An interview with our D&I conference speaker Ben Buchanan

Read an interview with Ben Buchanan, Corporate D&I Champion at Intellectual Property Office and speaker at our upcoming D&I conference on 16 November

What are the top 3 priorities on your D&I agenda this year?

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has a corporate target this year – for which we are accountable to our Minister – to demonstrate our commitment to diversity by securing external validation for our approach to inclusion for under-represented groups.

In practice, this means working with organisations like Stonewall, the Business Disability Forum, and Chwarae Teg to assess our policies and performance, and identify areas to improve, so that we can get endorsement or improvements for what we do for our people and customers.

Benchmarking what we do is important, but of course we must ensure that it makes a real difference to fairness, equality and inclusion. So our second priority is empowering our people to set up networks, become role models and allies and share best practice with other organisations. In this respect we work with other government bodies, local organisations and professional bodies.

Our third priority is to target initiatives to reduce bullying and harassment. While this is broader than “just” D&I, by promoting understanding and respect for difference, and challenging unacceptable behaviours, we can lead by example in other areas.

All of our priorities are underpinned by our ambition to ensure that everybody feels confident to be themselves at work.

What is one thing your organisation is doing extremely well in the D&I space which others can learn from?

We’re putting D&I on everybody’s to do list. We have an organisational Diversity and Inclusion Steering Group, responsible for challenging the business to continually improve and deliver policies, support and resources that offer the best and most inclusive working environment that we can for everybody. We run events and an annual conference to provoke interest, stimulate thinking, and grow everybody’s collective understanding and capability.

We beat the drum about the benefits of diversity and inclusion to the business and to our people, because it is everybody’s responsibility, because we want to be the best we can be, and because it is the right thing to do.

What is, in your view, one thing (or the most impactful thing) all of us can do right now to help further the workplace equality, diversity and inclusion agenda?

Identify role models and allies. Not just for certain groups or characteristics, but as inclusively as possible. A role model shows it’s ok to be who you are, and helps open up conversations about difference and identity. Allies show that it’s ok to support others, break down affinity bias, and to be open and inclusive. Allies build bonds between differences and are a great way to promote inclusion, bring together different groups of people and show support and respect for who people are.

What started your interest in workplace equality/diversity/inclusion?

Ignorance. As a leader of projects and initiatives within the IPO, and a manager of 20 people, one of my early challenges was driving up the performance of a team of specialists (as an ex-specialist myself) to deliver more good work and meet increasing demand.

My learning curve sharpened considerably when I welcomed somebody with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to my team. I knew nothing about it! By working with him, HR and an external consultant I rapidly appreciated the strengths and potential of the individual, (consistent with his ASD). I learnt a great deal about the impact of supportive, well-informed colleagues and the challenges of providing adjustments to the way we manage, communicate in the working environment.

From here my awareness of the importance of different sensitivities, strengths and characteristics for everybody grew. The challenges of managing people, in particular with different unseen or behavioural characteristics, fascinated me – not just because of the importance of wellbeing and fair treatment, but because by making the most of different values, experience and cognitive styles you can build higher performing, more creative teams. I joined the D&I Group and increased my exposure to a broader range of D&I challenges including social mobility and making the business case for diversity. I am now the IPO’s D&I Champion, chair the D&I Steering Group and am actively involved in the Intellectual Property Profession’s D&I initiative IP Inclusive.
Tell us about the topic you will be speaking on at the conference and why you wanted to share this.

Our session is called “Secret Powers and Super Powers: how personal stories and peer networks make amazing things happen”

Personal stories are powerful when challenging cultural norms and sensitive issues. From the shop floor to the Board Room, we will explore how unlocking peoples' secret powers can start to change organisational behaviour.

When people are empowered to help themselves, they get things done. With the right framework and leadership, peer networks can use their super powers to influence, engage and improve. We will show how to build self-sustaining networks, to challenge and change things for the better. We will advocate an inclusive approach to building networks, to include allies, peers and potentially managers.

Workshop participants will hear what worked well for the IPO, and will leave with a toolkit to make things happen for themselves.