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Equipping our people leaders to drive an inclusive organisation

By Mary O’Reilly (pictured) and Nikki O’Hanlon

Mary O'Reilly

At ICON, one of the world’s leading clinical research organisations, our mission is to improve the lives of patients by accelerating the development of our customers’ drugs and devices through innovative solutions.

We need to reflect the communities and the patients that we ultimately serve. The rich diversity in our organisation equips us to bring the innovation and creativity needed to do just that.

A shared commitment
Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) has been critical to our organisation and our leaders for many years. In fact, with the recent acquisition of PRA Health Sciences, the importance of this area was highlighted as we launched our new values to the combined organisation, with ‘inclusion’ firmly embedded as one of these. Furthermore, as part of our integrated ESG strategy, we reaffirmed our commitment to achieving our target of 50% gender equity at senior levels.

With almost 40,000 employees in 80 countries, we know we can achieve something really special with such a diverse workforce, and this is just the start of this exciting journey.

Since embarking on this journey, we’re proud to have developed and launched our comprehensive DIB strategy, successfully on-boarded a community of DIB advocates, built a DIB online hub and launched five key community groups:
* PRIDE: supporting members of the LGBTQ+ community
* NOW: the Networking Organisation for Women at ICON
* SPACE: Supporting Parents and Carers Everywhere
* EmbR ACE: representing Ethnicity and Race
* DAWN: the Disability Awareness Network.

Positively, the acquisition of PRA and subsequent integration of the two organisations has enabled us to really focus on the concept of ‘belonging’ in every sense of the word. It’s crucial that all employees know they belong at the new ICON.

Training our people leader community
With this strong foundation, this year we launched dedicated training for our people leader community. People leaders play a huge role in creating a sense of connection and belonging. The people in this community are the gatekeepers of our culture and values as they touch every element of the employee life cycle – from attraction and hiring to engagement, performance management and promotion.

For this reason, it made sense for us to start DIB training with them. To deliver the most value, we asked what they needed to be successful in this space? How could we enable them to feel confident to bring this vital conversation back to their teams?

A good place to start is with the basics – what do we mean by diversity, inclusion or belonging? What’s the difference between equality and equity?

From there, we move quickly into conscious and unconscious bias and we encourage our people leaders to have an honest discussion about the impact on our processes. We ask if their unconscious biases are causing them to favour someone who reminds them of themselves? Do they rate someone more highly because they worked with them on a recent project? These questions have sparked really practical and honest conversations, and ultimately our people leaders want to know how they can do better. We work with them to discuss the importance of self-awareness and then learning to catch it, call it and change it!

We encourage everyone to be an inclusive leader, and work with people leaders to understand what that means and how it looks in action – being curious and courageous, being aware of our own biases and working to overcome them.

It’s important to raise awareness of microagressions during this programme too. We spend a lot of time sharing examples and discussing intent versus impact. We call it ‘the hot tea test’ – imagine you accidentally spill a little hot tea on a colleague on the way back from lunch. It burns them. Sure, you didn’t mean it but it still hurt – that’s your intent versus your impact. The discussions during this exercise have been hugely constructive, and our facilitators, who come from all across the organisation, regularly report that they have learned just as much from the participants as the participants have learned from them.

We have created a detailed resource guide that’s shared with people leaders upon completion of the training. This is where we really encourage them to start the conversation with their teams. The guide contains lots of the content we’ve discussed in the training but it also covers exercises they can use with their teams to bring this all to life.

As a learning and development team, one of the things that strikes us most is how engaged our people leaders are and how keen they are to drive that feeling of belonging with their teams. We think it’s pretty powerful and while we’re still learning as we go, driving and encouraging these constructive conversations is reaping a huge amount of benefit and is a critical part of achieving our vision to be the healthcare intelligence partner of choice.

Mary O’Reilly is VP, Inclusion & Organisational Effectiveness and Nikki O’Hanlon is Lead L&D Specialist for Diversity Inclusion & Belonging at ICON

Mary O’Reilly is VP, Inclusion & Organisational Effectiveness and Nikki O’Hanlon is Lead L&D Specialist for Diversity Inclusion & Belonging at ICON

22nd April 2022

From: Marketing

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