Briony’s story: Coaching and the delivery of a Successful Diversity and Inclusion Strategy

Briony Hughes

My interest in people and their experiences set me on a path to becoming HR Director at News UK. I am also the organisation’s diversity lead.

Diversity is something I am passionate about. It makes an organisation more interesting, it leads to more innovation and better outcomes.

The industry I work in, journalism, suffers from a huge disparity in terms of race, gender and neurodiversity. For example 94% of journalists in the UK are white. This clearly doesn’t represent the diversity of our country.

Today, candidates looking at jobs will look at diversity and inclusion as well as sustainability. They are just as concerned with the environment in which they work and the environment at large. This is a marked change to those of my generation who looked at pay and benefits, which are transactional. Creating a culture that supports these concerns is a priority.

So, in 2020, we launched a major diversity and inclusion strategy. We wanted to ensure that people from all backgrounds feel represented and are proud to work for News UK. As someone who has coached and been coached, I knew that coaching could play an important role in the implementation and lasting success of the strategy. In this post, I’d like to share how, with a focus on implementation.

Our diversity strategy

Our strategy is divided into three pillars.

The first is a recruitment and development strategy for people from diverse backgrounds. Our diversity objectives would naturally benefit from earlier intervention, so we launched outreach projects in schools as well as kickstarters and an apprentice scheme.

The second is leadership. This pillar explores how we can retain and train our mid and senior level managers in diversity and inclusion.

The third pillar focuses on creative content and how we ensure that our output is created by diverse people and the subject matter represents the diversity in the UK.

It has been fundamental to the success of our strategy to work closely across every part of our business. It was formed by our Diversity Board at News UK which includes senior leaders from each part of our organisation, including The Sun, The Times and Sunday Times, and Wireless brands including talkSPORT, Times Radio, talkRADIO and Virgin Radio.

Briony Hughes
Briony Hughes

Supporting pillar leads with coaching

Before the strategy, we didn’t have a single dedicated person working on diversity and inclusion, so we appointed three people to head up each pillar. Each of those pillar leads was invited to select their own coach for support.

These three pillar leads were new to diversity and inclusion, but this wasn’t an obstacle. What we wanted was three really passionate people who understood the organisation and had the energy to make a change. They’re all thriving. With support from their coaches, each of them is brimming with curiosity about what could be achieved.

The coaches offered particular support in communication. Listening to the experiences of others and knowing what to do with difficult and heavy emotions and understanding the difference between coaching and therapy.

Supporting our networks

At News UK, an important part of our diversity and inclusion strategy is our employee-led networks. We consult with these groups and ensure their voices are heard by senior leadership.

For example, when our News for Parents network shared their concerns about the impact of homeschooling, we organised spot parental coaching for those who wanted it, as a helping hand during those tough months.

We have made a commitment as an organisation to increase the diversity of our workforce – and as part of that, we have also increased the diversity of our coaches, ensuring the resource is inclusive to everyone.

Our progress

We’ve made a lot of progress since launching the strategy in 2020. By March, will have brought in 50 kickstarters. This is a government scheme introduced because of the pandemic. We’re offering unemployed young people placements for 6 months. In addition to this, 45 apprentices have joined us. We’re also continuing our outreach sessions with schools.

In terms of the bigger picture, there has been a move on the gender dial. We’re up to 40% women, having started at 36%. This continues to be higher than the media average of 29%.

The recruitment market has picked up with diversity being a priority. We’ve focussed a lot on recruitment and now we’re focussing on retention. Coaching is a key part of this.

Incorporating coaching into your plans for diversity and inclusion

My top tip would be to listen. Our whole strategy is based upon listening to people’s experiences. Quite often, and this is very natural, we have the desire to answer someone, to find a solution, to maybe be defensive, but just listening is essential.

Adopting a coaching mindset means endeavouring to hold the space for silence and difficulty. This is a skill in itself.

Further reading:

You can also hear from Rear Admiral Jim Macleod here, where he shares his experience as he worked to better support diversity in his organisation. He shares some wonderful insights on creating the space for others to share their experiences without judgement.

Learn more:

In order to make the most of the strengths of individual members in their teams, leaders are increasingly reaching for coaching skills to enhance, not just their own performance, but also those they work alongside. This interactive webinar is designed for those who are new to leading and coaching, and those who seek a refresher or a new approach to their usual leadership style. Sign up for our Coaching Essentials for Team Leaders webinar.