Department for Transport: Achieving inclusive leadership in times of change

In this Q&A session, we hear from Mike Hickman, Diversity & Inclusion Lead at the Department for Transport (DfT), on what being an inclusive leader really means. As a Disability Confident Leader on the Disability Confident Scheme, Mike fills us in on the insight DfT have gained when it comes to creating an inclusive culture for employees with disabilities. We were also be joined by Mike in a webinar, to explore this topic further.

Title 'Achieving inclusive leadership in times of change' with a profile photo of author Mike Hickman

1. What does being an Inclusive Leader mean to you?

Being an inclusive leader to me speaks about being able to access the benefits that diversity can bring. Being open to different opinions, understanding that someone’s culture might be different and what implication that might have.

The qualities that come with this are the ability to listen and acknowledge other opinions, to communicate your justification to increase understanding, and an open mindedness that leads to constant learning from a variety of sources.

From the perspective of the Department for Transport, transport affects every person in the country, so ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard when making decisions is, rather simply, the right thing to do.

2. What are the first steps you feel organisations should take to create an inclusive culture where employees feel accepted and secure? 

For me, the first stage is data. This means gathering data in relation to your D&I strategies, such as statistics about the make-up of your organisation, to discover where you are in terms of your objectives and how far you have to go. It’s also about being transparent with that information. While doing this, work with your current staff, whether through working groups and/or networks, to better understand your employee’s perceptions and how they view the company culture. We’ve been conducting ‘culture enquiries’, ‘pulse surveys’ and ‘people’s surveys’ to get indications on these factors. 

3. Are there any equality initiatives that can help companies get started? Has your organisation seen any direct successes from any?

Being new to the role in DfT, we haven’t had the chance to see if our initiatives have had measurable successes yet. However, we like to start with the end in mind and ask questions. What does the ideal situation look like? What does the current situation look like? Who are we involving in these conversations? How can we involve a wider range of people in the conversation?

For instance, our senior committees are not representative. While there is certainly a desire to change that, it won’t happen overnight. So, to tackle this, we are setting up a Shadow Committee with the Chair to have a permanent seat at our Executive Committee and a diverse range of people to regularly attend our People Committee. This is something that we’re replicating across a number of boards throughout the Department. This inclusion is the first step in giving people a voice in the room…it always reminds me of Hamilton and the song “The Room Where It Happens”.

4. Being on the Disability Confident Scheme, can you tell us a bit about the differences the scheme has made to your business? 

The Disability Confident Scheme means that we are part of a very select group of ‘Leader’ level employers in the UK, and to get to this point, we have put in a lot of work to ensure that this standard doesn’t slip, but continues to improve. We are not saying that we have everything right, but we continue to move in the right direction.

The difference this scheme has made to us as an employer is that we can attract employees from a wider talent pool because potential candidates are confident in our treatment of disabled people. They can see this from the very first interaction where we utilise the scheme to give disabled applicants interviews when they meet the minimum criteria for the job.

5. In the space of diversity and inclusion, what are the next steps for your business? 

We are in such a fortunate position, following such a horrendous atrocity, that we can address a lot of the issues around race, and in particular, being black. There is a lot of learning and societal change that needs to take place to see improvements here, but we are on the right course now and swimming with the current. While this work is going on and is undeniably important, it does not mean we have de-prioritised the other work going on around under-representation, and in fact are leveraging the desire for change to make things better for everyone.

The one thing we have noted with our access to better data is that during recruitment, despite a positive number of disabled and BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) applicants reaching the interview stage, we see a drop in success following the interview process. With this in mind, we are developing a programme which will look to tackle this, whilst also continuing to work on building better processes and a more inclusive culture.

6. Why should organisations make disability a priority in their D&I strategy? 

Making changes that enhance systems and allow for more inclusive practices improves the situation for everyone. Disability is such a broad term that encompasses so many people, some that don’t even know they fall into the field. Creating inclusive environments where all people with disabilities feel welcome, where people are disability aware and confident to deliver their best work will only go to improve the support we give to our staff and the service we provide the nation.

Hear more from Mike in our Disability Inclusion series. Or, contact our friendly team for more information, and to explore how our technology can help you support a diverse workforce.

About the author

Mike joined the Department for Transport just a few months ago in the midst of COVID-19 and lockdown measures.  In just a few months, Mike has supported the Department through Black Lives Matter and the subsequent release of their Race Action Plan. He has influenced recruitment practices to ensure inclusivity and continues to support existing staff in their working day at the Department.

Before joining the Department for Transport, Mike worked for Surrey Police for 10 years - serving as a Police Officer and moving up the ranks to Detective Sergeant in the Criminal Investigations Department where he received a Commendation.    

Profile photo of Mike Hickman