Case study: Diversity, communication and business impact at BT

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BT has been encouraging diversity for over 20 years. This feature explores some of the initiatives that BT has implemented.

"Our big button telephone - that was designed for people with arthritis, but it's now one of our most popular models".

Dave Wilson, Head of People Networks at BT, uses this as a very practical example of his company's 'effortless inclusion' policy - creating products and services that reflect different communities. He also cites the Asian language call centre based in Leicester created and staffed by existing employees, and the introduction and acceptance of teleworking (8000 people and rising) which has significantly increased the company's ability to recruit the best person for each job, rather than the most convenient.

BT employs over 100,000 people and has been an acknowledged leader in encouraging diversity for over 20 years. The company recognised that changes in UK society and in its customer base meant that changes were also needed to the company's 'white, male and able-bodied' products, services and workforce in order to achieve business survival and success. A core business competence - that of 'Valuing Difference' - was introduced as a result and taking advantage of diversity has been important to the company ever since.

Dave Wilson says BT considers diversity holistically, as a business and a social issue. An example is its HR policy around employees' children. 'We're committed to developing the best people. We think of parents, not just mothers for example", says Wilson. As an example of this, the company offers 2 weeks' paid paternity leave and support with childcare, as well as maternity benefits. 98% of new mothers now return after maternity leave, saving significant recruitment and training costs.

Internal and external communication remains at the core of the process. A wide range of information is made available on contentious issues, and all employees can e-mail Dave Wilson (or Chief Executive Ben Verwaayen) and ask further, at times challenging, questions about policies and achievements. Groups such as the Women's Network (now complemented by the new Women's Executive Network) offer mentoring, training and support.

In terms of informing the wider community, BT also aims to be highly transparent. As an example, the (corporate website ) is very open about the ethnic and gender split of the company, and admits openly to the (rapidly declining) number of discrimination-related cases of litigation.

The results of BT's work? By any standards, the company has performed well. The company demographics now closely resemble the demographics of the UK, and promotions are now demonstrably equally likely for each gender. Of the new 2003 graduate intake, 4% declared a disability and 29% were from an ethnic minority. Through these changes, BT believes that it has kept up with the needs of its employees and customers - enabling it last year to make a profit of over £3 billion.

The business opportunities of diversity are still there for BT. Dave Wilson points out for example, "by 2010, 20% of school leavers will be from an ethnic minority - businesses need to be aware of this. If they take this opportunity, businesses will be able to recruit from the biggest pool of talented people, sell more, and make more profit".

Dave Wilson, Head of People Networks at BT, will be speaking at Diversity Day on 4th December 2003. For more information visit www.diversityday.info.

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