Diversity and inclusion at work: be yourself at BAE Systems

BAE Systems is on a mission to improve diversity and inclusion in the defence and security industry. Graduate Abbey Clow is helping and explains why you should find an employer that values you.

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‘To me, diversity and inclusion means being able to be myself: feeling inspired and empowered to speak up, join in and achieve the best I can,’ says Abbey. ‘I was aware that the industry I was joining wasn’t the most diverse historically and that, as someone who identifies as female and LGBTQ+, I would be in the minority. But since joining BAE Systems, I’ve felt listened to and valued – I feel like I have a voice that my colleagues want to hear. I’m not saying that the company is getting absolutely everything “right” right now, but I know that it is genuinely trying to and in an industry that isn’t traditionally seen as very diverse. I find that inspiring.’

Abbey graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2016 with a degree in psychology. She had a couple of jobs in HR before joining BAE Systems as a graduate project manager in the maritime and land sector in 2020. Since then, she has combined her day job with helping to make D&I initiatives happen. Read on to discover how she did this in her own words.

Abbey says…

Contributing to the team

I didn’t want to be treated differently because I was a graduate and I haven’t been. I am a core part of the team and not seen as ‘just a graduate’ or a spare part. My contributions are assessed and recognised in the same way as everybody else’s are.

My work is split into two parts: firstly, undertaking governance and analysis work to help ensure effective risk management and, secondly, identifying potential issues and managing projects to mitigate them. We work very closely with Rolls-Royce and the Ministry of Defence and my role is to ensure that we are collaborating effectively. For example, we might all want to procure the same items at different times and the costs could be different. My project would look to bring people together to align procurement plans and achieve common goals.

We have amazing managers who recognise good work and sing your praises. I was even nominated for (and won) a company IMPACT award after I picked up some work from one of my managers who went on secondment.

Stretching plans

I’ve always been passionate about D&I and I was able to pursue my interest further through development opportunities – in BAE Systems, these are often known as stretch assignments. Stretch assignments are cross-function projects that aim to develop an individual’s skills and to broaden their networks, while also bringing real business benefits.

As part of this, I led a team of fellow graduates to deliver the business’ annual sustainability forum, an online event to inspire our colleagues in the UK, US and Australia about the three pillars of sustainability: environment, economy and society. Many believe that the society element of sustainability is overlooked, so I worked with our D&I leads to demonstrate to the audience how diverse, inclusive workplaces are synonymous with sustainability. We showcased social success stories, such as a team of female engineers who launched a Girl Guide’s engineering badge to encourage girls to pursue STEM careers.

Shortly afterwards, during a BAE Graduate Workshop event that brought together graduates from across the UK, US and Australia, the team and I interviewed colleagues to understand what inclusion meant to the graduate cohort. We later turned these into short- and long-term objectives. The HR director and the head of D&I for maritime and land then invited us to review the strategic objectives for the sector.

Next, I gathered data to benchmark where we were with D&I and to get the views of graduates on how we could improve. I then fed this into the business’ action plans. Through this work, I have been invited to a gender balance working group, coordinated by BAE Systems’ chief technical officer, that explores historical trends and how we can put even more of a D&I focus on recruitment and retention.

Being an ally

BAE Systems has a number of employee resource groups (ERGs) led by employees, aiming to increase understanding of different aspects of diversity and to encourage all employees to reach their full potential. I am an ally of two: the Enabled Group (focusing on visible and non-visible disabilities) and the Outlink Group (focusing on LGBTQ+). Each ERG leads on initiatives – for example, Enabled were the champion of BAE Systems’ ‘Working Adjustments Passport’, which allows employees to capture workplace adjustments with their managers (regardless of their physical, mental or personal circumstances).

Being an ally has increased my self-awareness and enabled me to recognise my own biases. I have gained the knowledge and the courage to speak up on behalf of colleagues who might not feel able to. The ERGs are real champions of change and they help us to learn, think and act differently. I’d recommend that all graduates get involved with ERGs.

Gaining recognition

It’s always been important to me to work for a company that recognises my talents regardless of who I ‘am’ and BAE Systems is amazing at this. In addition to the IMPACT Award, I won the Inspiration Graduate Award for my work on the Sustainability Forum and a Lockdown Award for helping to organise the online induction for graduates and interns during lockdown.

It’s really good to feel that I am bringing about positive change; I am lucky to be employed by a company that not only gives graduates a voice but also seeks their input to inform initiatives.

Discover more about BAE Systems.

This article first appeared in the UK 300.

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