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Interview with Loraine Martins OBE Inclusion and Diversity Expert at Nichols

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United Kingdom

This article is part of a series that Ranjit Dhindsa is working on, exploring inclusivity, diversity and culture across different industries. In this article, she interviews Loraine Martins OBE the ex Head of Diversity and Inclusion of Network Rail.

Read the previous article in the series.

1. Loraine, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Can you tell us about your career to date?

I am an activist at heart. I have always been passionate about social justice and opportunities for all. I was born in North London, to parents from the Windrush generation. I grew up at a time when the UK had signs such as "no Irish, no blacks, no dogs" and so knew about discrimination from an early age.

I was the first in my family to go to university, which broadened my horizons because I mixed with a broad range of individuals from the UK and internationally.  It was at university that I developed a passion for campaigning on issues related to diversity and inclusion and equal rights for all.

2. You are famous for helping Network Rail improve its culture.  How did you do that?

In 2011, Network Rail had been cited in a couple of high-profile cases regarding discrimination in the workplace. It had about 34,000 employees, in a huge variety of roles – from operations and maintenance staff to engineers and station colleagues. As a result of the review Network Rail commissioned an independent review of its approach to equality and diversity.   The review produced in 2012, had 44 recommendations on improving culture, diversity, and inclusion.  I was a contractor at the time and was asked to help Network Rail implement the findings from the review.  And six months later, I became an employee as the Director of Diversity and Inclusion to lead a strategic approach.  The organisation was one of the earliest to deliberately focus on inclusion and diversity.  And having implemented the recommendations, the next ten years would see me develop diversity and inclusion strategies, relevant to all employees and aligned to the Network Rail strategic business plans - deliver inclusive leadership training, and set up seven employee representative groups, and over 2,300 thousands of diversity and inclusion champions.  There was a huge variety of roles being undertaken.

3. What were you most proud of?

I am proud of the fact that we were able to capture robust data and develop and deliver 2 five-year diversity and inclusion strategies which were aligned to the strategic business plans of Network Rail.  And we were able to implement the strategies which set us up for success.

The organisation had an aging population, so part of the focus was on recruiting fresh talent and helping to address the skills shortages by reaching out to communities in the more diverse areas.

I am proud of the way different teams in the organisation worked together.  For example the communications team and I collaborated on promoting the business reasons for inclusion and diversity, and the steps we were taking, so that could everyone understand what we were doing and could feel engaged.  I am also proud of the fact that we set up employee representative groups with the terms of their reference, structure, and clarity about their role in the organisation.

By the time I left in 2022, Network Rail had a much more diverse workforce and had over 4,000 employees participating in 7 various employee representative groups and a number of accolades for the initiatives that we introduced.  Indeed, in 2021 Queen’s New Year’s honours list, I received an OBE for my work with Network Rail. 

4. What is your current role?

I am the Global Director of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity at the Nichols Group. 

I assist national and global businesses with implementing inclusion and diversity initiatives.  In particular, I assist leaders with developing a relevant strategy, or I can review and update their current one.  I focus on cultural transformation. And I am keen to help leaders to become more confident and competent to discuss challenges brought about in addressing diversity and inclusion.  Finally, I offer coaching and mentoring for leaders.  I work with leaders to overcome the challenges that they face and support them going forward to ensure their businesses improves their approach to diversity, equality, and inclusion.

5. What challenges do organisations have today compared to 10 years ago?

There is more pressure on leaders to talk about inclusion and diversity. Previously, leaders would delegate responsibility to others in the organisation. That is no longer acceptable. Instead, leaders are expected to create the right tone and culture in the organisation and lead from the top.

There is also greater emphasis on intersectionality. It is vital that employees are treated as individuals, rather than put into groups with labels not of their choosing. A West African women's experience in an organisation maybe very different to a South Asian man’s experience in the same environment, which is likely to be different to a disabled person’s experience. And that is even more layered, the more multiple identities you have. For instance, someone who is born abroad, is disabled is part of the LBGT community. – these interconnected aspects of an individual make for fluid, sometimes complex interactions, and we need to be more adept in our response.

Lastly, the world has become far more global, and it is important that organisations set inclusion and diversity frameworks and comply with local laws and cultural expectations in different jurisdictions.

6. What gets in the way of success?

Leaders are not confident and need a support.

Organisations need to invest in inclusion and diversity and help leaders and managers reflect on their own biases and then manage teams to create an inclusive culture. This is even more challenging in a hybrid working environment.

Finally there are four generations of employees in the workplace now. Generation Y and Z expect to work in an organisation with particular values. 

7. Are you optimistic about the future?

I think there is a desire to talk about inclusion and diversity, and to make some real change in the workplace.  There is still plenty to do, but more leaders and senior managers are discussing the issues and looking to take action rather than ignoring them. So to answer your question, I am cautiously optimistic about the future.

November 2022

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