Telling our stories

Saskia Bewley
Opinion - Publishing Friday, 5th April 2019

Saskia Bewley reports on Hachette's Employee Networks, part of the group's Changing the Story initiative

Our industry is based on storytelling, and we are acutely aware of the ways in which multiple realities can co-exist - but how much time and space do we give to uncovering the realities within our own workplaces? How much time and space do we dedicate to telling our own stories? And do we really know the stories of the people we work with?

Diversity and inclusion can sometimes appear to be an opaque, intangible and esoteric area of focus for businesses, sensitive to address and often difficult to measure. Right at its core, however, is something that the publishing industry understands intimately and that can be an incredible way of taking the temperature of our organisations. Storytelling can be one of the most powerful tools at our disposal when it comes to inclusivity.

Hachette UK's approach to diversity and inclusion - Changing the Story - began formally in May 2016, established by David Shelley and taken over by Nick Davies and Sharmaine Lovegrove as co-chairs in January 2018. In little under three years, diversity and inclusion engagement at Hachette UK has seen incredible growth, and what began as a core group of 13 colleagues now stands at more than 150.

This has been achieved in no small way by our community of Employee Networks; employee-led groups sponsored by the company. We currently have eight active networks and a combined membership of more than 800 colleagues. Our largest and most established networks are our Gender Balance Network, and Thrive (our BAME network), which both have more than 200 members. Our most recently formed networks, Ageless and All Together, focus on issues of intergenerational diversity and of regionality and socio-economic status respectively.

In order that all our employee networks be sustainable and embedded in the culture of the company, each has an executive sponsor who is its direct line to the board. This is a critical two-way line of communication, ensuring alignment of network goals to strategic business objectives, as well as providing a channel for the business to listen to the needs of employees, offer support and facilitate change. We have introduced operational guidelines for our networks to provide a steer in terms of an operating model, the setting of KPIs (key performance indicators) and communication.

Our Employee Networks shape a positive and supportive community at Hachette. They have cultivated safe spaces within our working environment where colleagues feel able to express their views and share their realities. Our Gender Balance Network, for example, has been instrumental in aiding the development and implementation of our Gender Pay Gap action plan through facilitation of open and honest discussion across the company.

The networks provide us with a rich source of qualitative data about how people feel and experience life within our company - data sets that we can use to inform meaningful change that benefits our colleagues.

For us to be truly intentional about diversity and inclusion we must ensure that our own stories can be told, because if we assume stories, we assume needs, and when we assume needs, we risk compromising the integrity and wellbeing of our people and our culture. Our culture should be constantly evolving, supporting people who feel safe to reveal themselves, to challenge the status quo and to present alternative visions. Changing the Story is ultimately about cultural change, and it unfolds one story at a time.

Photo: an Employee Networks launch event

Saskia Bewley is diversity and inclusion manager at Hachette.

This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly/BookBrunch London Book Fair Show Daily.