At Common Purpose we believe that inclusive leadership is essential to creating agile and innovative teams. We’ve caught up with Tom Shaw, Global Head of Talent at Experian, to hear his insights in the D&I space.

D&I – Campaigns or Strategy, which has more impact? 

Commercial organizations are used to winning. We’re used to seeing an ROI and an impact for our efforts – because of this, we can find D&I a hard challenge. It’s harder to ‘win’ at D&I because the real benefit will be evidenced in the long run, not by a quick fix.

D&I challenges are societal, systemic, complex and contextual. As I see it, there are two ways to respond:

1 – Jump up and down by inserting challenging targets that will shift the needle this year, but can be temporary fixes.
2 – Make more policies which are fit for purpose, giving a voice to minorities & consistently using the right language. Creating incremental shifts which will be sustainable and reliable.

I’m somewhere in the middle of one and two. I think that to effect real change you need a strong inclusion strategy that’s underpinned by a broad range of diversity initiatives.

At Experian, we are currently D&I initiative heavy – some of which are highly successful and have a big impact, like our US campaign “The Power of You”. But, I’m keen to see initiatives like these as tools to accomplish our wider strategic aims, rather than letting the initiatives drive the strategy. We’re playing the long game, whilst looking for some quick wins, and we are starting to feel the difference in our demographic make-up, employee sentiment and the external perspective on our business. 

D&I – Have we done enough in the last 10 years?

I think of D&I like I think of Climate Change – it’s real, we really need to do something and it’s not going away. But, it’s easy to put off action and to feel like what we’re doing isn’t having an impact, because the positive change seems like a drop in the ocean compared to the problem. That said, if you look at trends over time there are improvements, e.g. we now have more than double the number of senior females we did 12 years ago. We should be encouraged by this progress, keep pushing the agenda but not be dispirited by not achieving immediate change; for me, it’s very much a longer-term play that needs a constant focus. 

D&I data – useful or an exercise in inaccuracies?

Experian is a global company, dealing in data – so it’s no surprise that data is crucial to our D&I strategy, data at every level. It gives us an insight, but maybe not the whole picture.

As a global organization, with regional differences and several operating systems, we need to ensure that our leadership committees understand, and feel the benefit of, the D&I agenda – our leaders like things that are shown to be demonstrably improving, things that can be measured – data helps us to show that our D&I strategies are routed in facts and the needs of our employees.

But, in acknowledging that data is important, we also have to be realistic about its challenges.

Data about staff’s demographic breakdown

Like all companies, we collect data on our employees protected characteristics, but a challenge we face is comparing like for like data – it’s nearly impossible in a global organization. In some countries where we operate you’re not allowed to ask any D&I questions at all. In Brazil it’s a statutory requirement to ask about disability. Here in the UK, just to talk about ethnicity we have 30+ categories, 20 of which are white-and options, but in Brazil there are only four categories: white, black, brown and yellow. Regardless of how challenging it is to use this data in a consistent way – I still believe it’s always better to have it, than not to. Data gives us real insights, it means that we’re not just guessing.

Data about staff engagement and perceptions of D&I

The Experian People Survey, goes to all of our staff across the world and this year it has two questions specifically asking about D&I. There were 10 question options that we could have used, but importantly we chose ones where there are benchmarks available. The results of these questions are going to be vital for our D&I strategy.

We are very encouraged that our survey results show that we have created a very inclusive culture across our business, but the work that comes off the back of this is to verify the diversity of the organisation. This is a challenge in a global business so our approach will need to be sophisticated enough to consider the local demographics that we can draw our employee base from rather than simply saying we have an ethnically diverse group (for example) across the business. Our strategy is very much one of ‘glocal’ where we want to create a global framework that allows all of us to succeed, but which supports locally-driven organic initiatives.

Data being used to improve D&I

We ask for a lot of data from our staff, we ask them to tell us about themselves and what they think – it is incredibly important that staff see that their input has led to positive change. We spend a lot of communicating the results across the whole organization, and ensuring that everyone knows what we’re going to do with this information. Our campaign ‘be part of the conversation’ shows that staff contributions are taken seriously. We believe that closing this feedback loop encourages colleagues to continue to share their insights – because they can see the benefit.


Contributor - Tom Shaw

Tom is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development. Tom has over twenty years domestic and international experience, across the whole range of Talent, Development & Inclusion activity, both in the private and public sectors. Tom’s career, so far, has seen him hold senior positions at British Transport Police, Laing O’Rourke and Experian.