With about 2,600 employees representing more than 50 nationalities in our offices across Europe, championing diversity in our workplace has always been a priority here at Elavon Europe.
Our work in 2020 has further solidified this.
For the first time, we have a Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) champion, Akita Somani, based in London, advocating for a truly diverse workforce and equal opportunities, and inclusive environment for all our employees across Europe.
Akita has experience working across cultures in regional and global roles, and understands the importance of ensuring employees feel included at all levels of the business. She also represents the voice of Black, Asian and minority ethnics (BAME) communities in our business.
“Having grown up in Nigeria and India, and worked across Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa, in regional and global roles, building awareness, access, engagement and inclusion is a constant goal and passion for me,” she says.
Akita took a leadership role in the launch of our Women of Europe Business Resource Group (BRG) in 2019, and is currently the President. Our employee-led BRGs are vital to the business, and focus on addressing areas where there are gaps – in this instance; it is advancing women in leadership positions, which is the stated objective, strongly backed by leadership commitments.
Since its launch in 2019, the Women of Europe BRG chapter has focused on skills development through live, interactive sessions with many experts globally, ranging from developing business acumen, financial skills, and broadening our horizons on the skills we need to learn to progress to leadership positions. We have also hosted many networking and celebratory events, starting with International Women’s Day in March. Most notably this year, we gave back to local communities through our virtual Women of Europe BRG Charity Walk covering 10,451 km across Europe. Employees who participated each walked an average of 30 km—the most engaging and fulfilling event this year.
“Business resource groups are a powerful, employee-led engagement tool to build inclusion in any corporate culture. But even more so, diversity and inclusion help drive innovation and growth," Akita says.
"Recent research by Accenture in the UK shows the power of culture in addressing inequality. In more inclusive cultures, all employees are more likely to thrive and advance.”
Other BRGs in Europe include our Development Network chapters and our recently launched Engagement Ireland initiative.
As a business, we’ve realised we need to be better at addressing diversity, equity and inclusion at a foundational level. We asked ourselves, how do we equip our managers and leaders with the tools to create an equitable and inclusive environment?
With this in mind, this year we’ve seen the successful rollout of several programs, one of them being our Cultural Awareness programme, which gave us an opportunity to focus on the culturally diverse populations that make up our European employee base, and discuss how we need to be aware and adapt our own behaviour in culturally diverse situations. The programme included looking at language, levels of risk, decision-making, and aspects of deeply rooted culture that may not be visible in the workplace. We are now focusing on how to cascade that training to all levels of the organisation, so we have a conscious model that supports collaboration across cultural differences.
We also expanded our Inclusive Leadership program to Europe for the first time: a virtual programme that equips leaders with the tools and insights to uncover the unconscious biases we all carry, be more self-aware, and find ways to work with and past these biases towards creating an equitable and inclusive environment across the talent journey: hiring, managing and retaining a diverse team and collaboratively achieving business outcomes.
In parallel, we introduced Courageous Conversations, which gives employees a safe, inclusive space to raise concerns, discuss their experiences and learn from each other. We kicked this off by posing live questions to an executive panel, prompting uncomfortable conversations about DEI issues relevant to our employee base and the communities we operate in.
“It is not enough to not discriminate against somebody on account of their background, be it race, gender, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or several other factors…it is important to move to the other end of the spectrum which is being an ally,” Akita says.
In one of the most challenging years the world will witness, most of us have experienced increased anxiety, challenges with work-life balance, and lack of social interactions. Hence, we have reinforced our Employee Assistance Program, to ensure our employees have access to the right support to manage their wellbeing at this difficult time.
Ultimately, we want to close the gap between people and opportunities.
Executive commitment and focused learning are crucial elements of this, as is driving engagement with all our employees, rather than introducing quotas.
It’s a journey to inclusion we are on together, and one that we’ve made considerable progress towards with all our collective efforts in 2020.
From our Vice Chair and co-executive sponsor of the Women’s Business Resource Group globally, Kate Quinn: “We have to remember that this effort and our development is a marathon, not a sprint. We all have to pace ourselves, keep an open mind and take risks, sometimes to uncover new opportunities we had never quite imagined for ourselves.”