How a diverse workforce can drive business transformation


BAT’s B United network of LGBTQ+ employees bring colour to the company’s Southampton R&D site

The pandemic has put the brakes on many workplace initiatives, but inclusive and diverse cultures will support organisations to emerge productive and engaged the other side. Simi Dubb shares how BAT has kept diversity at the heart of its company ethos and the role this plays in its future.

Adapt or die. For any successful business, this mantra is at the core of its existence and its longevity. For BAT – a company that has operated for over a century – this could not be truer.

We are currently in the greatest period of change our company has ever seen. In March, we announced our new company purpose of building A Better Tomorrow by reducing the health impact of our business through a greater choice of enjoyable and less risky products.

Against this backdrop of our ongoing evolution and adaptation at BAT, there remains one constant – and that’s the strength and resilience of our people.

BAT was founded in 1902 and has since grown into one of the world’s most international companies operating in 180 countries.

Common purpose

At BAT, our diversity has long been at the heart of our culture and company ethos. Throughout the many challenges that we have all encountered this year, our strength through our diversity has been a crucial element that continues to unite us with a common purpose, even while we work apart.

And it is precisely because of the work we have done, and the culture we have fostered before the pandemic, that we have been able to collectively meet the challenges of Covid-19 head on.

We have grown our internal networks including B United, which provides mentoring and a support system for our LGBTQ+ employees, and our Women in Leadership programme, which seeks to accelerate the performance and potential of our female talent. Our Parents@BAT network supports those seeking to balance work and family.

These networks celebrate the differences amongst our employees as a source of strength for our business. Empowering and encouraging our people to value and bring their differences has resulted in a more engaged and united workforce which has proved critical during the recent months.

During the pandemic, our colleagues around the world have rolled out various initiatives and programmes in their markets to further support our people’s wellbeing, and to keep teams engaged, energised and informed.

These include virtual individual wellbeing and counselling consultations, hosting weekly talks on various topics, including mental health and fitness, virtual cinema clubs and workout sessions.

Staying in touch

For us, it has always been important to stay in touch with, and to learn from, our people so that we can continue to foster an inclusive culture where our differences are valued and where we can thrive.

Empowering and encouraging our people to value and bring their differences has resulted in a more engaged and united workforce which has proved critical during the recent months.”

This year, while many of us continue to work apart from each other, this has become even more crucial. Virtual one-to-one meetings, employee engagement and listening sessions, and town halls are just some of the ways that enable us to have an ongoing understanding of our employees’ experiences, their priorities and how they are feeling.

The pandemic has highlighted that our employees continue to be – without question – our most important asset. Their ability to adapt quickly to new working conditions and remain motivated has been inspiring and vital for our continued progress.

Celebrating the diversity and resilience of our employees around the world was at the heart our global 24-hour, ‘#StrongerTogether’ event in July.

This virtual event connected our 53,000 employees by leveraging our digital infrastructure, bringing us together to take a break from work and to have fun.

Our event had a packed agenda of different activities our employees could participate in. These included a behind-the-scenes tour of the McLaren F1 garage, a class on how to make classic cocktails, and an at-home workout with an Adidas ambassador. We also had a live feed throughout the day where employees could connect with each other to share messages, pictures and videos.

Futureproofing talent

Looking ahead, it will become even more important for BAT and other global companies to retain and attract the best talent as we manage the challenges thrown at us by COVID-19.

This period of disruption has highlighted the need for many businesses to transform and future-proof themselves, whether that involves enhancing digital capabilities, becoming more sustainable, adapting to changing consumer habits or nurturing their diversity.

So, if we know that a diverse workforce is critical for achieving business transformation and commercial success, how do we go about attracting and retaining that talent?

1. Foster an inclusive culture

Companies can only harness the benefits of a diverse workforce if they create an inclusive culture where employees feel they are valued regardless of their gender, ethnicity, culture or sexuality. Nurturing this type of culture isn’t achieved through a “once and done” process – it is a continuous process of constant improvement.

2. Practise what you preach

Companies can no longer just talk the talk when it comes to diversity. There is a need to create enablers for change. Having a diverse senior leadership demonstrates that you truly value and promote people with different backgrounds, opinions and ideas. At BAT, not only do we have 74 nationalities in our London head office, we also have nine nationalities on our management board. There is more to do but we are committed to this journey.

3. Drive ownership and accountability for diversity

Companies that are looking to improve their diversity need to have a well thought out strategy in place and be held accountable for delivering it. Progress should be reviewed against key objectives and performance indicators. There also needs to be transparent communication, not only on the progress achieved, but on the challenges too.

Keep going

For some companies, Covid-19 has put a pause on certain areas of business. Developing and attracting a diverse workforce cannot be one of them.

We have long understood that our diverse people are at the heart of our business and our success. They are our competitive advantage and the reason why we continue, more than a century on, to lead our industry and its transformation.

While we have made considerable progress in fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce, we know there is more that can be done. As we move through 2020, we take the lessons learnt from the last 118 years of our existence – that the one constant in life is change.

We remain committed to driving our efforts to retain and attract a diverse workforce so that we continue to weather this storm stronger together and manage our way through with the strength, grit and resilience that our company was built on.

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