Inclusivity in L&D – how to be part of the solution

Marketing Manager for ANZ, Helen Essex, sat down with Neil Watson, General Manager for ANZ, to hear more about how our regional clients are using D&I to build a learning culture that meets the needs of today’s diverse workforce.

Written by Helen Essex
Published 27 August 2021
Inclusivity in L&D – how to be part of the solution

There’s no question that diversity and inclusion, or D&I, has been at the forefront of the minds of most of us over the last 12 months – especially with the resurgence of the BLM movement in the wake of the death of George Floyd. 

The pandemic, too, has required us to confront arguably more subtle issues around inclusivity. We have all been challenged to be more adaptable, whilst being understanding of the people around us. 

In the workplace, many employers have been faced with the reality that they required a huge change in thinking in order to quickly and successfully execute the shift to working from home. They were forced to ask themselves: were their employees properly equipped to be able to achieve this without a lapse in productivity? Were there plans in place for staff with particular needs -- ranging from neurodiversity, to children requiring support with home-schooling? Was the organisation prepared for the mental health impact of the pandemic on its people? 

Initiating change 

At Mind Tools, we’ve taken the opportunity to provide a platform to keep these conversations moving. Over the last few months, we’ve welcomed Izzy Obeng and Sally Helgesen to lead on an inspiring conversation about women’s leadership, and we’ve heard from Furkan Karayel, Founder and CEO of, who spoke on the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce alongside our colleague Jaye O’Farrell-Stevens who shared his experiences navigating his education and career with severe dyslexia.  

Our motivation for doing this is partly our knowledge that, just like everyone else, we haven’t got everything right when it comes to D&I and that we share a collective responsibility for changing that – and that the more dialogue we are able to facilitate, the closer we all get to creating a more inclusive world. 

D&I as part of a learning ecosystem 

So what does D&I look like when it comes to learning culture? I spoke to Neil Watson, Country Manager, ANZ, about the steps L&D leaders can take to drive a more inclusive experience for the learners in their organisation. 

“My primary role is to ensure the success of our clients in region,” Neil says, “so it’s important that I’m listening to their changing requirements – which, over the last 12 months, have been more fast-moving than we’ve seen before”. His passion for providing the best learning outcomes for our clients stems from his deep-rooted belief in agile working: “I’m never more inspired by the organisations I partner with than when they show me a flexible learning strategy that supports experimentation and fast decision-making”. 

This ties in to D&I, Neil says, because the onus is on leaders to respond swiftly and sensitively to issues that impact their people. “Everyone is recognising the benefits of diversity in the workplace today”, he observes. And the numbers don’t lie: a recent McKinsey report revealed that companies who focus the most on racial and ethnic diversity are 36% more likely to have financial returns that are above average for their industry. [1] 

The fact is, though, that learning doesn’t look the same for everybody – and a huge part of D&I in L&D is the recognition of that fact. As Neil says, “it may be that, in the new world of work, people who have traditionally thrived in face-to-face learning environments now need to have online learning made available to them in the most accessible way. On the other hand, organisations that employ shift staff or staff that work away from a desk – those for whom the pandemic perhaps hasn’t had such a demonstrable impact – need to be able to provide learning tools that can be delivered at a time and place that suits them.”  

Letting learners know their value 

What’s more, the advantages of providing learning via one platform, supported by the organisation’s own branding, helps everyone to feel included and part of something special. “We’ve definitely seen our clients reap the benefits of providing their people with a resource that reflects the look-and-feel of the business they’re proud to work for,” Neil tells me. “Part of our responsibility as partners is to help our clients track usage and impact, and even when things aren’t quite going as well as they’d hoped, we can jump in with ideas around to how to engage more learners with the content in order to see maximum impact and value”.  

Online learning provides leaders with an opportunity to create a culture of respect – an environment in which all employees see that their learning needs and growth ambitions not only acknowledged, but supported and encouraged. What’s more, a democratised learning culture invites employees to discover learning for themselves, rather than having it dictated to them in more traditional ways. 

This can also mean that employees in, for example, manual or shop-floor-based roles in industries such as manufacturing are provided with the same opportunities for career progression as those in management roles. By enabling themselves to understand the patterns in self-directed learning amongst these learners, L&D leaders can see who and where the “rising stars” are amongst a huge workforce, and equip themselves with the knowledge of how to nurture these individuals for internal promotion.  

As Neil puts it: “L&D practitioners are looking to move their focus away from delivering programmes exclusively for management, and instead provide a more egalitarian approach to learning. It’s also in the interests of the business, as they can find out more about the people who are looking to take learning into their own hands and may be potential candidates to serve the organisation differently”. 

We will keep talking about D&I to the L&D community in Australia and New Zealand – we know there is so much more for us to learn. We also want to hear about your experiences and how you’ve shaped your strategy around inclusivity. Get in touch today to tell us what you think. 


[1] 8 benefits of encouraging diversity in the workplace. Available here


About the author

Helen Essex

Helen Essex

Campaign Marketing Manager
Helen has worked in B2B marketing for over eight years, and is continually looking for ways in which to bring Mind Tools for Business' story to audiences around the world. She enjoys working closely with clients and teams right across our business to understand how L&D is shifting and developing and incorporating this information into creative, dynamic campaigns.

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