Fostering Inclusive Workplaces

Free to Attend


Celina Mfuko

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at NHS England Diversity and Inclusion Manager at ENH Tech; Research Manager at St Bartholomew’s Hospital

Dr Zaza Johnson Elsheikh

Chair of Counter-Terrorism Advisory Group; Panel Member at CMDS (Commercial and Medical Dispute Solutions) and the Founder of Converge and Belief in Mediation and Arbitration

Dr Zaza Johnson Elsheikh is dually qualified as a medical doctor and solicitor as well as being a highly experienced mediator and International Commercial Arbitrator (CIArb).

Hannah Lowe

Hannah Lowe, Research Fellow, Dialogue Society

Jeevantika Lingalwar

Partner Technology Strategist for Microsoft; Founder and President of International Women in Tech Ireland and Founder of India Ireland Connect

Jeevantika Lingalwar is a mentor, speaker and entrepreneur. Jeevantika is the Founder & President of the International Women in Tech Ireland group, a Technical Manager/Co-Founder of Quantum Computing Ireland, and also a Founder of India Ireland Connect. She is a Member of IEEE in Ireland.

Prof Heidi Safia Mirza

Professor of Race, Faith and Culture at Goldsmiths, University of London; Emeritus professor at UCL Institute of Education

Professor Heidi Safia Mirza is a Professor of Race, Faith and Culture at Goldsmiths, University of London and is an emeritus professor at UCL Institute of Education. Much of her research focuses on race, multiculturalism, Islamophobia, and gendered violence.

Trisha Webbe

Assistant Director of East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust

Terms such as “diversity” and “inclusion” have dominated discussions on how it is best to shape our workforce in our multicultural British context.

Being merely diverse is not enough, in an integrated workforce the expectation that microaggressions (a term used to describe daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities towards a race group) be identified and tackled is key to the development of an inclusive workplace.

A workforce in which individual and group differences are valued and perspectives embraced would be titled an inclusive environment. In this environment, talent and innovation are projected to flourish, with research suggesting if black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals were in an inclusive working environment, in which their contributions mattered and abilities fostered to achieve their full potential, an additional £24 billion would be gained to the economy.

In addressing perceived vote-yielding tactics of a fallacy of an inclusive workplace, civil rights activist Jesse Jackson famously stated, “inclusion is not a matter of political correctness. It is the key to growth.” This growth can be observed as a marker of both economic growth and integration. Our working life is the bedrock of our society, if dominated by prejudice and violations of rights of equality we can start to see a crumbling in other areas of our society.

The panel will therefore address the following questions:

  • What is an “inclusive workplace” and why is it needed?
  • What are the current lived realities in the UK?
  • How can such an environment be fostered?

Fostering Inclusive Workplaces | Racial Equality Panel Series


Professor Mirza’s presentation explores ‘Respecting Difference: Gender, Race, Faith and Inclusion in Academia”. She begins by painting a picture of the wider context in which diversity and inclusion is developing currently. She describes how we are currently in a “post-race” moment, with current social and political events such as BlackLivesMatter, Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic having a hand in reshaping the world and the way in which race is viewed. A point which was made by Mirza argues that the UK holds some of the most sophisticated legislation which prevents racial discrimination within the workplace, yet this has not been acted upon. It is suggested that combatting racial discrimination through policy is in fact performative rather than it being something that can create real change.

She then starts to highlight research that she conducted on young people who were training to become teachers through accessing higher education. Professor Mirza provides an example of a student who was advised not to apply to a high-status university due to his African heritage and how it will pose a difficulty on him gaining acceptance. This is due to the idea that the colour of one’s skin determines their level of cultural capital and that a POC is not the same as a white candidate, a male candidate or an able-bodied candidate.

Professor Mirza stresses that there are two conflicting ideas that are present where on one side, POC are made to feel that they are not as able as non-POC and that they will not reach their level. Whilst on the other side, diversity within institutions is favoured by many and is seen as beneficial as it enriches environments and helps increase productivity.

These ideas surrounding race can also be applied to religion and culture. She explored how stereotypes of Muslim women, which present them as “passive and acquiescent” may be a reason as to why they are treated differently from their white counterpart.

Finally, she poses three questions to think about: what do we mean by real ‘equality’ for people of colour in challenging situations in white institutions? What are our principles of professional and academic engagement and how do we arrive at them? And what social, political and cultural change do we want to achieve?

Dr Zaza’s presentation focused on ‘Fostering Appropriate Communication in the Face of Diversity’. She began by drawing upon her personal experiences of racial discrimination by discussing her time at university where she made up 2% of black students in her course. Dr Zaza recalled a time where was told by her dean that her grades will continue to plummet and how this could be remedied if she removed her headscarf. Furthermore, whilst in university, she stated how students and teachers would be surprised and would express shock when she performed well during her medicine course. These types of experiences continued throughout her career during her time as a clinician, an NHS Investigator, a legal litigator as well as her role as a mediator and arbitrator.

Dr Zaza explored the origins of conflict by suggesting that often conflict emerges due to a mismatch of expectations, which then results in a dislocation of communication such as silence. Often this causes feelings of disappointment and resentment and therefore unresolved conflict. She suggests that the context of such conflict tends to be religious, racial and cultural and can be seen within families and the workplace for example.

Dr Zaza explored 3 case studies and suggested that the triggers which led to a conflict was language. She then explored the ways in which to improve communication in the workplace and suggested that there must be an acknowledgement of the possibility of differences due to cultural and religious nuances. If workplaces set up sessions to improve awareness of particular sensitivities this may then allow for the improvement of communication.

Jeevantika Lingalwar stated how women of colour are entering the workforce in greater numbers and just solely discussing diversity is not enough to create an inclusive workplace. Jeevantika argues that it is critical to creating an open and inclusive work environment where all employees feel empowered. Every company should allow employees to bring their whole, authentic selves and allow all voices to be heard.

Jeevantika recalled a study that argues that the world’s best workplaces share a similarity, that is, a culture by fostering a diverse workforce. Diversity and inclusion are a staple to any organisation and especially in recent years. This has been enabled by not allowing an employee’s uniqueness to be compromised in the work environment. She expressed how diversity and inclusion is beneficial for all businesses, regardless of how big or small they are, as customers are more willing to discuss their issues or queries with someone to whom they can relate.

She concludes with points which leaders, managers or employers should adopt in fostering an inclusive workplace. These include recognising bias, practising inclusive leadership where safe environments are created, for employees to have mentors and sponsorships. As well as making sure senior leadership are held accountable and that they act upon the opinions of their diverse employees. Finally, Jeevantika stresses how imperative it is to elevate the voices of POC as well as women.

Celina Mfuko begins by describing what she feels is an inclusive workplace by suggesting that it is an environment in which you feel welcome, where you feel valued for your contribution and that you are able to receive the same opportunities as your co-workers. An inclusive workplace should make the employee feel empowered and they should feel a sense of belonging.

She then goes on to a discussion of the current lived realities in the UK regarding inclusion in the workplace. Celina argues that often organisations have strategies and very clear goals of how to increase diversity yet below this she suggests there is an uncomfortable feeling which is not being addressed or explored. Such as societal norms, values and traditions which allow for racial discrimination. As well as perceptions and judgements of those from different ethnic groups and their capability.

The ways in which an inclusive and diverse workforce can be fostered is by putting practices and processes in place which break down barriers to inclusion. As well as taking action when needed, such as when issues are raised. Employees should have fair access to opportunities where colleagues at every level can take part. In addition to this, certain programmes such as apprenticeships, mentoring schemes and sponsorships can allow for career progression. It is also important to consider the culture of a workplace and the values they hold, which can influence whether a diverse environment is able to be fostered.

Within Celina’s career she makes use of certain data such as WRES, WDES, NHS Staff Surveys for example in order to measure the progress being made and she argues that by looking at the data, the progress has been very minimal. Celina implies that this may be due to the fact that certain individuals wish to hold on to their power and privilege.

Celina stresses that for real change to occur individuals must be a part of said change. This point was made by referring to a quote by Mohandas Gandhi who said, “be the change you want to see in the world”.

Trisha Webbe begins her discussion by suggesting that an inclusive workplace to her is an environment that is welcoming and where individuals have the freedom to be themselves because they are accepted for who they are, not what they are or what they may look like. Despite talks on diversity, there are still feelings of exclusion in different industries and there is a real need for people to feel included and for greater equality to be fostered. Trisha argues that if individuals hold unconscious bias and if employees are not hired based on their capability, then companies or organisations are not recruiting the best of the best. Therefore, these companies or organisations can not perform to the best of their ability. It is easy for great talent to be overlooked through these particular practices.

Trisha believes there is a natural opportunity for workforces to be more diverse and inclusive because the world is gradually becoming more diverse due to the process of globalisation. Therefore, inclusivity in workplaces should become a natural occurrence and should be something that is at the forefront of employer’s minds. A diverse environment should allow for different individuals to learn from one another and this will result in greater inclusivity. Yet Trisha acknowledges that there is a long way to go for workplaces to become fully diverse and inclusive due to elements such as microaggressions and unconscious biases.

In order for diverse and inclusive workplaces to be fostered, brave conversations must be had in order to provide greater awareness to issues that hinder inclusivity, such as the use of language for example. This dialogue should be had with friends, colleagues, and employers.

Trisha stresses the importance of educating people through our individual voices and experiences. By being open and transparent, certain barriers will be broken down and as a result, inequality may be reduced.

About Racial Equality Panel Series

Dialogue Society is pleased to announce a new online panel series on racial equality aiming to highlight the multi-faceted and layered dimensions of racism and how this negatively impacts society. Moving from individual experiences to the impact racism has more broadly in our workplaces, politics, and culture, this panel series aims to focus on positive approaches that work towards the goal of racial equality.

The series has three panels, each one focusing on a particular theme:

  1. Fostering Inclusive Workplaces – 27 May
  2. Racism across the Diaspora: Personal Narratives from South Africa, USA & UK – 24 June
  3. The Implications of Racism on Mental Health: Overcoming Structural Obstacles – 15 July

The first panel will discuss the importance of truly inclusive workplaces, what this means in practice across a range of sectors, and how such an environment can best be fostered.

The second panel will create a space for personal narratives to be shared between individuals from the UK, South Africa, and America. As three states with distinct racial histories, this panel intends to shine a personal light on the impact of historical and political racism that pervades the lives of BIPOC, as well as provide the groundwork for a comparative case study.

The final panel highlights the correlation between racism and mental health, exploring this issue through a structural and institutional lens to uncover the factors that lead to negative mental health consequences of racism for BIPOC. This panel will also emphasise the barriers that prevent BIPOC from accessing mental health treatment and aim to highlight how effective treatment can become more accessible to the most vulnerable groups.