Bristol businesses leading on equality, diversity and inclusion

James Durie
Chief Executive - Bristol Chamber & Initiative | Business West
11th May 2021

The May 2021 Initiative meeting took place on so-called ‘super Thursday’ – a day which saw voters in Bristol and the West of England head to the polls to elect their local leaders.

President Richard Bonner chaired the meeting and began with a recap of the Initiative’s activity leading up to Election Day, before introducing the overarching theme of diversity and inclusion.

A topic of prime importance to the city and business community, we were joined by a handful of familiar faces including Chief Constable Andy Marsh, Business West board member Poku Osei and Be On Board’s Kalpna Woolf, who each brought their own unique insight on enabling people of diverse backgrounds to “be the very best they can be and bring the whole of themselves to work” as Richard put it.

Departing Avon & Somerset Police Chief Constable Andy Marsh was the first guest speaker. He began by thanking Business West Chambers & Initiative for its support during the past year as Bristol grappled with the challenges of COVID-19 and city centre disorder.

Since being in post, Andy Marsh said his vision was to deliver outstanding police and make Avon & Somerset Constabulary the most outstanding police force in the world.

Two strategic themes had been characterised the Chief Constable’s tenure he said: to modernise the force using new technologies and to broaden its workforce and community engagement through diversity and inclusion.

In an increasingly technological world, the increased digitisation of policing was inevitable said Andy, which is why his key priority over the years has been to give diversity and inclusion the same “Time, care attention on money as we do on digitalisation, data and technology”

Mr Marsh spoke at length about the “5 big ideas” Avon & Somerset had embarked upon to make this vision a reality:

  • National Equality Standard
  • Recruiting for Difference
  • Mobilising the Workforce
  • Outreach Worker Team
  • Inclusion and Diversity Training

One of the more public aspects of the police force’s diversity and inclusion work was a recruitment video which was played to members.

Babassa’s Poku Osei followed Andy Marsh and said the video was “truly moving” – a comment often repeated to the Chief Constable and on social media said Andy – before thanking Mr Marsh for his valuable contribution to the region.

Poku began his presentation by introducing the work of Babassa, an award winning Bristol-based social enterprise that sets out to support young people (16-25) with their professional aspirations, irrespective of their background.

Having had a long track record of success in the community, Babassa is now working to further support city’s inclusion agenda through a number of initiatives including a version of the Stonewall LGBT index for race.

Next up was Kalpna Woolf - the pioneer behind 91 Ways, a social enterprise that connects people from different communities in Bristol through the uniting power of food. Her new venture is Be on Board, a programme of the Bristol Initiative Charitable Trust, aims to support businesses and organisations to improve the diversity of their governing bodies and boards.

In the space of 3 years, Be On Board has helped over 65 corporates and charities appoint board members from underrepresented groups, recruited 200 people as part of a talent pool and delivered diverse leadership events and conferences said Kalpna.

The programme is driven by the notion that “homogenous leadership is not going to cut it” and that businesses need to maintain “connections with a diverse talent pool” and leverage inclusivity to “unlock benefit” in the long term she continued.

Following Kalpna, Foot Anstey’s Nathan Peacey and Joanne Rumley spoke about their equality, diversity and inclusion journey. “Law firms are notoriously not diverse” said Nathan, who has led on community engagement projects to help amplify the message that Foot Anstey “is a place you can work and thrive” regardless of background.

Today the business has some great role models from ethnic background he said, before Joanne Rumley advised businesses to take a whole company approach to equality, diversity and inclusion and resist the temptation to “put it in a project box” adding that there is always “more to do”. 

In addition to speakers on the topic of diversity and inclusion, the Initiative’s Victoria Matthews and Nina Skubala provided updates.

Victoria Matthews welcomed new members Empire Fighting Chance, Ghyston and West of England Institute of Technology and informed members of a welcome return of face to face meetings with a special evening on 9th September at Ashton Gate Stadium.

Nina Skubala brought news of an extensive body of work Business West is undertaking to help accelerate the region towards net zero.

Headed up by Nina, who acted as Vice Chair of Bristol’s 2015 Green Capital Partnership, Business West is working on a regional business climate strategy. As part of this Business West Chambers and Initiative aim to be net zero by 2030, and later this month will conduct a large scale survey to gather intelligence regarding barriers and business pain points in terms of carbon reduction, which will in turn inform our informational Trading To Net Zero web platform.

Business West also recently became an accredited B Corp – a key tenet of which is reducing an organisation’s environmental impact – said Nina, alongside supporting various local and national campaigns in the climate space, such as No Mow May and Action Net Zero. Business West also recently co-signed a letter to the West of England Mayor pushing for green jobs Nina added.

The next West of England Initiative meeting is due to be held on Thursday 3rd June 11.30am -12.30pm with 30 minutes of networking to follow.

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