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By Devi Virdi

Group Diversity & Inclusion Lead, Centrica

As we stand together on National Inclusion Week, Devi Virdi our Group Diversity & Inclusion Lead, explains why she’s proud to work for a company that knows its purpose and recognises that everyone's voice matters. 

Earlier this year, I was asked to explain, why inclusion is important in the workplace? Everyone wants to belong in a workplace where they are valued and respected. Inclusion isn't an optional extra, it's the key to better diversity. I believe strongly in the power of inclusion because for me it’s very personal.

As a young girl growing up in 80s Hong Kong, I struggled to fit in at school. With heritage drawn from Indian immigrants, (with a little Chinese), all I wanted was to ‘fit in’. I still remember the feeling of sitting in the classroom as a young child with everybody chatting away in English, but hardly understanding a word as I grew up in a multi-generational home speaking Cantonese and Punjabi. With low esteem and few friends, I shied away from drawing attention to myself in class, whether it be raising my hand to answer questions or reading aloud. My grades reflected this anxiety and I even remember intercepting report cards from the mailbox at home to hide these perceived failings from my parents. Eventually, though, my parents realised that I needed support beyond what they could offer me at home. Things did improve, but the fear of rejection, the reality of exclusion, not fitting in, not having friends, this was all very real me.

I’m not alone in having had this type of experience. Countless people around the world feel a level of exclusion every single day. Whether due to skin colour, gender, nationality, age, accent, or any one of the range of differences that make each one of us incredibly unique - exclusion saps confidence, undermines dreams, and keeps too many talented people from living up to their full potential. Experiencing exclusion can stay with you for a lifetime, and cost can be huge. I worked hard to fight through the challenges I faced as a child and I am proud to have taken advantage of the opportunities offered to me. 

My experiences as a young girl in Hong Kong forged who I am today. The past will never change and not all the feelings have gone away completely, but for me that’s okay. It reminds me why inclusion is so important — and why I fight for it every day. 

Devi Centrica Building (1)

I feel incredibly blessed to work for a company where leadership openly acknowledges we are on our journey to build a more inclusive workplace and I am proud to work for a company that knows its purpose and recognises that everyone’s voice matters.

For National Inclusion Week 2021, why not bring together ideas, perspectives and different voices to talk about Inclusion & Diversity? Here are my Top 5 tips on getting the conversation started: 

  1. Make it comfortable – don’t let the uncomfortable topics go undiscussed, focus on what you can do to put people at ease. For example, setting ground rules, reiterating behaviour standards, or creating small relaxed environments where people can sit on sofas with a cup of tea.
  2. Ask for permission – you may be aware that your colleague is LGBTQ+, Black or Asian, or has a disability. But this doesn’t mean they wish to discuss their identity. Ask them! You could start by asking “would you mind telling me about your culture/disability/gender identity? I would like to understand more”. This way the person has the opportunity to decline the conversation if they feel uncomfortable
  3. Ask open questions – they lead to open discussions which can be interesting and thought provoking for all.
  4. Listen – conversations aren’t always about what you say, a lot of the powerful moments are in what you don’t say, particularly when you are listening and giving others the opportunity to share. 
  5. Invite others – some people may not feel ready to share their perspectives or experiences. In that case, invite someone in to that conversation. To feel comfortable we need psychological safety which can take a long time to build, give your team that time by finding other ways to learn about inclusion and diversity.

In my professional career leading teams and through the people I have mentored, I have seen the transformative power of inclusion. People prosper and do their best work when they feel welcome and don’t feel pressure to keep parts of themselves hidden.

So, as we reflect on National Inclusion Week in the UK, I want to continue the celebrations for inclusion in all forms. For me, this is even more important given the many social challenges we’ve had over the past 18 months. The pandemic, the call for action on anti-racism, and the move to hybrid-work have all had a significant impact on how included (or excluded) people feel in the workplace, and in society at large.

I feel incredibly blessed to work for a company where leadership openly acknowledges we are on our journey to build a more inclusive workplace and I am proud to work for a company that knows its purpose and recognises that everyone’s voice matters.