An Exclusive Interview with Asif Sadiq, Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at The Telegraph
In this interview, we spoke with Asif Sadiq, Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at The Telegraph. You don’t see the title of belonging much in the industry so many may not be familiar with what that means or looks like. Asif describes it this way:
“Diversity is great, we need to realize difference, and we’ve done that over the years. Inclusion is where we are. We’re trying to really make that diversity mix work. But where we really need to get to is belonging. Creating a sense of belonging for all people.”
Because sometimes diversity and inclusion efforts end up isolating particular groups. The majority within groups start to feel like the minority. So to address and tackle this particular challenge, they brought in the idea of belonging. From teaching the basics like sitting next to someone you don’t usually sit with to encouraging a culture of learning where you’re not afraid to ask someone questions, Asif has great tips on building belonging into your program.
In this interview, you’ll discover:
- The importance of belonging
- How to create a truly inclusive working environment
- How to help people in organization be more inclusive every day
FIONA: Our guest today is Asif Sadiq. Asif is the Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging for The Telegraph and formally held senior diversity and inclusion roles for EY Financial Services and the City of London Police. On the side, he is involved with a number of charities in a voluntary capacity and has won several awards for his work in inclusion, and in 2017, Asif was awarded an MBE for his services to policing in the communities. For those outside of the UK, an MBE is a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an honor conferred by the Queen herself.
ASIF: Thank you very much for that introduction, and thank you so much for this opportunity. It’s great to share some of my experiences and knowledge.
FIONA: Awesome. Thank you. Asif, can you give us a quick overview of your role and what you’re trying to achieve at The Telegraph? I understand that you just took on this role last month, so congratulations, as well.
ASIF: Thank you very much. I’ve just recently joined The Telegraph as Head of Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging. It’s a completely new role within The Telegraph looking at how we can, of course, bring all those elements into our work, both internally and looking at how we can create the truly inclusive environment, but I guess the biggest change, and it’s probably worth me mentioning this now, is the belonging piece, which is not necessarily a concept which a lot of people align to D&I or you don’t see so much of, but it is something I’m really, really passionate about because,
“I think diversity’s great. We need to realize difference, and we’ve done that over the years. Inclusion is where we are. We’re trying to really make that diversity mix work, but where we really need to get to is belonging, so create a sense of belonging for all our people”
because I do think sometimes our diversity and inclusion efforts end up isolating particular groups. The majority within organizations start feeling like the minority, and to address or tackle that challenge, I think belonging is a great concept. It’s where we need to aim to get to.
FIONA: Awesome. Thanks so much. Totally, I agree with you there. I think that when you think about belonging, as well, it’s such a more concrete concept than inclusion, I think, sometimes. Inclusion is a bit misunderstood within the business by people who don’t work in this space. Great. Today, I’m going to be talking to Asif a bit more about his thoughts on inclusion and some of the work he’s done to build inclusiveness throughout his career. I’m excited to see or hear what you have to say. I shall start that from the top. Today, I’m going to be talking to Asif about his thoughts on inclusion and some of the work he’s done to build inclusiveness throughout his career. I’m excited to hear what you have to say, Asif. First, though, I’d like to ask you the question we start with for every guest on our show. Can you tell us how you first became woke to inclusion and diversity? When was the moment you first realized that it matters in business and in society more broadly?
ASIF: I guess that’s really, really interesting. It’s probably going to start with my career journey. When I joined the City of London Police, before I became the Head of D&I, I joined as a police officer. I served as a serving police officer, working in various roles, and all I wanted to do was be like everyone else because that’s what policing’s about. You go in, and then you go through this system of training, and you come out the other end a police officer. I did that, and then, as time went by, as I worked in different departments, I realized actually I have opinions and views, which are different to others, but which can support the work of what policing was trying to achieve, and that got me really passionate about how can I utilize the power of diversity, diversity of thinking, diversity of experiences, to better the police service, and then slowly started getting involved in looking at things in a different way, which became really beneficial. All of a sudden, I found myself being the guy to go to when it came to any of these diversity issues or challenges that we faced in policing. That slowly resulted in me eventually being asked to head up the Diversity and Inclusion Department by the Commissioner of the Police. It was not something I naturally probably intended because I did the Bachelor’s actually in management and human resource management, but policing wasn’t something I intended to do, either. I guess life took me on that journey, but I just found a real passion for the power of diversity.
FIONA: Great. Thank you so much. Another question just on your work with the police. What was your biggest takeaway from working with the police specifically on diversity and inclusion?
ASIF: I guess the biggest thing was realizing the potential benefits from a noncommercial perspective of having diversity. Everything nowadays, when we look at why diversity’s important, a lot of people talk about the commercial benefits and the productivity and innovation and so on, and that’s great, and it’s true, but, actually, in policing, what I realized was having diversity, of course, assisted in solving problems better, but what it did was it reached out to different groups of people who didn’t have that trust and confidence in the police service, so it was about …
It made a bigger impact on society, in general, and that, for policing, I guess, was the big thing, how to utilize diversity to be better at what you do, which is serving the public.
FIONA: Awesome. Then you moved into EY Financial Services and into the corporate sector. I’m curious to hear a little bit more about EY’s diversity and inclusion culture change continuum. This was a really brilliant way of highlighting the business’ roadmap for success. Can you tell me a little bit more about it and also where this idea came from?
ASIF: Sure. The idea looks at how do you make diversity and inclusion work together, and it’s actually looking at that the both have to meet at a certain point for there to be true success, and the fact that, well, actually, when you’re doing diversity and inclusion, there’s two efforts that you must do as an organization. One’s the drive towards diversity that the organization does. This is where it’s all about the learning, the information, putting out some of the data, some of the programs and so on, and then there’s the second bit, which is the individuals themselves.
“How do they champion it? The idea is really around that cultural change. How do you embed cultural change around diversity? It is a two-sided approach. One’s the individuals. One’s the organization themselves.”
That whole approach was based on that, that how do you champion both, because one without the other results in a noninclusive organization or people not feeling included. You could achieve inclusion from an organizational perspective, but your people might not feel included, or you could achieve inclusion from a people perspective, but your organization doesn’t look or feel inclusive, but that approach brings both of those elements together to create a truly inclusive working environment.
FIONA: Thank you. To think about that the difference between organizational behaviors and values versus individual behaviors and values, I’m curious to know what are some examples of initiatives and particulars of how you can help people in organization be more inclusive every day?
ASIF: I think the biggest thing around making people feel more or be more inclusive is some of the basic stuff. It’s the simplest stuff. I’ve seen some very, very good complicated programs at numerous firms, including EY, but our true success came from working on some of the basics. We used to run this campaign called I’m In, and it was a month-long campaign around being inclusive, but it asked people to do basic, simple things, like say,
“Hello,” to someone different and go through a different experience, ask someone that you … sit next to someone you wouldn’t normally sit next to.”
I know this sounds really, really basic, but, unfortunately, we get so hard-wired to work in a certain way, and we’ve got a task or an end-goal that we’re trying to achieve, that we forget some of the basic human principles that we all have, but when we start applying them without fear, we then get a true inclusive environment. Again, back to my point around diversity, I think sometimes people fear what they can/can’t say, don’t want to get it wrong, don’t want to ask, but, actually, the world is a great learning place.
People don’t get offended, and I always say this, personally, that I’ve never been offended with anyone asking me a question. I do get offended when people form an opinion or a perception without actually asking me. It is about the simplest of things that individuals can do to create a more inclusive environment. For the organization, I guess it’s important that the inclusion message is not just to particular groups. If an organization truly believes in diversity, inclusion, and belonging, let’s not talk to just the women or the ethnic minorities or the people from the LGBTQ community.
It’s the whole organizational culture, and that can only happen when you bring everyone into that conversation.
FIONA: I love that. I love the I’m In and thinking about what are those tiny behaviors you do every day and trying to undo some of those habits or just get out of that … I think, oftentimes, we all find ourselves quite distracted and just very focused on work. Actually, recently, we were talking in my own team about this, and one of my colleagues and I agreed that just because we had become more aware of our biases and just some of the ways that we were working, that from then on, when we were on the tube and we caught eyes with someone, which anyone who lives in London will be able to understand why this is significant, anytime we caught eyes with someone, that we would actually just give them a smile and just acknowledge them, and it was funny because the first time I did it, the girl who I sort of smiled at, sort of halfway smiled at, gave me a huge grin back, and, actually, it really lifted my whole day up. It’s all about the little things, I think. Great. You’ve just taken on this new role running Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at The Telegraph. Can you tell me what is your biggest challenge to solve at The Telegraph?
ASIF: Well, that’s interesting. I guess it’s still early days, but I think … I don’t actually see it as a challenge. I see it more as an opportunity. It’s very, very interesting because The Telegraph is, and I’m not just saying this because I work for The Telegraph, but quite an inclusive workplace. There’s a lot of people who can be themselves. There’s a lot of people who … It’s difficult for the listeners to see this, but you will see that people are dressed in different ways, people are themselves, very different to financial services where everyone dresses in a particular way. Already, they’re on that journey of being inclusive and valuing difference. I guess the opportunity that that provides me is, how do I take that to the next level? How do I ensure that actually we’re capturing diversity and inclusion, and it’s not only benefiting our business, but it’s creating this truly inclusive workplace where each individual can be themselves, air their different ways of thinking, their different opinions, and we capture that because, really and truly, that’s what keeps organizations successful, and, for us, it’s about ensuring that everyone has a great experience while they or when they join The Telegraph. Actually, working for the media is something that people do when they’re really passionate. It’s more a vocation rather than a job.
“How do you create that environment that they can feel comfortable doing that, but bringing with them the diversity of thought and experiences that they have, because the world we live in is changing just as fast.”
Unless we, as organizations, keep up with that, we will end up with organizations that don’t represent or reflect the communities that we live in.
FIONA: Absolutely, and I’m big believer that it’s a massive competitive advantage, as well, for you, as a business, in building that sort of culture. Just one final question for you. In all the impact that you’ve made in diversity and inclusion over the course of your career, what single thing are you most proud of?
ASIF: That’s a hard question. I guess, for me, the thing that makes me proud, and it’s very difficult to limit it down to a single thing, and that’s not because I’m great, but that’s because the people around me are being great, but the single thing, if I can be really proud of is allowing or creating a platform in some of the organizations I’ve worked for where I’ve given a voice to those who didn’t have one, and that’s created true inclusion, and some of them have been very, very successful in their careers and have managed to really progress further, and that’s great to see because I did nothing apart from giving them a platform. That’s all they needed, and that’s the greatness of seeing diversity then flourish, and when you see some of these individuals then leading departments, organizations, that’s a big thing. I think, at the same time, I must also mention one of the other things I really value is when you change someone’s mindset, when someone’s very anti-D&I or thinks D&I has nothing to do with them, and then you speak to them and you realize actually or they realize diversity’s got something to do with them, as well, and one of the things I always say is,
That’s what makes a truly diverse workplace.
FIONA: That’s brilliant. Thank you so much for sharing those lessons with us. I’m sure there’s a lot for our listeners to take away from them, as well. If anyone listening wants to stay connected with you, what’s the best way for them to do that?
ASIF: I am on LinkedIn, so please do. I share a lot of posts on different things, not my own thought leadership, but it’s a bit of everything I see in industry, so there’s some great learning there, and it is just my name Asif Sadiq at LinkedIn, and same with Twitter. I am on Twitter, and it’s @AsifSadiq.
FIONA: Great. Thank you so much.
Be sure to follow Asif as @AsifSadiq
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