Diversity and Inclusion
An Exclusive Interview with Gamiel Yafai, Managing Director at Diversity Marketplace.
Gamiel Yafai is the co-author of Demystifying Diversity and Managing Director at Diversity Marketplace. When he conducted 35 pieces of research about the perceptions minority groups have towards employers he learned 2 major things:
In this interview, we were honored to hear Gamiel’s advice for making sure your employer brand helps – not hinders- you in your mission to attract diverse talent.
FIONA: Our guest today is Gamiel Yafai, coauthor of Demystifying Diversity, an invaluable guide for anyone getting to grips with the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Gamiel is the managing director of Diversity Marketplace, helping some of the UK’s largest firms attract new talent from diverse backgrounds. He recently said of his work, “I am privileged to be able to wake up each and every morning knowing that I can and will make a difference in this world”. Welcome Gamiel. It’s a pleasure to have you here and chat with you today.
GAMIEL: Fiona, thank you very much for inviting me and for allowing me to share my experience with your audience.
FIONA: Thank you. So Gamiel, can you tell us a bit more about the work you’re currently doing at Diversity Marketplace and what you’re trying to achieve?
GAMIEL: Well, that’s a very interesting question because the work I’m currently doing is more or less the same work I was doing when I first started off in diversity in 2000 and you know the work that I do comprises say four areas. One is research. The other one is positive action programs, training and development for senior leaders with coaching and strategic development and that’s from writing strategy to audit the benchmarks and culture surveys and all of those we’re currently doing. But you could say things have changed but not changed massively. And that’s the challenge that we have today.
FIONA: So I just want to start by asking you something we ask all our guests on Inclusion Works. What personal experiences first made you aware of inclusion and diversity issues and led to your work in this space?
GAMIEL: Well, again, another really interesting question, because my awakening happened at the age of 11 when my father took me to the Yemen and Yemen being an Arab country dominated Muslim community. I learned very early on about gender inequality. And I think that’s the first thing that hit me. I think I actually lost a lot of challenges that I had as a child growing up in a family, you know, father born in Yemen, mother born in Glasgow, being Jew heritage and being, you could say, accepted by some in the UK and not by others. And when I went to Yemen being accepted by some in the Yemen and again, not by others.
So I would say my first sort of real experiences hit me when I went to Yemen. And that was supposed to be a six-week holiday. Well, that’s what my dad told my mom. But it ended up being two and a half years and that is probably another story altogether.
FIONA: [laughs] It does sound like it.
FIONA: But do think– it’s interesting I’ve heard this kind of the same reflection from so many people of dual heritage. And I’m actually half American, half English, although I sound totally American. And so I feel like I do have that similar sort of experience of being slightly stuck between two worlds realm. I don’t feel 100% American. I don’t feel 100% British. Even though culturally, they are very similar, right. And so I think it’s interesting to think about as well intersectionality here of having that kind of dual heritage.
GAMIEL: But, it’s quite interesting. You mentioned intersectionality. You see, a lot of people discuss and talk about intersectionality from the perspective of oppression, whereas I see intersectionality, and this applies, this is a big time. What I’ve taken from my roots, so being born in Birmingham, but spending a lot of time in Yemen. And what I’ve taken is that every single intersect that we have throughout our lives is actually an opportunity to learn and to grow. And I would say without those experiences, without those multiple intersects, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today.
FIONA: Yeah, absolutely. It makes you stronger, right?
FIONA: Makes your prospective wider, broader. I totally agree. Today I really want to focus our discussion mainly around attracting and hiring diverse talent. Although, I know at Diversity Marketplace, you do much broader as you just said, loads of stuff on strategy and so forth as well. I’m working with senior leaders and also the training and development side. I know as, of course, that attracting and hiring diverse talent is also just one piece of the puzzle. But you are an expert in this space. So I wanted to talk to you to start with about your brand. Can we just chat a bit about the difference between a brand and an employer brand?
GAMIEL: Again, that’s a really good question. By the way. There are no experts in this field, it is so broad. However, I can share my experiences and I’ve been very fortunate. And, you know, my ent in terms of diversity and inclusion, I got involved by fluke. Most people that do equality and diversity and inclusion work, you know fall into this area. But I was very fortunate to be picked up by a recruitment advertising marketing branding agency very early on.
So in 2003, I joined an organization called Habbas, back then they were called [Unintelligible] And a lot of the work that we did was around sort of employer brand and the employer brand proposition. And what we found was that a lot of organizations will do a huge amount of work around that brand and then their employer brand. But the vast majority of them will do lots of consulting, but they don’t consult with people with disabilities. They don’t consult with people from ethnic minority backgrounds. They won’t consult where the individuals who are LGBTQI and what we found that those employers that did were seen totally different.
And I’ll expand on that because that’s where I started my research in 2003. And we’re still doing it now. We’ve done 35 pieces of research around perceptions of minority groups and minority groups being gender, disability, ethnicity, LGBTQI, you know the perceptions of those groups externally towards employers.
But also we’ve done with each of those organizations, we’ve done the internal reality of working for those employers from a minority perspective. So we have both parts and very few organizations do this. And I say very few, even though I’ve done 35 over the last year, you can say from 2003 and we’re currently doing one at the moment for the arts and heritage sector. But the interesting things here is within nearly every piece of research that we’ve done, a number of things have been highlighted.
They’ve got an idea of who you are or should I say, a rough idea of what you do. And that within a locality. That’s a dominant factor. However, as soon as you start talking to them about your employer brand, they know very very little. Dependent upon the groups most minority most ethnic minority groups that we work with. That we do research with, you know, most individuals and groups with disabilities and LGBT.
It doesn’t really matter. Most of those minority groups know very little to nothing about an employer brand. They won’t know what types of jobs or should I say does an assumption that they know the different types of jobs employers have. But the reality is they don’t because all they see is what they know. If they see, let’s use Thames Valley Police as an example, and you talk to him about Thames Valley Police, they will instantly think about policemen, policewomen. In fact, they’ll think about policemen more than they think about policewomen.
But they won’t think about the hundreds of other roles, the generic roles that are available in every organization like HR marketing, you know, coms and all the other roles that are available. They just don’t think about it because it’s not prominent in their minds. So in terms of employer brand, most minority groups know very, very little until you go out and tell them.
So the first piece is that brands can be brilliant, but the employer brand is almost invisible to those groups. The other things that have come out of those pieces of research are the fact that…
And, you know, that’s one of the saddest things. And that would probably be my next book is compiling information from these research projects and then actually giving voice to all of those individuals that contributed to the research over the last 16-17 years.
FIONA: That’s interesting to me, because I feel like if you think about how much the world has changed [Unintelligible] because we didn’t have smartphones, you know, 12 years ago or something like that. So it is just amazing thinking about the pace of change in digital and do you think that employers have an easier time kind of communicating employer brand, given all the digital tools and how much we’re using the Internet, obviously, and kind of researching businesses and that sort of thing online? Or do you think it really for employers, it’s just as difficult now to communicate that it was done.
GAMIEL: To be a bit controversial I think employers make too many assumptions. They assume that what they’re doing is reaching everybody. If we just take WhatsApp, for example, a lot of minority communities I’m talking about ethnic minority communities use WhatsApp to communicate constantly. Yet very few. And in fact, there’s only one organisation I know there encourages WhatsApp to be used. And that’s civil service. And I know that because of a program that I’ve been involved in civil service.
But I think there’s a lot of arrogance, I think, as a loss of– again, assumptions that people know us. Why shouldn’t they know? They know our brand. We’ve got this fantastic brand. But let’s say most of the groups that we consult with and we’ve consulted with hundreds of probably over a thousand different groups over that over the years. And again, the same things come up time and time again. They just don’t know.
So, yes, we’re moving into this digital age, but we haven’t found…I say we haven’t found…I think employers are a bit naive to the different ways of communicating with different groups and they will use the same thing or the same method that they used to reach, I would say the majority or people similar to them.
FIONA: And I do I don’t want to name and shame here, but I was wondering if you could share what are some hallmarks of a poor employer brand or as you were just talking about, some of the ways that businesses really fall down by not understanding the best way to communicate, to diverse groups and what are some things that perhaps people listening could watch out for that would potentially mean that they can’t attract diverse talent?
GAMIEL: I think, again, the challenge here is the fact that I think there’s you know, there are lots of blind spots for organisations that genuinely feel that it’s all about the status quo. It’s all about how things have always been done or going back to the way that things have been done. And the think is, the real hallmarks are very, very simple.
You don’t need data anymore. You can just walk round your office or your building and you can tell, you have an idea, if it’s a large organisation, you look at the people that start at five or four in the morning and you ask yourself what colour they are. And then as the day gradually goes on, you start to look at the shades or the different shades of colour that you get within your organisation and the further up you go, you see less and less.
And then in the evening, you have security guards and cleaners. And the majority of those will be from minority groups. You can visually see things.
FIONA: Yeah, I guess it’s also comparing yourself to your local community, right, and that we look at especially in London. Walk outside the door of your office, right. And I mean, certainly. I’m not based in Mayfair. We’re based in Hammersmith, and it is a vibrant and very diverse local community. And so yes, walk outside. See how diverse the road is outside your office and does that look like it looks inside your walls?
GAMIEL: Absolutely. And, there are simple things. I mean, I’ve worked with organisations and this is again, one of the sad things that just hits me all the time where organisations go, yeah we’re waiting to improve our CRM and I’ve heard this for years. I’ve heard this for like 15 years. We’re updating our CRM. We’ll be able to capture more data. Once we’ve got that data where we’ll start working on that.
“You don’t need that data. You need to be real. You need to actually be a lot bolder and braver in challenging your own organisations.”
And at the moment this seems to be—I sense that one there’s a sort of lack of appreciation of what I call the science of diversity because diversity is a science and also of the value of inclusion, which is about absolutely every single person in the organisation. And there are so much or so many benefits that organisations can derive from just thinking differently.
FIONA: So, you know, from my perspective, it’s pretty difficult to build this really strong employer brand and, you know, a diverse business when your current workforce isn’t diverse, right. Even if you have ambitions to be. So what advice would you give businesses in this position? How can you start?
GAMIEL: I love this question because it’s probably the question I get asked most from employers and at conferences and, you know, just general chit chat. But to me, it’s simple. And so I’ve been doing this, but I’ve been working on diversity inclusion since 2000. And to me,
“The best place to start is local. Get to know your communities.”
We’ve worked I would say probably over 100 organisations and all of them we’ve advised that they start local. And by starting local, if we’re talking about the representation of ethnic minorities, people, disabilities, LGBT individuals who are LGBTQI or gender. There are so many different organisations in any locality that you can start off, start off with it and start one giving them a voice, but also getting a greater understanding of the challenges. I’ll give you an example. Let’s say the prison service at the moment is disproportionately or have a disproportionate number of Muslim inmates and their challenge is okay, they want to make sure that when those inmates leave prison that they’re going to be supported.
Who out there is best to support those individuals? It’s mosques. The mosques are so well geared up. So what we’ve been doing probably a year or so is working with the prison service to identify mosques close to various prisons and run events, literally getting to those mosques and start explaining the challenges that the prison is experiencing and the challenges of those individuals from Muslim backgrounds who potentially have lost connection with their families, their friends, and have been outcast.
How do we get them back into communities? Mosques and various, said some mosques will have a thousand people attend prayer on a Friday. So what we do is we support an organisation by going setting up an event where we’ll set up a stand with the organisation an hour before prayer on a Friday. Obviously, with the permission of the mosque and the executive committee of the mosque. Believe me, these things aren’t easy, but we’ll set up an hour before and we will talk to people as they’re going into the mosque.
We would get 10 minutes to do a talk before Friday prayer and for the prison service that, you know, that 10 minutes is taken up by explaining what the mosque, its committee and the congregation to do to support Muslims who are in prison. We’ll talk about what they can do once those Muslims come out of prison and what support they can provide. But also, how the prisons need to be more representative. And we will talk about the employer brand that will talk about the different types of positions available within the prison service, but also the route to entry. There are available from school leavers right through to individuals of all ages. And I say school leavers I means of college and university leavers.
So there’s something there that the communities know absolutely nothing and whether for another hour and a half after prayer, so actually talk to people and I talk to taxi drivers who have got degrees in some of the most interesting topics, but have chosen taxi driving because they’re fed up of being rejected. They’re fed up with having to fight for absolutely everything they get. And it’s just complicated getting into work. Getting into large organisation or into organisations.
So you will be and in fact, I would love to do a survey. The education levels of taxi drivers across the UK, I think it’ll be really, really interesting and not is wasted talent. But those and lot of those individuals know nothing at all or very, very little about an employer brand.
FIONA: This is kind of all about tapping into, as you say, it’s talent, pockets of talent that are hidden all around us, right? And so I know you’ve worked with many organizations to kind of engage with particular communities and demographics. And I think the prison one is a really interesting one. Do you have any examples of more sort of I guess you could say private enterprise and some of the corporate and so forth that you’ve worked with and some of the more unusual, perhaps connections you’ve been able to forge in local communities?
GAMIEL: To be honest with you, I don’t really want to name too many names. But what I will tell you is everything I genuinely feel that the U.K. is one of these strange places. It’s like this huge jigsaw puzzle that’s been chucked up in the air and landed everywhere. So we’ve got all the pieces. I don’t believe there is skills gaps. I don’t believe that communities are hard to reach. Everything is there. We’ve just got to work differently to actually push those things together. And if I give you another example, Leicester hugely ethnically diverse, and I had a client not long ago come to me and say, right, we’re struggling. We really want to recruit non-executive directors. We’ve advertised in The Guardian, The Times, The Telegraph, and we’ve had absolutely no ethnic minorities who want to join us as non-executive directors. What can we do?
And I thought, again, you know, really interesting. But all we did and honestly, these things are simple. All we did was we went into Leicester, we spoke to lots of different community leaders. We got them to promote a huge event that we did in a place called the People Center. And we invited people from all different backgrounds. And we had 50 people turned up to this event. It cost a fraction of their advertising.
We got 50 people who were qualified to be non-executive directors. Come and listen to this employer to talk about why it was important to engage with different diverse groups. But, that’s a big example. I say a big example. It was a huge event and it took us about four weeks to actually put this on. But it’s purely by going out and talking to people.
FIONA: I want to shift gears just a little bit to ask you a couple of slightly controversial questions about different concepts that I think are kind of popular at the moment in terms of hiring that could be slightly problematic for diversity. So what are your thoughts on hiring for culture fit?
GAMIEL: Culture fit is one of those words that I don’t think we should be using in any organization. To me, if you’re looking for culture fit, you are looking for people who are similar to you. You are looking for people that will fit into the organisation as it is and you will not see growth of that organization. You know, the whole growth of organisations over the coming years will come from disruption. It will come from people who will challenge the organization. If you’ve got everybody that fits into your existing culture, you are not going to get people to challenge the status quo. You are not going to get people who will challenge the leaders, who will challenge thinking within organisations. You will not be able to tap into those, you know, the talent that exists in terms of neurodiversity.
Again, this whole area of neurodiversity is humongous in terms of talent, available talent, untapped talent and skills that are phenomenal. If organisations expand that or get rid of that idea of culture fit, because it’s not necessarily about the organisation, it’s about how those words appear to people who were looking at that employer. To me, if I see the term culture fit and I know with a lot of minority colleagues, we look at culture fit on a job description and we think to ourselves, now they want people like themselves instantly. So it’s not necessarily about what you think, what an organization thinks it means. It’s about how it’s received by the communities that we want to tap into.
FIONA: I totally agree. And I think it was Adam Grant who proposed an alternative point of view of kind of using the term culture contribution rather than culture fit, right. So what are you bringing that’s different. What are you bringing to the table to help us think differently, see things differently and I think that’s a great way to reframe it. Although, perhaps linguistically similar to the original for comfort [laughs]
GAMIEL: Sadly, I agree. I think we need to come up with something much easier. And again, our language needs to be slightly softer. To me culture fit is very hard. It’s like unless you have this, we don’t want you.
FIONA: Yeah, and that’s problematic.
FIONA: So my second very slightly controversial question for you is, do you believe in referral schemes?
GAMIEL: I’ve got a big smile on my face because I love referral schemes. I think they are fantastic. However, as a huge caveat, organisations have to have the right systems, policies, processes, and culture for referral schemes to work. Otherwise, people are just going to bring in again people who are similar to them and they’re going to make choices because they think that these individuals are going to be the same as the people that they’ve already got that’s introduced them because they know them. And those choices are going to be totally, totally biased. We need to firstly, debias, absolutely everything in the organisation and then referral schemes will work.
FIONA: And what do you mean debias everything in the organisation?
GAMIEL:: Debias, I mean, literally go through all of our policies, all of our procedures, and make sure that there is no gender bias, racial bias in terms of language. We need to make sure that everything we do is accessible to individuals who have the variety of disabilities. And we need to make sure the people in the organisations debiased or people become more aware of their biases. And I know there’s lots of controversy around unconscious bias training. To me it’s not about the training, it’s about what organisations do want. They’ve been trained. It’s about what changes they take away and implement.
And most of the time when I run unconscious bias, I call it beyond unconscious bias. What it does is it looks at the employment cycle. So we run workshops and what I class as actual learning. So we’re running workshops around the employment cycle in each stage of that cycle and then we will explore where those biases exist at each of those stages. And then we will talk we’ll work with the organisation on. So what can you do about it or what are you going to do about it? And that’s debiasing, but it’s not just about debiasing a job description or giving somebody unconscious bias training. It’s actually implementing all of that into the again, the culture, the policies, the systems and within the practices of the organization.
FIONA: And giving people those practices on how to sidestep their bias rather than just an awareness of what it is, right? And I think that’s what you’re getting at with your training and that so closely aligned as well with our ethos about bias. You know, you have to kind of close that knowing-doing gap [laughs]
GAMIEL: Yes. I totally agree. And you know, sadly and I know from my own experience of running workshops and programs and I know that unconscious bias can be a tick box like diversity and inclusion training. It’s a tick box. It’s something that’s done. And one of the big reasons for that is that employers still think, and this is really, really sad.
“Employers still think that diversity is all about awareness and communications rather than changing wholesale changes to systems, processes, policies, and culture.”
FIONA: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s no way you can change the culture without, you know, as you say, debiasing the systems, processes and practices, but also helping people change their behaviors every day. You know, helping to change the small signals and symbols of who belongs and who doesn’t on a day to day basis in the business and also through the employer brand, of course, externally.
So I have just one more question for you now, which is my favorite one [laughs] What is one simple thing that anyone could do this week to build inclusion in their workplace?
FIONA: And I’ve read some research, well, specifically around hiring that one of the worst times that bias seeps into your hiring decisions is when you’re in a rush. When you really need to fill that position quickly. You’re under pressure and that’s where you’re most susceptible. So relying on biases, oh, this person looks like someone who’s done a good job at this role in the past.
GAMIEL: Yes, absolutely.
FIONA: So I think for hiring that sort of reflection and challenging around thinking is particularly important.
GAMIEL: I totally agree. And again, it’s about having or taking that time. And it’s you know we don’t afford ourselves time anymore when we’re busy, but we need to make time. Otherwise, we’re not really going to move forward. As I said at the start some of the comments and feedback that we had to our research back in 2003 are identical to what we have now. Part of that is we are not able to put ourselves in the shoes of somebody who is different from us and that’s empathy because it’s empathy. And it’s that, you know, the empathetic feeling that we have inside that enables us to connect with somebody.
And if we can’t connect with somebody because we don’t know enough about them, then we’re going to move on to somebody else that we can connect with. So let’s find different ways of getting empathy. And empathy only comes through understanding, which leads me back to the whole thing around. Let’s get to know our community and we can do that from starting locally.
FIONA: I love that and that’s such a brilliant message. Gamiel thank you so much for all of the insights you’ve shared today. I’m sure there’s loads for our listeners to take away from this session, too. So if anyone listening wants to stay connected with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
GAMIEL: Well, firstly, Fiona thank you very much for inviting me. And I just want a big shout out to all of those change agents that are out there that are doing phenomenal work and all the new ones that are coming through. That is my role now, is to create more of those change agents, role models, mentors. So in terms of contacting me, you can contact me on LinkedIn. You can look me up on Diversity Marketplace’s website, which is diversity marketplace.co.uk or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
FIONA: Wonderful. Well, thank you.
. . .
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An Exclusive Interview with Gamiel Yafai, Managing Director at Diversity Marketplace.
Check out our other interviews with inclusion’s change-makers, thinkers, and influencers.
Having previously led Learning and Development for 3,000 people at Europe’s leading venture builder, Blenheim Chalcot, Fiona knows a thing or two about how to build high performance culture. As Content Director at Hive Learning, Fiona pioneered the organisation's leading guided content programmes which are designed to turn learning into action. Most recently, Fiona led the inception, development and delivery of Inclusion Works by Hive Learning - the world’s first diversity and inclusion programme focused on turning unconscious bias into conscious action - created from over 1,000 leading sources.
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