Catherine Garrod led Sky to become the most inclusive employer in the UK. Her message is clear: if you’re not consciously including everyone, you’re unconsciously excluding someone. And the rewards of conscious inclusion are extraordinary, from employee and customer satisfaction to future-proofing organizations in our ever-evolving world.
When it came to publishing her book, Catherine was determined to walk her talk, ensuring both language and design were as accessible as possible. She also reveals how she managed the delicate dance between perfectionism and deadlines, and learned how important it is an author to keep your sights on the reader and the difference you want to make.
Catherine’s website: https://www.compellingculture.co.uk/
Catherine on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/catherinegarrod/
Alison on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alison-jones-9b09893/
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Alison Jones: I am here today with Catherine Garrod who led Sky to become the most inclusive employer in the UK with 80% of teams increasing their diversity. She went on to found Compelling Culture, and now as a consultant, she combines the power of listening, employee engagement, diversity and inclusion, making the complex simple with practical action to transform organizations.
And she’s the author of Conscious Inclusion: How to do EDI one decision at a time.
So first of all, welcome Catherine. It’s good to have you here.
Catherine Garrod: Thank you for having me. Pleased to be here.
Alison Jones: It’s really good to have you here. And shall we start with the acronym, I guess EDI, DEI, there’s quite a few different ways you can put this, isn’t there?
Catherine Garrod: There are, and it’s a great place to start. So I chose EDI, which is equity, diversity and inclusion. But one of the points I make actually, is it doesn’t really matter which acronym you use, because it’s the work itself that takes center stage.
Alison Jones: And that work doesn’t happen by accident, does it?
Catherine Garrod: It does not, no.
Alison Jones: Tell us about that really meaningful phrase, conscious inclusion.
Catherine Garrod: Yes, so something that struck me a few years ago was that over 90% of our decisions that we make day in, day out are automatic, and we do it without even thinking about it. So we’ve all got these incredible machines inside our heads, our brains, that are helping us navigate our lives every day. So you know, it can be yes or no, safe or dangerous, buy it, don’t buy it, watch another episode, go to bed, et cetera, et cetera.
And it’s really useful for navigating a busy life and making your own choices about your own things. But when it comes to making decisions about other people’s lives, it’s a bit flawed with bias because that 90% energy is based on your own personal lived experience. So who you know, what you trust, what’s familiar.
So when that comes to making decisions about people in the workplace or wider organizations, you need to get into that part of your brain that’s more conscious, which is the 5 to 10%, which is slower and goes and seeks research and feedback before you make those decisions.
Alison Jones: And the decision piece is really key because if leadership is anything, it’s just a kind of long list of decisions you’re making day by day, minute by minute, isn’t it? So, how on earth do you slow yourself down enough as a leader to do that good conscious work while still getting the day job done?
Catherine Garrod: Yes, so I think it is about the work you are already doing, doing it more inclusively. So one of the points I like to highlight is this isn’t about a big, long shopping list of stuff you need to do, but if you are leading marketing, if you are leading supply chain, if you are leading HR, if you are leading, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, when you are making decisions about products or services or policies or whatever it is that you might be doing or a new tender process, involve a good mix of people in the design and go and test it with a good mix of people before you go live and you’ve got more chance of it working well for lots of people and less chance of it having that bias and relying on that 90% decision making.
Alison Jones: And I know that you and I have spoken about this before, but that point about having diversity, equity and inclusion champions is a wonderful thing, but not if it means everybody else thinks they’re off the hook, right?
Catherine Garrod: Agreed. So a big thing I’m passionate about is combining skill and will. So if you’ve got people in your organization that are really passionate and want to see change and are actively organizing and encouraging things like communications and events, for example, then you’re lucky, you know, really, really nurture those people because that’s fantastic.
You know, if they’re connecting, supporting and inspiring people and bringing people together, that is wonderful. But they can’t do it on their own. They usually are really talented and skilled at their day job. They usually don’t have the skill to take an organization through a culture change. So most organizations have got this legacy of the way that they operate based on how we did things before or how the industry does things.
And actually what you need is skill from somebody that can take an organization through change and actually then give kind of superpowers to all of those people who you’ve got or who are really willing and up for it, so that they’ve got a clear structure to follow and everybody knows what you’re aiming for.
Alison Jones: And we probably shouldn’t have to, but I wonder if it’s just worth saying why this matters.
Catherine Garrod: There’s a few things, right. So the first thing is it’s the right thing to do. You know, if you employ people or you provide products and services to people, it should be a good experience, right? You know, whatever the purpose of your organization is, people want it to be successful. So whether you are driven by head or heart.
You know, if you’re heart driven, it’s about making sure that experience is good and it’s good for everyone. If you are head driven, it’s about remaining relevant in the future.
Alison Jones: Yes.
Catherine Garrod: If your organization is only appealing to one section of society or a few demographics, then you are missing out on the richness of society and all of the demographics that could be accessing your products or services or buying whatever it is that you have to offer.
Alison Jones: And of course, the richness of ideas that comes from different experiences and backgrounds, as well as the sort of customer experience is really relevant here as well, isn’t it?
Catherine Garrod: Yes, so the thing that strikes me, I think, the end of 2022, we tipped as a global population to 8 billion people on the planet. We went just over 8 billion, and that had grown eightfold in just 200 years. So again, organizations with long legacies that might have set themselves up 150 plus years ago, the world today is very different. So, the way we operate today needs to be very different.
And I take courage from that because I think, well, I’m one person, I will never know everything and nobody will ever know everything. And the work of, you know, equity, diversity, inclusion, whichever you want to call it, can feel quite overwhelming because you think, well, how do I make things good for everybody when I’m one person on a planet of 8 billion?
And my answer to that is that conscious inclusion and making sure you always involve a good mix of people in whatever it is that you are doing.
Alison Jones: Yes, brilliant. And when you’re writing a book about inclusivity, you do need to be thinking in an inclusive way about that. I mean those decisions as well, and it was fascinating working with you on the layout of the book, the cover design and so on. So just tell us a little bit about how that played out and what was really important to you.
Catherine Garrod: Yes, so right from the beginning, one of the things that struck me is I’ve read lots of books by lots of people who I think are brilliant, but sometimes they’ve made my brain hurt because they use big words I’ve had to go and look up in a dictionary, or I’ve needed to go and reference a bit of research that they’re referring to.
So one of my personal design principles was to write the book that I needed a few years ago, and I’m sure that’s a cliche, I’m sure lots of authors say that, but I wanted to use really simple, everyday language that your next door neighbor, your friends, your parents, could understand even if they’d never worked in your world. So that was one of the things.
And then actually one of the decisions in the book is about making communications accessible. So things like your type of font, how much white space there is, your font alignment, those kinds of things as well were all really specific criteria for me when writing a book because I thought, well, I can’t have a decision in there saying make your communications as accessible as possible if I haven’t followed my own advice in the book.
So, and actually, interestingly, I’ve had some really lovely feedback on that since the book’s gone live. Not just from an accessibility point of view, but you know, if you think about neurodiversity and multiple learning styles and the way people absorb information, but also people who’ve got eyesight that’s, you know, perhaps they’re using glasses and their eyesight gets a bit tired if they’re reading really small texts for long periods of time. I’ve had people deliberately reach out to me and say, thank you, like reading this book is a pleasure because of things like your font size and the way that you’ve spaced things out.
Alison Jones: It’s really good to hear because we have been I think at the vanguard really of accessibility stuff, but we’ve particularly been thinking about it in terms of the ebook. So, you know, DAISY compliance, EPUB accessibility, working with the RNIB on their program to make, you know, copies available in institutions and so on.
And working on your book and other design considerations there and the fonts and so on, has kickstarted a conversation about how we can maximize the accessibility of print books equally. So it’s been really interesting. And the cover as well, that idea about not overlaying text and images, but having the solid contrast.
Just tell us a little bit about the principles behind that.
Catherine Garrod: Yes, so if anybody’s using screen reading technology, if you’ve embedded text on top of an image, which quite often happens in newsletters because newsletters can be a bit glitchy and a bit buggy when they’re read by different operating platforms. Users can’t read it because basically the machine reads out what the text is on the screen. So if text has been overlaid as an image on the top, it just kind of can’t compute what it is. So that’s another principle for me is that text isn’t over an image unless it’s very, very, very short text. And you can add a kind of image description that says what the text is on top.
Alison Jones: Yes, really fascinating.
And tell us about the writing itself, Catherine, because this is your first book. How was it? What surprised you about it? What did you hate? What did you love?
Catherine Garrod: It always makes me laugh when you say it’s my first book. I’m always like, ha, ha ha. Who knows? Who knows? So, I think the real joy for me was it turned into quite a big idea quite quickly, so my brain was just swirling with lots and lots of ideas. So my step one was to just get all of that onto hundreds of post-it notes on my living room wall, and actually getting that out of my busy brain and putting that in a logic and thinking about who my audience was and the experience that I wanted them to have. I really enjoyed that process.
I also quite like writing, because it helps me make sense of my thinking and the chaos that sometimes goes on in my brain. So, yes, I did really enjoy it. I put myself under quite a bit of pressure, I think, in terms of the timeframe which I maybe wouldn’t do again, but actually the process of writing, I’d say 90% of the time I really enjoyed.
Alison Jones: So tell us about the 10%.
Catherine Garrod: So I, first book, to your point, was like, oh, I’m just going to tell clients I won’t work in August and I’ll write a book in August.
Alison Jones: How hard can it be?
Catherine Garrod: Yes, it’ll be fine. I’ll just, you know, a few hours a day, write a few words, see what happens. Which is sort of what I did. I think it took five weeks instead of four weeks. And I am somebody that has a noisy, inner perfectionist sometimes who wants things to be really, really good.
So it challenged me in terms of writing something that was good enough to get feedback on the draft version. And it’s a bit of a mixed picture because I need a deadline, otherwise I would never get it done. So whilst I might say I’d have given myself longer to do it, I think that might have made me procrastinate more.
Alison Jones: It would have taken exactly the same amount of time. It would just have crunched towards the end of the deadline.
Catherine Garrod: Exactly.
Alison Jones: Yes.
Catherine Garrod: Exactly right. So I guess it’s some of that usual pressure stuff. That was just a bit of my own inner annoyance at myself for, you know, finding it suddenly really important to go and unload the dishwasher when I was supposed to be writing that day.
Alison Jones: Oh, this sounds so familiar. So familiar. I guess for book two, Catherine, what will you do differently?
Catherine Garrod: Oh my goodness. I can’t even think about that yet. I don’t know, but I’d maybe try and write a shorter book that’s maybe what I would try and do next time. But the trouble is for Conscious Inclusion, the content of taking an organization through change, it’s not a small task, and I didn’t want to leave anything out. So, you know, the magic that came through doing the final edit for me was I did completely restructure it based on about 20 people’s feedback, which was overwhelming at the beginning, but absolutely valuable. And I’m so grateful that people took the time to do that. Many people said they’d read one chapter for me, but they ended up reading the whole book. And then of course I got feedback on the whole book, so that was quite overwhelming. So maybe if I did a shorter book, things like that would feel less overwhelming.
Alison Jones: Yes. It does sort of increase exponentially, I think with the number of words. I am going to ask you though because I always do, I’m going to ask you for your best tip for somebody who’s at the start of this process, what would you say to them?
Catherine Garrod: I think it really depends on your motivation, but for me, knowing who my audience was and how I wanted them to feel when they read it, kept me on track. So really mapping that out because I think everyone’s got a book in them and everyone’s got kind of important and valuable things to share and stories to tell.
But being really clear about who this was for right at the beginning and the experience that I wanted them to have really kept me on track. So, coming back to some of my principles about using everyday language and empowering people and equipping people, kind of regardless of what team you work in. That really helped me when I was perhaps losing my plot a little bit and going off track. It kind of…
Alison Jones: You get stuck get in your own head as well.
Catherine Garrod: Yes, it’s not my book, it’s a book I’m creating for my reader.
Alison Jones: Tell me about how that’s landed now because obviously we are looking at this from the perspective of you writing the book and imagining someone reading it, but you’re now on the other side of that, the book is out there and people are reading it and they’re giving you feedback. Can you see how that has played through?
Catherine Garrod: Yes, I can, and I’m really proud of myself actually, because it did what I wanted it to do. You know, I get messages almost daily saying, I couldn’t put it down. Thank you so much. This is really practical. It’s a how to guide. They’re all the sort of words that I’d hoped people might say about it in the future. So it’s kind of constant appraisal of whether or not it’s working.
But also, people tag me and post on LinkedIn that I’ve never met before and they’ve read it and they’re saying how much they like it. So I’ve created something that I think is really practical, which is true to your brand, but also true to my brand as well.
And people are enjoying it because it’s got the storytelling and then the how, you know, which was a big part of this book. You know, how do I actually do this stuff?
Alison Jones: Yes, actually I should ask you about the stories because that’s always a tricky one, isn’t it? When you’re trying to get stories from businesses, what you really want are the whoopsies, which is when it went wrong. But it’s quite hard, isn’t it, not everybody’s happy to tell you about the time they got it spectacularly wrong in an organization.
Catherine Garrod: Yes, I think it, I mean, it always depends on the culture, doesn’t it? You know, if you are in an environment where you are encouraged to fail fast is something that sticks with me. It doesn’t work, that’s fine, take your learnings from it and move on. Then that obviously makes this stuff a bit easier, but also the where it goes really wrong, the kind of Whoopsy Daisies, which is my newsletter is called Crown Jewels and Whoopsy Daisies, the where it goes really wrong can usually end up being quite transformational for organizations.
You know, if it was really painful and it was really hard, and you just think, we never want to experience that again, and we never want that to happen again. Actually quite often that becomes a transformative moment. So, you know, I even take heart in the painful moments because I think, well what’s the evolution and the learnings from this and what does it look like on the other side of that.
Alison Jones: That is a great point for organizations and for life.
Catherine Garrod: Indeed, yes.
Alison Jones: And I’m going to ask you as well, Catherine, to recommend us a book and you’re not allowed to use Conscious Inclusion, obviously, although you should read it, people, it’s extremely good. What would you recommend that people read and why?
Catherine Garrod: Oh, I’m really torn between two. So…
Alison Jones: You can have two, people have had more than two. I mean, yes.
Catherine Garrod: That gives me gender balance as well, which makes me happy. So the last book I read that really had an influence on me was Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed. So he’s done the why is inclusion important book, as have lots of other wonderful people but that one I thought was really clever because he talked about collective intelligence and he shared all of these big world events that have gone wrong, so people not getting to the top of Everest, planes crashing, you know, really big, awful things that have gone wrong.
But he talked about there always being really fantastically intelligent people involved in that, who’d studied and had amazing careers, but they had the same kind of intelligence, whereas there were usually other people in and around those organizations trying to offer an alternative point of view, but they just weren’t being heard because they were so set on what success looked like and what intelligence looked like.
So I thought that book was brilliant because he never actually used the word diversity once, but it really sets the scene quite nicely for why this stuff is important and so valuable, and how it can go catastrophically wrong if you don’t do it.
Alison Jones: He also makes a beautiful point about how the reason that we have to do this consciously, to your book, is that it’s much more fun, it’s much easier when you all share the same worldview and assumptions and you all get on together and you can have a really nice time in a meeting with a group of like-minded people, and as soon as you mix it up a bit more, it becomes more problematic and there is conflict or confrontation. There’s discussion and it can feel like you’re slowing things down, again to your point earlier, but actually the outcome is going to be stratospherically better.
Catherine Garrod: So one of the things in my book is encourage respectful disagreement, particularly in the UK, we’re not very good at that. You know, we
Alison Jones: …we see it as that something’s wrong, don’t we? And somebody’s got to be right. Yes.
Catherine Garrod: Absolutely.
So one of the decisions in my book is how you can do that and make that a safe environment where people can speak up and say, actually I don’t agree. I think there might be another way, or, I’m not convinced yet. Help me understand it a bit further. So that just becomes a normal part of discussion in meetings.
Alison Jones: Yes, a great recommendation. Second?
Catherine Garrod: The second one is Brene Brown. So I read this one years ago, but I love all of her work, but the one for today is Dare to Lead. And she really talks about that sort of courage, that vulnerability, which again, makes so much sense with the conscious inclusion, you’re not going to know everything, you need to listen, you need to learn, you need to bring people together and do all of that good stuff.
So I think just in terms of pure leadership style, I’d recommend that book as well.
Alison Jones: Yes, it’s a really great foundational point, isn’t it? Is if you are the kind of leader who thinks that they are dealing in answers and that they’re expected to have all the answers, then why would you want to be inclusive? Because you’re right.
Catherine Garrod: It makes this stuff really hard as well, because you think you’re supposed to know everything and nobody can.
Alison Jones: Yes, I don’t think anybody ever could, but particularly now, nobody ever can. Okay, brilliant, thank you so much.
And Catherine, if people want to find out more about you, more about Compelling Culture, more about Conscious Inclusion, where should they go?
Catherine Garrod: So everything is on my website. It’s just been revamped actually. So www.compellingculture.co.uk.
Alison Jones: Fantastic. Well, that was easy. I shall put that link up on the show notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com along with the transcript of this conversation.
And thank you so much for your time today. It’s been well, it was a joy working with you as an author, but it’s been absolutely fascinating talking to you on the podcast as well.
Catherine Garrod: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Alison Jones: Brilliant.