Contact Centre Virtual Roundtable – Diversity & Inclusion in the Contact Centre – push or pull?

The events of 2020 have brought diversity and Inclusion (D&I) to the forefront for many organisations. The global outbreak of COVID-19 forced many longstanding beliefs and practices to be reconsidered and reconstructed in a matter of days or weeks. Similarly, events catalysed in the US in May and the subsequent focus on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement globally, has pushed D&I back up the agenda where, previously it was present, but lacked focus and in some cases clear actions.

Has this had an impact on attracting and hiring for contact centres? With an increasing supply of talent to the market will this organically increase diversity? There is a growing need for more human contact by customers, what impact has this had on attraction and talent strategies within the sector?

Brook Street invited industry experts, Trevor Butterworth, CEO and Founder of the UKCCF and Martin Teasdale, Director at BPA Solutions along with Contact Centre Talent Leaders from a variety of sectors including banking, financial services, retail and outsources solutions to discuss and explore the topic of “Diversity and Inclusion in the Contact Centre – Push or Pull?” The session was structured around three main questions pertaining to D&I in the contact centre sector:

  • Driving forces of D&I – what are they? And, what is the impact they have had on the skills of call agents?
  • What’s changed – What actions has your organisation taken to increase D&I? What impact has this had?
  • Responsibility – Who is ultimately responsible for D&I? What steps can you take to improve D&I in your organisation?

The five key takeaways from the conversation can be grouped to the following main points:

Senior Leadership – It was discussed that contact centres, often on face value seem to attract a “diverse” call-agent when it comes to ethnicity, gender, religion and sexual orientation, however, this is not always reflected within senior leadership. The “on the phone” talent don’t always see or are not encouraged to think of the role as a career, many feel it is just a ‘job’, which hinders the organic creation of diverse leadership in the sector. The leaders of today need to ensure the right strategies and career pathways are in place to support the career development of call agents, creating a dynamic, diverse and inclusive pipeline of leadership talent.

Employee’s driving change – Many of the attendee’s agreed that is their call agents, either directly or through employee forums who are now questioning and pushing change from their leaders. However, the conversation of course can’t just be focussed on BLM. The point was also made that diversity is about a myriad of minority groups – both identifiable and areas that are less obvious such as neurodiversity.

What role does training play? Several of the attendee’s discussed the positive influence training has had not just internally but the impact it’s had on customers, and in many respects the training need is being driven by customers

  • D&I – One delegate mentioned training around areas such as sexuality, gender and gender identification, supporting colleagues to understand and feel enabled to discuss the topic confidently
  • Soft skills – Being able to empathise, understand and really support customers, all agreed was much more important since COVID-19. Training to support and increase an agent’s emotional intelligence and resilience was the focus for many. How agents actually get the most out of this though, it was discussed, wasn’t just through classroom learning – but creating scenarios where the internal support from colleagues could also help bolster the academic principles

Candidate pipeline – The conversation then turned to, “What is more important though? Fulfilling candidate pipelines or creating the most diverse and inclusive work-force?”  Both, essentially. It was felt by the group, however, that it’s easier to focus on and achieve increased diversity when volumes are smaller. Those with higher turnover of staff and handling higher call volumes, although D&I is important to reflect the customer base, often its importance is taken over by necessity of hires. Presenting the conundrum for tried and tested “known to work” processes verses an approach which is able to achieve a richer diverse and inclusive workforce.

Who is responsible for D&I? With a general agreement on how contact centres should increase their inclusive and diverse workforce the focus then shifted to who. Is the board responsible, the CEO, senior leadership, HR, Talent Teams or is it more bottom up? Call-agents and employees? Or in fact is it no one person – but everyone. Everyone plays a part in defining the culture and therefore everyone has a responsibility. However, it was agreed the D&I agenda and accompanying metrics need flow through all levels of seniority.

In summary, a very robust conversation explored the factors that are influencing D&I in contact centres today, both a mixture of push and pull. Everyone in the organisation has their part to play but there is a need for senior leadership and those at board level to focus on growing the D&I make-up of all their staff. A diverse and inclusive talent pipeline will not only ensure contact centres to innovate and grow but also provide customers with the best possible experience.

For more information on D&I  in the contact centre and other workplaces and to be a part of future events contact Mina Vanpiggelen on mina.vanpiggelen@brookstreet.co.uk.