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Diversity and inclusion: Winston Ben Clements on breaking down barriers

How do you inspire people to unleash their full potential? This is one of the questions we put to Winston Ben Clements, specialist and advisor on inclusion and culture to global organisations at Positive Spin International. Here, he talks to HRZone ahead of his appearance on a panel on inclusion at UNLEASH, the UK’s leading HR tech conference and expo this March.

19th Feb 2020
Editor HRZone
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UNLEASH Spring Conference 2020

Winston Ben Clements

Winston Ben Clements is a man with big ambitions. His mantra is ‘your limitations are an illusion’ and, coming from him, it’s a very persuasive message. Winston was born with brittle bones disorder and uses a wheelchair to get around. He says that breaking through his ‘self-imposed barriers’ empowered him to build a successful tech career, and today he uses his speaking platform to transform organisational culture and performance.

HRZone: Your mission is to inspire 1 billion people to unleash their full human potential. What motivated you to work towards this goal and how are you striving to achieve it?

Winston Ben Clements: Growing up, one of my favourite things to do was to create art. Art was my escape from the reality of brittle bones disorder – a condition that caused me to fracture over 150 times by age 12 and depend on a wheelchair for my mobility. With a pencil in my hand I felt equal to all the other kids and developing my drawing skills gave me enjoyment, fulfillment and creativity. It also gave me the belief that I could be good at something, and that my perceived limitations need not define my quality of life or success. So from a young age I decided that anything I loved doing I would go all in, look to make a big impact and have lots of fun along the way.

We must continue to have open conversations about D&I in the workplace because it is clear that rigid methodologies will not deliver sustainable outcomes.  

Fast forward many years later, I no longer see my disability as a disadvantage. As an inclusion specialist I get to advise organisations how they can attract and retain diverse talent. More importantly, I am passionate about seeing human potential unleashed and my mission is to use my experiences to help 1 billion people find their purpose in the same way I did.

HRZone: Why do you think progress to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces is glacially slow?

Winston Ben Clements: Whilst we have a lot more data and metrics such as gender pay gaps and BAME representation, diversity and inclusion (D&I) still remains widely misunderstood. This is because it is a topic with several layers and complexities to unpack. Focusing efforts only on representation creates workplace processes that are characterised by tokenism and box ticking. Defining diversity only on a demographic level fails to take into account other important strands such as neurodiversity, intersectionality and lifestyle preferences.

When I speak at diversity conferences, one of my favourite metaphors to describe D&I is that of a puzzle. Diversity is having all the different pieces on the table, but inclusion is how you make all the pieces fit together.

Due to its fluid nature we must continue to have open conversations about D&I in the workplace because it is clear that rigid methodologies will not deliver sustainable outcomes.  

HRZone: You advise global organisations on inclusion and culture. Are business leaders placing more importance on these issues today?

Winston Ben Clements: Yes, I believe so. Workforces today are made up of as many as five generations with varied and diverse demands. In order for companies to continue to deliver in this environment of multiple employee needs and expectations, leaders must step up their efforts to create inclusive cultures more than ever before. The digital age, new ways of working and retaining top talent are also key considerations in ensuring that businesses remain competitive in this season of innovators and disruptors.  

HRZone: You’ll be speaking at UNLEASH about attracting and retaining diverse talent. In what ways could businesses be unknowingly excluding candidates and current employees?

Winston Ben Clements: As humans we tend to see the world based on how we are and not based on how the world really is. A lot of this can be attributed to our upbringing, biases and environment. The same can be said of businesses and organisations. We get used to our own corporate environment and culture, which makes it counterintuitive to think about who we might be excluding with our strategies, processes and policies.  

When an employee feels empowered to be their authentic self, to speak up and take risks, then disillusionment levels decrease, while performance and engagement levels increase.

In addition to the traditional protected groups (BAME, people with disabilities and LGBTQ+), organisations need to consider recruitment processes that are accessible for people with little or no social capital. This includes migrants or people switching industries, because they might not have the same pre-existing relationships as someone who studied at a particular school or has friends and relatives working in those types of companies. Due to their lack of social capital, these marginalised groups tend to lack the know-how to connect with these companies resulting in an untapped pool of diverse talent.  

HRZone: Is embedding a culture of belonging key to retaining diverse talent? How does a company go about achieving this?

Winston Ben Clements: Vernā Myers famously stated that “diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance and belonging is dancing like no one is watching”. Oftentimes an employee will feel the need to put on a mask in order to conform with corporate culture and to play it safe. The reality is that when an employee feels empowered to be their authentic self, to speak up and take risks, then disillusionment levels decrease, while performance and engagement levels increase.

One of the methods that I have found most effective in promoting an ethos of belonging is to encourage ‘healthy conflict’ in the workplace. The aim is to instill a culture where teammates can test ideas, agree and disagree in a manner that is objective and creates opportunities to learn and grow. In a practical sense, leaders should act as champions for healthy conflict by being more vulnerable and open about their own failures and development needs in order to create a safe space for others to do the same.

HRZone: Finally, what three things would you like to communicate to our HR audience to help them drive forward your mission to unleash full human potential?

Winston Ben Clements: My three suggestions are:

  1. When implementing D&I policy it is important to not only think about inclusion but also exclusion. For example, cross-affinity networking events are a progressive step towards breaking silos and bringing people together across the entire diversity spectrum.
  2. Continue to use data to highlight disparities such as women in technology, diversity in the boardroom and pay gaps. Only when we shine a light on the problem can we raise awareness and begin to implement solutions.
  3. Prioritise personal development as much as professional development in order to support your employees to grow holistically and find purpose and meaning in their work.

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