D&I central to the army’s operational effectiveness

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Setting up a three-stage framework to operationalise diversity and inclusion in the army

Diversity and inclusion are central to the operational effectiveness of the British army, according to colonel Steve Davies, assistant head of employment for the British Army and D&I advisor to the executive committee of the army board, Ministry of Defence.

Speaking at the Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG) Diversity & Inclusion Conference 2018, attended exclusively by HR magazine as media partner for the event, Davies said “diversity and inclusion done correctly gets a winning team and outcome” and is “central to the operational capabilities” of soldiers on the ground.

“Warfare is a human endeavour and the army is about people,” he said. “People aren’t in the army, they are the army.

“We ask a lot of our soldiers and officers,” he added, giving the example of harsh environments and distant locations. “So we place significant emphasis on attracting, retaining and training the right people.”

With 120,000 personnel, and the army traditionally not having a reputation as a diverse employer, it faces many questions about its diversity and inclusion agenda, Davies said. But he explained that the army has a “vast and varied workforce from myriad backgrounds” and with “different trades” who “all collectively contribute to fighting power”. This diversity is critical to the army’s success in warfare, he continued.

“The physical component of fighting power means it’s important our army reflects the nation it serves, so we need to recruit a diverse workforce,” Davies said. “An army team reflective of diverse individuals can deal with the breadth and depth of, and sometimes unexpected, events that characterise warfare today.”

Davies outlined three key areas of operational effectiveness that make the case for diversity and inclusion: legal (the equality of opportunity, credibility and public trust), capability (attract and retain talent, better decision-making, and diverse skills and insights), and moral (fair treatment and respect, maximising potential, and performance and cohesion).

On the latter, Davies said that “diversity and inclusion turbocharges the ability of team cohesion to win battles”.

The army launched a diversity and inclusion framework based on these three areas, something Davies called “a simple model”. Key to making this effective was to “set it on a bedrock of army standards and values”.

“The values lie at the heart of the army” and “provide the foundation”, he said, citing them as “courage, discipline, respect, integrity, loyalty and selfless commitment”.

The framework has a simple three-step process: setting the tone, lifting some rocks, and active integration.

“Operationalising diversity and inclusion begins with setting the tone in the organisation,” Davies said of the first step, explaining that leadership is “the turnkey” to this. “The army rightly demands a high standard of leadership from commanders,” he said.

“The diversity and inclusion framework is capped by leadership. Doctrinally the army defines leadership as a combination of character, knowledge and action that inspires people to succeed.”

At a strategic level this means the army executive board being responsible for ensuring people have relevant and connected opportunities, demanding high performance and encouraging confidence within their teams.

However, he went on to emphasise that “setting the right tone is not just the responsibility of executive leadership but of all throughout the army”.

The second step – lift some rocks – is about “understanding what the lived experience is and taking action when it’s needed”. “We need to lift rocks to take action, but this is easier said than done,” admitted Davies, pointing to the fact that army personnel are often deployed away from base and so ensuring leaders have the time and opportunities to understand the lived experience of their teams can be challenging.

To enable this the army has introduced a range of policies and support tools to help keep busy commanders informed. One such tool Davies said has “immeasurable value”, is a climate assessment report that measures a soldier’s lived experience.

The third and final step of the framework – active integration – goes to the “heart of operational output not just being the responsibility of leadership” but a responsibility the whole force needs to be actively involved in. This involves a range of initiatives that bring service personnel together, such as respect for others training, and equality, diversity and inclusion advisors.

“This framework for inclusion helps the army maximise talent,” Davies added.

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