Mildon Diversity and Inclusion Consultancy

Ep. 35: Content Builds Community with d&i Leaders

S?: Welcome to The Inclusive Growth Show with Toby Mildon. Future-proofing your business by creating a diverse workplace.


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Toby Mildon: Hello there, thank you ever so much for tuning into this episode of The Inclusive Growth Show. I’m Toby Mildon and today I’m joined by Mark Baker. So, I met Mark a couple of years ago when I was leaving a job in the city as a D&I leader to set up my own diversity and inclusion consultancy. And I think Mark and I connected on LinkedIn to begin with because I found out that he was organizing a conference for diversity and inclusion leaders and practitioners. And if memory serves me right, I think I was trying to bag a free ticket out of him, but we met up and we got on well and we’ve kept in touch because actually we were at similar points in our entrepreneurial journey. So, I thought it’d be really good to get Mark along to this episode of the show because we’re a couple of years now into running both of our businesses and over the last couple of years, we’ve kept in touch. I’ve spoken at a couple of his conferences and been involved in training that he organizes. So, I thought it’d be a good opportunity to catch up. So, hey Mark, welcome to the show.


Mark Baker: Hello, Toby. Hi, good morning and thanks for the lovely introduction.


Toby Mildon: Lovely to see you.


Mark Baker: Yeah, great to see you as well. I guess two years. It is two years, I think it’s two years, probably almost to the day since we met. [chuckle]


Toby Mildon: It is, it is. Time flies. Time flies, ’cause I left my job in the city just before Christmas 2018. Yeah, 2018.


Mark Baker: Yeah.


Toby Mildon: I had to do maths really quickly then, and we’re just coming up to Christmas 2020 when we’re recording this episode.


Mark Baker: Yeah.


Toby Mildon: So, yeah, almost two years. So, Mark, why did you set up d&I Leaders?

 
Mark Baker: Gosh, a good question and I’ll try and answer it as quick as possible. I guess there was a lot of things happening in my life and my career. I’d reached that… It sounds so old saying it, but 40, wow, the big 4-0, which is not old but there was a lot of things. I was in a very comfortable job, I’d actually had a very successful career, 20 years in events, events research. And something inside me just wanted to disrupt myself and it was… It dawned on me really that I would hope to work for another 20 plus years and I felt my fire, my energy had gone down, and that’s no disrespect to my previous employer, I was very… Had the freedom to set up a whole business there for several years, set up a big events team, had worked my way to the board there, but there was some fire. I had got disconnected from what I did, the events. Ultimately, I’m a events professional, I connect people and I was more about the strategy than people, and something… There was a hunger to get back to basics. But then also at the same time, there was that reflection in my personal life. I think our son had lived with us for three years, that we’d adopted, two, three years by then.


Mark Baker: My mum had moved down from rural Wales where I’m from. And so, I’d been commuting an hour, horrendous drive actually to the country, and I really wanted to be closer to them. I wanted to be… There was a need to be physically near family and to get back to basics with events really. I was questioning why it was all being… Had become about the money and it was less about why, what an event is, why do we run events, who are they for, what’s the purpose, what happens when the event finishes. So, I was longing to get reconnect really and build something that I was personally connected to but would also offer me the chance to be closer to family and friends and build something the way I wanted to do rather than always going to work for somebody else. So, sorry over the answer there but it’s kind of all of that. And I guess the connection with D&I was, we’d done something else where we’d taken events around sustainability for sustainability professionals and really ripped up the rulebook and gone back to basics with the team, and I was part of that project at my last company and had started to see that if you… You don’t have to do things the same way, you can build a community and be part of that community, not just serving, offering events.


Mark Baker: So, we’d done something there that had really excited me, and I thought I would like to do that different. And I originally thought that it would be looking at inclusion, looking at more board governance, taking on board experience. But the researcher in me, as soon as I locked myself away for a couple of months to sort of explore corporate governance, I started to get drawn much more to the inclusion people element of the board role, and by accident came across the D&I role or that area of business. So, I instantly gravitated to that and thought, “Right, let’s go with that. I know how to run an event, run an event, on that topic, and let’s just see where that goes,” and two years later, it’s become something more than I kind of ever expected.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, I mean it’s like you said, you’ve ripped up the rulebook for events, and if anyone’s been to your events and conferences, they are pretty special, in my opinion.


Mark Baker: Oh, thank you, thank you.


Toby Mildon: I’ve been there, I’ve been a few times as a participant and I’ve spoken for you a couple of times, and I’ve been involved in some of your latest initiatives, which is more kind of training rather than conferencing type stuff. But when you set up d&I Leaders, what was important to you, what were some of the important principles that you wanted to put in place?

 
Mark Baker: Yeah, I mean I… Yeah, I had this idea of the events, an events-based business that I wanted to build but I also needed it to be commercial, I needed it to pay my wages, support my family and hopefully support other people’s income as well. So, I really needed to look at what I wanted to do, do for good, but also, I think you can only do… The freedom to do good is often when you have to underpin it with a sound commercial offer allows you that freedom to do, so yeah, when I set it up, I really wanted to… I think I mentioned my research background, so I wanted to build d&I Leaders. I wanted to base it on research with practitioners, so I really wanted to put content first, that was my main thing. So, it sounds obvious, but many events are built on sponsor commercial money first, and then you organize an event once you’ve got that money in, so I wanted to stand on our own two feet and people would pay for tickets to come to our events based on the content. If we had sponsors, that would be secondary, and that’s how I’ve still continued to do it, which for a lot of people doesn’t make great commercial sense, maybe I’m missing out there, but that’s the approach we take.


Mark Baker: And then we work, then we find a few sponsors who we work with, but it takes a lot more time to do that, but I think it’s worth it. I also wanted to make sure that when I focused on diversity, I didn’t just talk about diversity, that we did give a platform to diverse voices. Again, an obvious one, but in many industries I’ve worked at, in… It’s quite often, it’ll be senior white middle class males that will be dominant. When I came to this sector and looking at the HR D&I profession in the UK, I found that a lot of the people in those roles would be white women, and it didn’t chime… Nothing wrong with that, but how are we gonna reflect the voices that we’re talking about if we’re talking about social mobility, ethnicity, disability, so it’s… I really wanted to just stop and every time I put a program together, really stop and look and think, “Can we ensure that we have a diverse representation in the programs? And then the other element was this free element, so whilst we’re doing all of this work on our conferences, they couldn’t just be these conferences happening behind closed doors that people had to pay to go to, so… Quickly, what I did, I always made membership free, and that’s what we wanted to do from the start, and then gradually we’ve built up a bank of more and more free content.


Mark Baker: So initially all the reports from our events, real practical reports, I worked with a local journalist Joe Faragher, who’s really helped work with me on that, so we can offer that out, and that’s something we’ll continue to do. And then other elements you mentioned… I wanted to take bits… Our events have a carbon impact, so making sure we offset carbon, we look at the sustainability of our events, working with local food producers, for example, with the venue, and now working with my clear text across all of our events, offering subtitles as well, and then looking to support charities as well, where we can.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, and one of the other things I like about your conferences is that they are for diversity and inclusion practitioners, with diversity and inclusion practitioners. Because so many events bring in outside consultants, but I suppose the experience of being an in-house diversity and inclusion practitioner is very different to being outside counsel, and so the people that are on your stage are the people that work in businesses and are delivering on diversity as part of their job, and then sharing their experiences and knowledge with the audience…


Mark Baker: Being quite… When I started looking at this area, and we’ll come on to that, it’s such a huge, enormous area, D&I, and we use all these acronyms to cover what is essentially that all of us, and it’s all the different facets of us. So huge, so varied, so I really, when I started putting the events together, I easily got side-tracked, and you think, “How am I gonna do justice to all of these areas?” But I actually thought, “No, I need to know who I’m offering this to,” and a lot of the events I was looking at were very broad and didn’t cut to the chase of how you’re gonna make this difference in a working environment, so I quickly, for my own sanity, really, decided that I would focus on the D&I practitioner, and that could be HR recruitment talent, but someone who was making sure that their own workplace was inclusive in their policy and practice, and talk to them and feature them. So yeah, you’re right, we tend to have mainly in-house D&I practitioners talking, sharing what they’re learning and that’s… Yeah, I think that’s probably our USP, is that I’ve stuck true to that.


Mark Baker: And I have to do… Quite often, I have to tell myself that, to keep the programs narrow, so it’s like, “Who’s the audience here? And what are we trying to achieve?” So yeah, but I do… We bring in outside voices as well, but like yourself, Toby, and there’s lots of other people we’ve worked with, I tend to find they’ve either had… They’ve got good, solid business experience, and that’s what they’re bringing people, business experience that they can talk about.


Toby Mildon: Brilliant. So, what have you personally done about diversity and inclusion since you’ve created the d&I Leaders events and conferences?

 
Mark Baker: Yeah, I guess, well, as I’ve said, I’ve really tried to offer a platform. I’ve really stopped, myself I’ve spoken to lots of people, so I’ve tried to widen my circle of people that I talk to put myself out there and talk to many people. So that’s what I spend most of my days doing, is talking to people, I try and book as many calls as possible. So I really listen, and I think that’s all you can do, is educate and listen. So, I’m not a huge reader of books, my attention span is not that great, so I do get lost online, on LinkedIn, you’ll see I’m living on there, talking to people, obviously that’s a narrow audience. I’ve spent hours online reading, watching TED Talks, videos, other things to increase my knowledge. And then… And I’m starting now, we’ve mentioned there that I’m working with charities, NGOs, and I’m personally taking a role in that. I’ve been working with the Aleto Foundation for the last year as a mentor through that program this summer, which identifies and brings together young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in business, so that’s been a real great experience and something that I’m gonna continue to do.


Toby Mildon: Yeah. That’s really cool, that’s cool. So, Mark, we’re recording this conversation, just at the end of November. We’re in the pandemic, and I’m just wondering how you’ve adapted your organisation, really, because the events industry has probably been one of the hardest hit industries throughout the pandemic in 2020. Events have been canceled, people are going out of business, but you’re doing really well and you’re thriving as an organisation. So what have you done to adapt and continue doing what you’re doing?

 
Mark Baker: Yes, thanks, Toby. Yeah, it was a huge… Everyone is impacted differently, and it wasn’t anyone, it hasn’t impacted this crisis, but we were going along nicely, very busy, we had a whole plan of another 10 events, running work shops, all these other things, and it just stopped… The LGBT at work event was the last event to sort of happen, and we were already having to the night before the venue canvassing, saying we needed to canvas attendees exactly where… They had to sign a declaration where they travelled recently. It was really a case of… But this is happening now, and I could see the tsunami coming from overseas. People I knew running overseas, Asia events, I could see that this was coming, so we looked at our events, we obviously cancelled those events, and then we just stopped and breathe. So there’s a lot of admin involved in cancelling events, communicating that to people, making sure, and then just really taking stock, and thinking, where do events… Events isn’t the most important thing that’s happening right now. There’s bigger things happening. What are our audience doing, thinking? We just went quiet for about a month, not behind the scenes, but we just stopped and we put out a survey for d&I practitioners and that threw up a wealth of information.


Mark Baker: It was original to share, d&I practitioners could share how they’ve been supporting their employees, with what was happening, the working from home, to share good practice. But it really showed up. We asked a question there about the well-being of d&I practitioners, and what was shared with us was really overwhelming. It was very personal, it wasn’t information we could share, but it was people really saying how they were struggling personally with what was happening and in the role that they were forming in their business, how they were really struggling. We stopped and thought, “What’s our role in all of this? What is d&I Leaders now?” We’re not a physical events, what do we do? We’d been producing some news, we’d been doing, I mentioned, some reports, but it really forced us to pivot online, and we did that through the short online conversations that we’ve been running these 40 minutes. I stopped and thought, “Everybody’s really busy right now, what would I stop for?” And it would be something short, interesting, and I could listen to on the go.


Mark Baker: And that’s what we did, so I started putting those together in May, we were on five in May, and that’s been most of the summer. We’ve ran 18 of those now covering all sorts of things. Looking at [0:16:35.8] ____ neurotivists, you’re looking at intersections of colour, LGBT, colour in class, we’ve been looking at neurodiversity, we’ve got stuff coming up around psychological safety. So that’s what we became really, was this… I’ve built an almost studio here in the office and at home, and we’ve been continuing conversations online and it’s me and it’s really meant that we’ve managed to widen our audience globally, which we’d never been able to do before. It’s been an interesting time, but it’s been a time of reflection on what the purpose of d&I Leaders is. It’s forced me, personally, and the team to get to grips with technology that we haven’t had to before, so it’s been a huge learning curve, which we have enjoyed. And look at how we offer events online going forward, so it’s been an interesting time, but we will be coming out stronger, and d&I Leaders is much stronger for them.


Toby Mildon: Absolutely, and where is d&I Leaders going in the future? What have you got in store?

 
Mark Baker: Yes, well, to build out more free content, we’ve got a huge resource bank now. We’ve always said membership was free, but it’s now opening that up to more people. We’re building out more news stories, we’ve got more survey, another survey coming out, benchmarking survey for d&I Leaders, and I have been looking at ways to facilitate… My next step is looking at how we can share information between members, it’s really clear at a lot of our events, people have policies, documents, other things that they are happy to open up to other businesses to share, so it’s what can we do to share that information and that learning. So I’m looking at that. You mentioned training, which we’ve ran with yourself, Fiona Daniel and Gamelia Phi, so again, looking at the skills of the D&I professional and what role can we play in professional development, maybe people who have just moved into the role or are thinking of moving into the role. So we’re doing quite a bit around professional development, but really, I’d just invite people to tell me what they want from d&I Leaders. I wanna listen, and that’s what we constantly evolve d&I Leaders, there isn’t an end goal to all of this, it’s ultimately to do what we can do, what people want. So yeah, tell me what they want for d&I Leaders, and I will try to do that.


Toby Mildon: This is, of course, The Inclusive Growth Show and I’m intrigued to find out what inclusive growth means for you.


Mark Baker: Yes, you managed to drop in your book there, didn’t you? There we go. I see how you done that but… [chuckle]


Toby Mildon: I always manage to do that.


[laughter]


Mark Baker: But yeah, inclusive growth. Well, for me, it means… Inclusive growth is where everybody is lifted up, so no one is left behind, but appreciating that we’re all different, that some people may need more support to get there than others, so to me, that’s what it means.


Toby Mildon: That’s brilliant. And if the person listening to our conversation today wants to learn more about d&I Leaders, perhaps they wanna become a member of your online community, how would they go about doing that?

 
Mark Baker: Yeah, just… Well, just go to our website. I’m hoping that information will all be there very clear, but go to www.dileaders.com, and if they just click on the membership tab at the top, they can sign up, it’s just a few fields. They’ll then get access to all of our reports, all our on-demand presentations, recordings. And yeah, they’ll also then start getting our newsletter, which we send out monthly. And they’ll also be able to interact with us online, on LinkedIn. So yeah, sign up there, it’s really simple and they’ll be part of the community in seconds.


Toby Mildon: Yeah, it’s really worth it. This is a brilliant community to be part of and there’s a wealth of information that will help anyone in their diversity and inclusion job. Mark, thank you ever so much for joining me. You and I should probably arrange to have a podcast conversation every couple of years just to kind of see how our businesses have developed. I think they’re… [chuckle] Your business and my business, they’re cousins, similar ages. Thanks so much for joining me today, and thank you for tuning in and listening to Mark and I having a chat about diversity and inclusion and really the importance of sharing knowledge and information about diversity and inclusion so that we can lift other people up and also help us sharpen our skills as diversity and inclusion practitioners or HR leaders, so thanks very so much for tuning in and listening. And of course, there is another episode of The Inclusive Growth Show that will be coming out very shortly on all of the popular podcast platforms. Thank you very much, and I’ll see you soon.


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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