2019-12-04 | Podcasts
Flexibility as an Advantage for Companies - Telegraph Media Group, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Asif Sadiq MBE

Flexibility as an Advantage for Companies - Telegraph Media Group, Head of Diversity & Inclusion, Asif Sadiq MBE

E9 S1 - Talk Roleshare Podcast

What is diversity? Race, gender, ethnicity, cultural heritage, people with disabilities, sexual orientation, etc. It’s also all the things we try to make time for on any day – our interests, passions, values, situations. All of which encompass the notion of the “authentic self.”  In this episode, we to talk about flexibility as an enabler of diversity and inclusion with Asif Sadiq, Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at the Telegraph Media Group.

Episode Transcript

Sophie Smallwood: Hey, this is Talk with Roleshare, I'm Sophie Smallwood, co-founder of Roleshare.com. What is diversity? Race, gender, ethnicity, cultural heritage, people with disabilities, sexual orientation. It's all of these and more. It's all the little and big things we try to make time for in any day. Our interests, passions, values, situations, all of which encompass the notion of the authentic self. On today's episode, we talk about flexibility as an enabler of diversity and inclusion with Asif Sadiq, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging at the Telegraph Media Group. Here is Asif.

Asif Sadiq: I currently head up diversity, inclusion and belonging at the Telegraph, something I'm really, really passionate about, especially the belonging piece. I think diversity and inclusion, a lot of people understand that people are different and inclusion is what we're really trying to achieve, get a mix of different to work together. But I think the real important thing or the thing that all of us should be focusing on is belonging. So that each and every person feels that they belong, they can be their authentic self and they can manage their life as one, rather than two separate segments.

Sophie Smallwood: So recently Asif, we connected on LinkedIn following an article that you shared around diversity and inclusion, and it was around the topic of flexibility for women and also for men. How do you think flexibility can drive that sense of belonging that you are really passionate about?

Asif Sadiq: So I think it's about understanding that the world we live in now, there is a lot of important things that matter to individuals and some of that is, of course, families, young families, might be parents, might be caring responsibilities for elderly family members. Or it might just be other things. People have lives outside of work. Now where we get this belonging and how it matters for both men and women when it comes to flexibility is the right to be able to still value the things that you do outside of the organization and to be able to bring that into the workplace and not feel that you're living two separate lives, but really that your work allows you to have that flexibility outside of work.

Sophie Smallwood: Asif, what is your vision of workforce diversity and leadership over the next five years? And what do you think it will take to actually get there?

Asif Sadiq: My vision is having diversity of thought, which is key. I think there's a lot of conversations currently around how we need to really bring in gender diversity, ethnic diversity, neurodiversity, and all the other elements of diversity. And I 100 percent agree with that. But I think what we need to really position is that we need people to have different lived experiences. And that comes automatically, of course, with that diversity, but somehow doing it in a way that we don't isolate the majority. And what I mean by the majority is that the majority within any workplace, which generally tends to be white men, and it's just acknowledging that actually they have diversity that they bring as well. And diversity is not about taking from one and giving to another. It's about allowing everyone to have a voice on that table. So my vision is that we reach that stage that actually we have the visual representation of diversity, but at the same time we have the majority expressing themselves and sharing their diversity or what makes them different as well, because that's when we truly start getting better solutions, the better productivity that we talk about in this space. Because actually diversity isn't just a nice thing to do anymore. It's a business imperative. The only time we will achieve that, is if everyone brings their true authentic self to work.

Sophie Smallwood: Really, what is diversity? Because is it your gender or is it your cultural background? It feels to me, yes, those are part of it. But my interests and the things I'm passionate about. Right, those are also part of diversity. And I look at my son, who is only two at the moment, and he is blond hair, blue-eyed, boy. You would think a bit of the majority, but actually he's a quarter Iranian. You would never know it looking at him.

Asif Sadiq: Exactly.

Sophie Smallwood: So I think diversity to me means so much more today than it meant when I was growing up. And I love what you're saying around authenticity and being your authentic self, because it's about everything that you are and everything that you bring.

Asif Sadiq: Then I guess just to touch on that point, it's also realising that what does that diversity now look like? And just the point that you mentioned, let's take a white South African. They visibly don't look different to the majority. However, they bring a real different experience or even let me take my own example. Right. So basically, I look South Asian, probably. However, my actual background is East African, I'm from Kenya. It's that diversity, that richness that we need to explore and understand rather than actually putting people into particular boxes that fit into what's been predefined by, unfortunately, some of the efforts that we've made in the diversity inclusion space. So if I go back 10 to 15 years, one of the biggest things or the focus was on trying to group people right, so that's women, that's people from ethnic minority backgrounds, that's people with disabilities, but actually, intersectionality, the difference that people bring is so rich now and people want to be valued for that individuality rather than which box does that person fit into?

Sophie Smallwood: Absolutely. And I think my husband could appreciate what you said. He was born in Zimbabwe, English and Scottish background. So a very fitting example you did earlier. And when it comes to full-time, work-life balance, how are you guys at the Telegraph looking to enable that for your employees?

Asif Sadiq: So I think the biggest thing for us is we've just launched a massive piece around Dynamic Working, which is all about flexible working, but we've actually called it Dynamic Working, which is quite intentional. And the reason behind that is we wanted people to understand that we understood that actually, if you say flexible working people still default into 'Oh, that's women coming back from maternity' as opposed to, well, actually, it's dynamic. It's a new way of working and it's something that all of us can embrace. So what we've done is we've ensured that people can work flexibly and we started off from the view that we will allow people to work flexibly, that's the starting point, that you work flexibly and that it's not something you necessarily request. And try to explain that flexible working is not just formal, flexible working, but it's informal, flexible working. But the starting point is, yes, we will work flexibly and that's what we want to try to achieve. And in fact, as I mentioned, we're launching all this next week. It's going to be a massive drive around, making everyone understand that every role that we have has the opportunity to work flexibly. People have the opportunity to work flexibly. Now, of course, with any organisation, with any company, there are limitations as to what flexibility looks like in different parts of any business. And we acknowledge that. But there's always room to have some flexibility.

Sophie Smallwood: So how do we get men to be on board with this? It's not that they're not necessarily on board, but how do we encourage them to own that right to flexibility?

Asif Sadiq: The biggest challenge we have is I don't necessarily think it's the men wanting to answer the flexibility, but it's the environment or the culture within any organization around who was given the permission to ask for that flexible working. Now, there's a recent piece of research which was done by Santander and Business in the community. It's called equalize. And it was around men and caring responsibilities. And one of the things they highlighted in the report, and I'm not 100 percent sure of the figures but it was somewhere in the top 60 percent of people they interviewed who were men who said if an organization didn't offer them the options to work flexibly, they would leave. So it shows that actually there's a willingness from individuals but I think the culture sometimes doesn't necessarily allow that. So if I take on the men I know who work in various organizations, can they really go up to the manager and say, 'Oh, I'd like to work flexibly'. Now, if their manager is female, it's probably a easier conversation. But if it's a man, it might be a more difficult conversation because it's still that psychologically understanding that it's fine. Right. You don't need an excuse to work flexibly. You can work flexibly for any reason. You don't even need to be a parent. So, of course, I speak from the perspective of a parent and I think every man should ask for it. But actually, if I'm running the marathon in seven weeks time and I want to work flexibly so I can prepare for the marathon, that's fine. And it's that understanding, it's that culture that we need to change. I think the problem is that there is a perception of what reasons are acceptable and what are not and then how to have the conversations. We need to train men better around how to be confident in asking for flexibility. Because I guess the biggest thing is unless men embrace flexibility or any other program, whether it's equal parental pay, flexible working or anything like that, unless men embrace it, there is great things there but they'll still have a negative impact on the careers of women within an organization. It's only when men start embracing flexible working, men start embracing equal parental leave, then that should be quite fair for everyone.

Sophie Smallwood: When I was on mat leave and I took a year with my son, I was ready actually to come back to work sooner. Being away raising a child for a year is actually quite an isolating experience, but I didn't want to come back in a full-time capacity.

Asif Sadiq: 100 percent agree that actually, we need to understand that women do want to come back, they do want to get involved back in work because it is quite difficult when you've been working for a large part of your life and really been working at 110 percent to then having to deal with kids, which is not an easy challenge from my own experiences. I find it very difficult because it's mentally a very different challenge and you want to get back into things. But it's having options and having options where if you do as you mentioned, if you want to come back part-time, you can, if you want a job share, you can. But at the same time, there should also be an option, if you want to come back full-time, hitting the ground running that should be there because I've worked for organizations in the past where people have come back or, women have come back from maternity and because people are trying to do the right thing, they're like 'don't worry, ease in, we'll give you that small project and you can work on that while you find your feet again'. And the problem with that is, yes it's a nice gesture. But actually, a year down the line when they want to go for promotion, they've not worked on a big project. So they're not getting promoted that year. So their career starts stalling in the long run. It depends on what someone's ambition is. But I'm a big believer that that choice should not be the organization's. It should be the individual's.

Sophie Smallwood: I met an individual recently who was very senior in an organization, had had incredible performance reviews, had been with the company over five years. A multi-national organization. Needed extra flexibility for personal reasons and put the ask forward. Unfortunately, the company declined the ask for flexibility and the individual decided to resign and leave the company. If you were to have coffee with this person, knowing what I told you now. Is there any advice you would have given the individual?

Asif Sadiq: Definitely. I think firstly it's very disappointing to hear that a company would not understand the value for the organization. Of course, you'd expect any organization to care for their staff and to understand that actually you want to get the best out of your staff. And if they're really high performing and really have been good for you. It's very hard to find good staff, so you'd want to retain them. But actually, looking at the fact that having potential job share arrangements creates opportunity for you as an organization, you're getting the best of two. Right. So you get an opportunity to have someone else support this individual. I say support someone else, do the same role, to getting two different people who bring different ideas, different innovation, the different ways of thinking which again contribute to more productivity for your organization. So I think it's how it's viewed and what I would definitely say to the individual, is that actually, it's the company that's lost not the individual and the company are the ones who need to understand the benefits of something like this. Now, it's very hard because the individual would have probably been in the position that they felt that the best way forward for them was to manage a certain amount of time. But I would have challenged the why and maybe presented a better case for the company because maybe they're not seeing broadly enough, widely enough to understand that actually it's not a favor you're asking them. It's of benefit to the organization itself.

Sophie Smallwood: So let me understand, you think that in order for someone to secure the flexibility that they want, as you said earlier, it's a choice, right? The best bet is for them to put together a strong business case with options that they can then present to the company.

Asif Sadiq: I don't think we need to do that. I think the companies need to change and understand the benefits that job share would present to them rather than the individual. But in this situation where the individual then ended up resigning and lost the job that they love doing. I'm a big believer that sometimes you have to push for change more than you actually should be because it's not you who should be pushing for it, it should be the organization. But I would assume that the person was very happy in the company, so in that sort of situation, I would encourage them to then actually change the company or teach the company because it might not just be supporting that individual. You might change the whole culture and then that might have a positive impact on others who want to work in the same way. However, I do wholly believe that the company should see it as a positive and not as a 'we now need to accommodate this'. It's not about accommodating. It works in the company's benefit.

Sophie Smallwood: We're edging into the topic of shared roles now. And let me ask you, give me the first word that comes to mind when I say shared role.

Asif Sadiq: Opportunity.

Sophie Smallwood: It's been around a long time. I'd say over 20 years in the corporate sector and teachers have been doing it. Government civil workers have been doing it for a while. But yet people, it seems to me, actually many people still have not heard of this concept of shared roles. And when they have heard of it, they kind of remember that moment that they first found out about it. Why do you think there is low awareness around this particular way of working flexibly?

Asif Sadiq: I think the lack of awareness is because it's largely due to the success of the roles or the people who are job sharing. I think that's a contributor. I mean, let me explain myself is that the level of service, the output from individuals who are job sharing is still so exceptional that no one has actually noticed the difference. It's not had that impact. So I think that in itself is a success story in some respects that so many people are job sharing, but people haven't really noticed or they don't even know sometimes. The other is we don't.

Sophie Smallwood: But just to clarify, you mean that sometimes people notice things that are bad, right?

Asif Sadiq: When they're not working, right? Yeah, and in this case, I know numerous individuals who job share and output productivity is amazing. And it's a normal thing in my head. And maybe I'm a bit biased because I work in this field, so for me, it's not a real positive, but I guess for others, it's just understanding that even in my previous organization, a number of individuals job shared. And you just knew that Monday, Tuesday one individual was working. Wednesday, Thursday it's the other and it was almost just the norm. But maybe it's about celebrating some of those successes a bit more. Maybe we raise awareness. So I guess it works well where it's working, but maybe we've not celebrated it enough or shouted about it enough so that people understand the benefits.

Sophie Smallwood: I agree. I think that there is almost an onus on the company, but also for people who do shared roles because people who share roles love it, typically the ones that I've talked to. I'm sure that as with anything, there's the good and the bad, but the people I've spoken with really love it. And so it's almost their responsibility to try and advocate and to be ambassadors. But then also for companies, as you say, to highlight those stories and to give them almost a platform and by giving them visibility, it might actually make other individuals feel like they can do it, right. They have permission because a lot of the individuals I've spoken with in the interviews over the past few weeks, as you have mentioned, that actually they do offer it contractually, but it's not something that is proactively promoted. So I think it's a cultural thing, right. Some companies might be much more open to proactively promoting it. Others it might be much more of a reactive accommodation.

Asif Sadiq: I agree. I agree 100 percent. I think it depends on the company and some companies are a bit more advanced on that journey from the beginning. But it is definitely something that should be talked about a lot more and celebrated.

Sophie Smallwood: So, you know, personally, a number of job shares. You've worked with companies where you interacted with individuals who shared roles. What do you think is the social impact and the benefit of individuals who share roles? And I like to think of it as a micro-team. Really?

Asif Sadiq: Definitely, so the benefits I see from individuals who I've worked with, they are happier. I've never heard any one of them complaining about managing work-life balance and other things that they might be involved in, it was really positive and that's great to see. But more than that, I've seen it gelling together so well to where ideas are being shared and you just sometimes need a third opinion. And it's there, you've got this great opportunity to the best of two really exceptional people. And it's so refreshing just to have that sometimes.

Sophie Smallwood: Absolutely. And I spoke with a micro-team, a role share team recently, a large tech company, and one of them was actually on mat leave at the moment. The other one was carrying through the role on a still part-time basis. But what I found amazing was that even though one of them was on mat leave, they had already worked together for about two years in the role share capacity, the other one to carry the torch and the one that was coming back from mat leave was feeling really comfortable knowing that she's coming back into a warm place, the person that she knows. Right. And I thought that that's a really fantastic experience for a returner post-mat leave.

Asif Sadiq: Definitely. I'm actually just just as you mentioned, but I've seen numerous times where someone's gone on mat leave and someone's covered them for a year, mat cover and they really got into the job, started understanding it and then that hand over back sometimes is really quite challenging or they really seem to stay on. And actually maybe it's at that point that there is that conversation or the opportunity if people do want to work part-time.

Sophie Smallwood: Does the Telegraph Today offer shared roles?

Asif Sadiq: We do offer shared roles, and it's something we were campaigning across our business. So we believe that there's no role that we have that can't be shared. And it's the same with, as I mentioned, with flexible working. So it's the same view that we've taken on shared roles.

Sophie Smallwood: So what are the challenges that you see? With micro-teaming and or shared roles?

Asif Sadiq: I don't necessarily see any of these as challenges. I see them as opportunities. It's the same as diversity. Right. Everyone always asks me if diverse teams are more difficult, gelled together initially, which is true, it's not a lie because it's disrupting the norm. However, once diverse teams have gelled together, the output is much greater. And I look at shared roles in exactly the same way. There are some initial, I wouldn't say difficulties, but certain things that you have to iron out and make sure that they work nicely. And once you've got that, you've managed to really create that great working environment for both individuals where they've got a good pattern going, then actually the output is much greater. So I really do see it as in the same way I view other elements of diversity.

Sophie Smallwood: What would you say to companies that have never tried shared roles to encourage them to look into it more and to proactively pilot it inside of their companies?

Asif Sadiq: If I can just begin to build on my previous example, if you look at anything new, anything different might seem like a challenge initially. However, the output is definitely much better. I would say I would encourage companies to look at it because it produces great output, better results. But more than that, actually, it's about retention, the amount of money companies spend, and it's not just about money, but actually a lot of companies does fall down to costs around numerous things. So the amount of money companies end up spending on recruiting staff, I would rather retain a staff member. A good staff member, than have to recruit another one or try to find someone to replace them. So by offering flexible opportunities or shared roles, you're retaining staff, retaining talent, retaining knowledge, expertise, and you get value.

Sophie Smallwood: Touching on the cost factor. So I can completely understand that if you're able to find a match inside of your company. Right, if you're lucky enough to be able to have complementary skills for a role inside of the company already and timing works out, they both want that arrangement. But what about the case where you have an individual where you have to recruit externally, which I know happens. So what's the value there for a company? Because you still have the costs incurred with recruiting, right?

Asif Sadiq: Yeah, you do. But the way I see it is, you're still retaining that great talent that you have because no one really wants to lose someone who is performing well, who's doing really well. And actually, yes there's a cost, but it's an opportunity at the same time. So you're retaining talent, knowledge, experience, and you're bringing in a different way of thinking, outside knowledge. It's always getting best of both worlds. Right. And I guess it's that understanding. And actually, to recruit, we all know that attrition is a huge cost. And as much talent as you can retain, which is good talent, it's a great thing to retain them, to develop them, because not only is it the cost of retaining someone, it's then the cost of training them, bringing them up to scratch and so on. But if you're retaining your core talent but then adding new ways of thinking, new ideas, different experiences onto that through someone external, it's still financially, a benefit.

Sophie Smallwood: How would you advise someone in a company who would like to pitch this idea of a shared role to their manager, to H.R.?

Asif Sadiq: I would say to the individual, understand that it's not you asking for a favor. It's like you would position a promotion when you wanted one, or a course that you want to do. It's understanding that there is some benefit to of course you but the company as well. And that's really, really important. It's not just something that you would really appreciate, but to make the company see that actually, they get a lot out of it. I think the other thing which I believe is really important, especially when we look at shared roles, flexible working, and so on, is understanding some of the diversity within diversity. So what I'm trying to say is to understand that it benefits your diverse workforce, people from different communities might have different needs, different caring responsibilities. And it's just understanding that it will have such a positive impact on so many groups within your company. It will touch on people with maybe caring needs, touch on people who might have elderly parents, from different communities, it will touch on people who might have a disability. It's such a positive across so many different spectrums.

Sophie Smallwood: I think another thing on the diversity front for individuals in particular in a shared role capacity, is that it actually helps drive diversity appreciation because the person that you're sharing your role with might not necessarily be a person that you would, on a typical day, go grab a coffee with and you're almost literally walking in the shoes of another person. Right? So that helps drive additional diversity appreciation and empathy. One of the biggest problems around diversity, inclusion and flexibility, equal opportunity for flexibility is perception and judgment. Right. So there seems to be a perception that if someone is working part-time or not in a full-time capacity, that they're perhaps less ambitious. I would argue that individuals who ask to share a role in particular are probably quite ambitious, actually, in that they want to continue to grow in their career, to want to sustain the role that they're in. They want to continue to have high impact, but they still want to have a balanced life. How would you tackle that, that perception of less ambition because someone needs flexibility?

Asif Sadiq: So I think that's around the education piece. It's really for people to understand that working full-time doesn't mean necessarily that you're more ambitious than someone who works part-time or job shares. It is similar to flexible working, you look at flexible working, whether you work from home, the office, the coffee shop, you can work from wherever. Actually, there's a lot of research that suggests when people work from home, they are more productive because there's a real sense that we must do more and really be productive in work. People feel that they have to overcompensate when they're working. But the fact is that people are more productive and it's exactly the same thing going to that example of flexible working. You can have people sitting in the office all day and they're not actually working, but it's just presenteeism, they're just in front of you. So that flexible working is an example of where productivity is actually increased when someone's working from home, the same when it comes to part-time working or job sharing. It's the mindset, we need to change our thinking and individuals need to be, I want to use the phrase educated, to understand that actually ambition doesn't equal 40 hours a week or actually in some cases much more than 40.

Sophie Smallwood: If you could snap your fingers and fix the biggest problem you face toward reaching your goal in your role as Head of Diversity and Inclusion at the Telegraph, what would that problem be?

Asif Sadiq: I don't necessarily see my area of work as being a problem, and I think that would be my biggest thing is people understanding that diversity is not a problem. It's actually the solution, the solution to numerous challenges, whether it's commercial, whether it's H.R. related, whatever part of our business. Understanding that actually diversity touches everything. Diversity equals better performance, more productivity, more revenue generation, better results. And actually, yes, it's about people, but it's now about a lot more than people as well. So for me, the success would be that it's viewed in that way across not just our business, but across society, that people see diversity as being a business imperative. A lot of people talk about unconscious bias. And one of the things I always do when I talk about unconscious bias is the consequences of bias. But actually unconscious bias has a cost attached to it, our unconscious bias where someone doesn't get promoted at work because of our bias, we might think, yeah there is bias and they didn't get promoted but it ends there. But actually, that person will go speak to others. That will damage the brand reputation, that person might potentially leave your organization, might actually take it to tribunal. There is all these add-on things which will cost you money.

Sophie Smallwood: And that was Asif Sadiq, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and belonging at the Telegraph Media Group. Remember this acronym. WIIFT, what's in it for them? If you want to change something, talk about what's in it for the people you need on your side, benefits to the business, benefits to them as individuals and perhaps change the term flexibility to sustainability. Sustainability holds more perceived value than flexibility. Thanks for listening and join us for the next episode of Talk with Roleshare.

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