult time for disabled people to get jobs, particularly if they were wheelchair users. And people like you and me, there weren’t many jobs around for us to have. I got a job in the IT industry and I did fairly well in that. I experienced a certain amount of discrimination in my first job because they wouldn’t send me… I worked for a software house, and normally, you’d go out on client sites and they wouldn’t send me to any client sites, so I had to work on in-house projects, which were quite rare. But thereafter, I did quite well for the rest of that first decade until I kinda wanted to get into the much more senior level, and I asked our HR director how I might become UK managing director, should I want to. And I anticipated something like, “Well, you don’t have any sales and marketing experience, so you might have to move down the organisation sideways up,” etcetera, etcetera. I didn’t get any of that. I just got, “Oh, you couldn’t.” So I was a little bit taken aback. In fact, so taken aback, I failed to say, “Why on earth not?”
Alice Maynard: So I split it up in my head into, well, I’m a woman, maybe that’s why it is. Can’t do much about that, I’m a disabled person, can’t do much about that. I might be useless. Okay, I can do something about that. So I went off and did an MBA. And after my MBA, it was the early ’90s when there was a recession on, but also, I was probably the first disabled woman in the UK with an MBA, because MBAs weren’t that common at that juncture. And women with MBAs weren’t that common, and I suspect I might have been the first disabled woman. So I was a bit like a two headed monster and people found me a little tricky to [03:41] ____.
[chuckle]
Alice Maynard: They all muttered about what a marvelous track record I had, and how brilliant I was, but actually the office building had terribly heavy doors or something, so I couldn’t possibly cope. And so I set up a business with my sister, actually consulting on disability equality, which was pre-Disability Discrimination Act, so this was the very early ’90s before the ’95 Act came in. And I stayed in consultancy until the end of the ’90s, when I joined what was then Railtrack and became Network Rail, as the head of disability strategy. My remit was to create a strategy to make the rail network accessible.
Alice Maynard: I did [04:34] ____ the strategy to make the rail network accessible, it never really got implemented because Network Rail came along and decided it wasn’t a strategist. And so I was kind of then out on my ear. And to cut a long story short, I set up Future Inclusion which is the business I now run. But simultaneously, I started doing some fairly small, non-exec roles as a trustee on a number of organisations, National Information Forum, Muscle Power, which you may remember as being an organisation of people with neuromuscular impairments. And I grew as it were, from that into non-exec roles on a sightly larger charity. So I chaired our Racial Equality Council here in Milton Keynes for a short period, and then I became chair of scope.
Alice Maynard: And all the while, running my business, which was largely at that juncture, consulting in the transport environment on inclusion issues. And so then after that, I decided that consulting on inclusion issues was not really… I didn’t find it particularly effective, so that’s when I decided to move much more into coaching leaders on how to be more inclusive. So that’s where my business is now positioned. And at the same time, I wanted to develop my portfolio of non-exec roles. So I have to say, that took me quite a long time, let’s say. It took me seven years to move from being widely sought after for unpaid non-exec roles to being able to snare a paid non-exec role, which fascinated me from an objective perspective. I would analyse the feedback that I got, and I found that I would be told all sorts of conflicting things by the many, many organisations to whom I applied. And in the end, I think it came down to an issue of risk, really, and the level of risk that people felt they would be taking if they took me on onto their boards.
Toby Mildon: What kind of risks do you think they were concerned about?
Alice Maynard: Well, one of the things that was an issue for women when women started trying to get onto boards and having a lot of difficulty in terms of improving the diversity in gender terms on boards, was that because women don’t look like men, which is possibly a fairly obvious thing to say, but there was a sense that, “They don’t look like us, so we’re not entirely sure whether or not they’ll be able to do the job. We know that people that look like us can do the job, but can people that don’t look like us do the job, too?” It’s a fairly simplistic way of summarising it, but I not only didn’t look like many of the board members that I came across in gender terms. I actually didn’t really… I’m quite small. I move in a slightly odd way.
Toby Mildon: [chuckle] Don’t we all? [chuckle]
Alice Maynard: Quite. And in fact, sometimes I don’t really move very much at all, because I don’t have a great deal of movement. So I think it’s one of those things where we tend to make decisions about people in all sorts of underlying ways that we don’t necessarily, I include myself in this, in all sorts of ways that we don’t necessarily recognise. And I think that’s all that was happening. It was just, “I don’t quite know… I don’t quite want to take that level of risk,” but that wasn’t a conscious thought on anyone’s part.
Toby Mildon: I was gonna say, are we talking about unconscious bias here? So when I teach unconscious bias, I use the NeuroLeadership Institute’s model, which is five different types of bias, and there’s similarity bias and there’s safety bias. And I’m wondering whether that’s what we’re talking about here. Similarity bias is that we’re drawn to people just like us, and we end up creating in-groups and out-groups. And then safety bias is that we would rather play it safe. Or do you think there’s an element of conscious bias as well?
Alice Maynard: I don’t know whether there’s an element of conscious bias. I had a really interesting experience at one point. I will not name the organisation, but I asked for feedback from the organisation when I was declined a board role by them. And by mistake, instead of sending me feedback, they sent me the entire suite of forms. You know the forms that everybody fills in when they’re busy interviewing you on a panel interview? They sent that entire suite of forms, which had been effectively edited as they had been talking about making the decision, and their scores had been marked down. So there came a point at which it was clear that one of them had said, “Well, yeah, but I think she’s a bit too sort of equality-biased.” So all of a sudden, after that, everybody’s scores started being marked down. It was a really fascinating experience. And although I was quite cross about it at the time, I just think there’s a whole piece about how we as we’re people on the other side of the table interview people for jobs, where we haven’t really quite [11:28] ____ how to do it particularly well.
Alice Maynard: So that was fascinating. But one of the things that quite often happens in the recruitment process is that when organisations first engage head hunters, they will talk about wanting a really diverse shortlist, not wanting to be in the same places they have been with the people on their boards, wanting a greater diversity, wanting to change the nature of the chair or whatever it is that the interview process is for. So they’ll talk about that, but the closer they get to the decision point, the more risk-averse they become. And I don’t know whether that’s unconscious bias around safety or similarity or whatever it is, but it is this sense of increasing, “Oh, but taking that step might… Oh, and if we do it this way, we know that works because we’ve done it before.” And I guess that safety thing probably is something to do with it. But I think it’s natural human sort of, “Do I actually take… Do I jump into the pool or not? Maybe I’ll sit on the side and watch them for a moment.”
Toby Mildon: Yeah, because right now, you’ve got some really great board positions, so you’ve got some really great credentials and organisations to your name. What are your current director roles?
Alice Maynard: So I’ve got three… Actually, technically, I’ve got four board positions. The three that people might have heard of are the Financial Conduct Authority, HMRC, and Child Support for London, all of which are great. They’re great organisations to work for. I really, really like working for all of them, actually. They’re good fun. Well, fun perhaps is not… No, they are good fun. I like my work. I really, really like my work. And it’s tough sometimes, but it’s still… Because I like it, I think it’s fun. I also am on the board of something called the Cross and Stable Charities, which nobody [14:00] ____ because it’s a very, very, very small charity, which gives grants just in my local area.
Toby Mildon: Right. Okay. That’s cool. Those are amazing organisations, all of them. So, when you’re… I suppose when your… Your work now is really about leadership and coaching and mentoring people, and I guess from your experience, that’s where you bring in that inclusivity to leadership. What are some of the things that you cover with your clients when it comes to good and inclusive leadership?
Alice Maynard: I think the key thing is understanding one’s self, and that’s kind of a lifetime’s work. I’m still working… I have coaching myself, because I think you can never end that process in a way. Gosh, that sounds terrible, doesn’t it? It sounds as if one’s in an eternal loop. I don’t have coaching constantly, but every now and again in my career, I think, “Actually, I just need to have another stop and think.”
Alice Maynard: So that self-awareness piece is really important. I think one of the other things is about a level of openness about behaviour. So, being prepared to let people tell you when you’re doing things that perhaps are not comfortable for them, that don’t include them, make them feel excluded, and being prepared to change in that sense. So it’s becoming aware of yourself, understanding how you impact on other people, and being prepared to change. And those three things are really important for leaders to become more inclusive, I think.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. Over the course of your career, have you come across somebody who you think is just an amazing, inclusive leader? You don’t have to give their name, but can you describe what they were like, how they operated?
Alice Maynard: I definitely had a couple in my early career, because at that juncture, as I’ve said, disabled people weren’t in work. So honestly, two of my managers, my first ever managers, were amazing people in that sense because they were inclusive. And one was my team leader when I was in my very first job. He was a team leader on the command and control system we were writing for Merseyside Police. I was a computer programmer. And he was… I only remember his name is Alan. I can’t remember what his surname was, but hello, if you’re out there, Alan. [chuckle] Thank you very much, because you really set me up. And the other guy was someone at my next job, which was… I worked for Lotus, who are not the toilet paper people or the [chuckle] [17:25] ____ people, but the software people. So the one, two, three people. And he was, again… It’s people who take things in their stride.
Alice Maynard: So if I can give you a little anecdote about Dave whose surname I don’t think I can remember, either… [chuckle] I can tell you he played the bassoon, in an orchestra. He and I went to Spain once. Early in my career with Lotus, he came up to me and said, “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t go to Spain, is there?” Now, bear in mind that my previous company hadn’t sent me to any client sites, and the only reason I could imagine was because they were slightly ashamed of employing a wheelchair user or afraid of me doing some health and safety thing or something. I don’t know. So to be asked if I was prepared to go to Spain was a bit kind of, “Ooh, that’s exciting.” And I sat there thinking, “I have no idea whether I can go to Spain or not, and manage and so on, but I’m gonna say yes.”
Alice Maynard: So off we went, he and I went together to launch one of the beta versions of the product. And when I got there, despite all the very best efforts of the secretary, the room that I was allocated was supposedly accessible but wasn’t. And the bathroom was the thing that wasn’t, and that’s a little on the tricky side [chuckle] when you’re on your own in a foreign country. And I eventually told my boss because I’m [19:09] ____ thinking, “I don’t know what to do about this,” but I kind of had to tell him, really. Anyway, he said, “Well, my bathroom’s a lot bigger than yours. So why don’t we swap rooms?” So I trot into his room, and it turns out that his bathroom would be perfect, but the doorway is too narrow. So he said, “That’s easy.” And he picked up the door, took it off its hinges, propped it up beside the bathroom, and we swapped rooms. Now that inclusion is inclusion in action. And it is great disability equality social model.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. It’s funny, isn’t it, how… Because I was thinking that some of my early managers were probably the most defining ones for me as well, because when I was 15 and 16, I was desperate to get a job. All my friends were doing paper rounds and stacking shelves. And I thought I couldn’t do those jobs myself but I could do an office job. And I grew up in the West Country in a little village, so there weren’t many businesses but I basically went around all of the businesses from the estate agents, the accountant, and asked for a job. And they all said no. And I felt really disheartened because I was desperate to work, and my first experience of trying to get a job, I was facing a lot of rejection.
Toby Mildon: But then I went into the local branch of Lloyds Bank and I went in to open up a bank account. And then I said, “While I’m here, I’d like a job, please.” [chuckle] So they said, “Okay, have a chat with the manager.” And the manager was lovely, and he was like, “Okay, it’s gonna be quite difficult to work in this branch, because it’s a very small village branch, and we don’t have a disabled toilet, for example, but the main town, which is only 10 minutes down the road, has a big branch,” and I could go and work in there during my school holidays. And I can’t remember his name, either. I think it was something like Dave, [chuckle] but I just think he was the most amazing manager because he recognised my disability. He could see it, he wasn’t ignoring it or seeing past it, but he could also see my potential, and he really set me up because I could put Lloyds Bank on my CV. So when I went for graduate jobs, I was already showing my prospective employers that I was able to work in a big company like Lloyds Bank.
Alice Maynard: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s people like that that make the difference for people like us, the people that go, “Well, yeah, sure you are disabled, but whatever. Let’s just work around it.”
Toby Mildon: Yeah, yeah. It’s amazing because I can count those managers on one hand. It’s like there was… My other manager was Mike, that’s his real name, Mike at British Airways, who was a fantastic manager. Again, I think he could see my potential, and we’re still in touch nowadays on LinkedIn. But having those jobs at Lloyds Bank and British Airways allowed me to then go on and do bigger jobs at Accenture and the BBC and places like that.
Alice Maynard: Yeah, yeah. And that’s how it works. But one of the things that I try to bear in mind is that despite the fact that I had to overcome phenomenal barriers to get where I got to, actually, I was one of the lucky ones. And there are many, many disabled people who don’t get jobs even now, who should do. There’s no reason why not. And that’s partly what drives me to want to work with leaders to help them to understand how to become more inclusive, because people often say they want to be, or they are already, or whatever. I would question they are already because I’m not sure I am completely. Not in every respect, I will have judgements that I make that are erroneous still, and I don’t anticipate even up to the rest of my life actually ever getting past that.
Alice Maynard: It’s a natural human characteristic to categorise. We have to. We have to know that this is a chair. It may not look like the next chair, but it’s definitely a chair, and it goes into the chair category. Otherwise, you don’t know where to park your backside. Obviously, it don’t mean much, but that’s why we kinda have to categorise. And as an ex-linguist, that was what I studied at university. I kind of understand that notion of sticking things in categories. And I just don’t think that we can overcome that, and actually, we probably wouldn’t want to. You couldn’t deal with the world if you didn’t have some kind of approach to sorting it, let’s say. But it’s understanding that we’re sorting it, and not sorting it on the wrong basis, that really is what I would love people to get to grips with.
Toby Mildon: Yeah, I suppose it’s about A, being aware that this happens in our human behaviour, particularly as a leader, being aware that this happens and what the impact is on the way that we lead, but it’s also having that growth mindset. You have a coach because you want to continuously develop yourself and you’ve got that growth mindset. And I think that’s a really important characteristic for leaders to have, to be open-minded, inquisitive, culturally intelligent, that kind of thing.
Alice Maynard: Yeah, absolutely. That growth mindset. Well, if you don’t have a growth mindset as a leader in some respect, your business will curl up and die actually. But it’s just about extending that growth mindset that you’ve naturally got anyway as a leader, is extending that into the people category, the inclusiveness category, if you like.
Toby Mildon: So this is, of course, The Inclusive Growth Show, and I’m interested in hearing what you think inclusive growth means.
Alice Maynard: So I think inclusive growth is a personal thing and an organisational thing and a societal thing. So I think for me, there are three levels. The most important one, I think, is the personal one, because if you don’t start there… They’re like three concentric circles, really, and if you don’t start with yourself, you’re not gonna get very far in any other sense, becoming more inclusive, but constantly working on that and constantly being curious. Like you say, being curious, being open to new things, being… Yes, supplying a level of judgment, but in a much more open kind of way.
Alice Maynard: And then the organisation… So once you started on that journey, and as [27:15] ____, there’s no end to the journey. So once you’ve started on the journey yourself and you’re a certain distance down that journey, then actually understanding… You will already, if you operate in that way as a leader, you will already be impacting your organisation and it will be becoming more curious, more inclusive. But then you can work on specifics in the organisation, around how do we accelerate that growth. So what do we need to do in the organisation? That means we accelerate that growth. What are the values that we need to cultivate in order to accelerate that growth? And actually, one of the things that’s quite, I think, really encouraging around particularly young people these days, is this kind of sense that actually, that’s not enough either. We need to make sure that the organisation is effectively impacting society in a positive, inclusive, growth-orientated, purposeful manner. For me, that is really exciting, the how do you end up with a society that has meaning and purpose and provides people with the capacity that they need, again, in turn, to be included and to become more inclusive themselves and to become more curious and to grow into that…
Toby Mildon: Yeah, I love those three concentric circles from the inside out, work on yourself as a leader, impact the organisation, and then impact society as a whole. And it probably comes full circle after that. [chuckle]
Alice Maynard: Yeah, absolutely.
Toby Mildon: Yeah. Before we go, if somebody wants to get hold of you and to talk to you about inclusive leadership, how do they do that?
Alice Maynard: So I have a website, which is www.futureinclusion.com. There is only one inclusion, lot’s of people misunderstand what I say and stick an “s” on the end of inclusion. Not quite sure what inclusions are, really. But anyway, it doesn’t have an “s” on the end of it. And my email for that is mail@futureinclusion.com, so please feel free to get in touch with me if you would like to.
Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So website, futureinclusion.com. Email address, mail@futureinclusion.com, and that’s how we can get hold of you. Alice, thank you ever so much for joining me on today’s episode. I’ve really enjoyed our conversation. And as soon as lockdown gets lifted, we need to go out for a cup of tea in Milton Keynes and…
Alice Maynard: Absolutely.
Toby Mildon: [chuckle] So until then… And thank you for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Alice today, and feel free to share it with your colleagues if you think they’re interested. And I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of The Inclusive Growth Show which is coming up shortly. Until then, take care and thanks very much.
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 mildon.co.uk.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *