British Heart Foundation shares how workforce inclusivity has evolved

"Social media has provided a huge platform for showcasing diversity, and also engaging people with diversity. At the same time organisations have brought diversity and inclusion to the forefront with many, including in the organisational strategy." Ursula Dolton, Chief Technology Officer at British Heart Foundation (BHF) shares her insights into how diversity and inclusion in the workplace has changed over the last 10 years.

Ursula chatted with Robin Christopherson MBE, AbilityNet's Head of Digital Inclusion, as a guest in our free Accessibility Insights webinar series.

Watch the captioned webinar recording below and download the transcript:

Highlights from the webinar

Ursula detailed how British Heart Foundation implemented accessibility within its workforce, "When it comes to accessibility, so far our main focus has been on how to provide the right equipment, tools, and support.

"I'm a strong believer that a diverse and inclusive workforce drives innovation. We pivoted to creating many virtual new fundraisers such as My Cycle, My Step Challenge and many more. "

On the webinar, Ursula and Robin also discussed topics including:

  • diversity and inclusion within the British Heart Foundation team and recruitment processes
  • honing digital services for external customers and donors
  • how collaboration helps drive customer experiences, and
  • the changing role of a tech leader in the pandemic.

Ursula is responsible for delivering BHF’s technology strategy in support of its charitable objectives. She has worked in technology leadership positions within major commercial organisations including at Cadbury, Citi Group and Jaguar Land Rover, and also the university sector.

Q&As from the webinar

Q: How do you determine how 'far' is 'too far' to go to accommodate various requirements/requests - e.g. how many languages do you translate to, etc.?

Ursula: At the BHF we primarily work in the UK nations with our ‘business language’ being English, however due to the cross-borders nature of our work in cardiovascular research we often collaborate closely with other non-English speaking organisations – as well as our diverse workforce including non-native English speakers too. This means that we must consider language requirements based on insight, for example we often align our medical guidance to multiple languages based on our known demographics, including operational areas such as Wales where we include Welsh. To accommodate varying requirements and requests, we can look at it across two primary angles, Internal & External:

  • To our employees our strategic direction when it comes to software is to primarily use supplier services, platforms, and applications, rather than building ourselves. Within our analysis and discovery techniques accessibility is considered upfront to ensure we offer technology solutions to our teams that are inclusive to all. Fortunately, our investments in modern operating systems, browsers and applications have made this journey simpler through the inclusion of built functionalities like Elect-to-speak, High contrast, Screen magnification, Voice-input, Virtual keyboards, Dictation, colour inversion & more. A good example of this related to languages can be found within Google Chrome which has a built-in translation tool, which reduces the amount of work required for our technology teams - though we know we have more work to do to increase the awareness and application of these services to those that need them most and this is an area of focus.
  • To our customers, our website has a specific page which states our commitment to ensuring our website is accessible regardless of ability or access to technology. We conform to level AA accessibility standards that the W3C set and include this thinking across any development undertaken. Some of our policies cover the following areas: Layout, Images & alternative text, Links, Downloads, Text, Contrast, Navigation aids, Videos and Forms. We also signpost anyone who is having any difficulties with certain areas of our website to our customer services team, who will work with our Digital teams to ensure things are understood and corrected where possible.

Q: How do you make sure you don't 'over target' specific subgroups using D&I information - e.g. don't want to accidentally 'out' someone within a family when talking about an event tailored to an LGBTQ+ subgroup. How do you determine/define the balance?

Ursula: The data we have on individuals on our employee system is not widely available and is only available to a very select number of people in our Human Resources team. This means demographic organisation cannot be shared unless an individual with these characteristics chooses to share them. When people participate in written, video or visual communications we ask for consent before any communications are sent out. This way we mitigate risk of people disclosing or being outed if it hasn’t been their choice to be identified by a particular characteristic.

We also have the following: At the BHF we have created numerous affinity groups all aligned to our overarching Kaleidoscope group that ensures that our efforts and messaging across the BHF is delivered in a fair and balanced way. Kaleidoscope is led by our D&I chair and is made up of colleagues from across all of the BHFs directorates who are passionate about driving diversity and inclusion at the BHF. The group meet twice a month to discuss many different topics such as celebrating diversity, training opportunities, and how we can continue to ensure our people feel safe and included. Activity initiated within Kaleidoscope often falls into three themes: 

  1. Awareness, visibility & understanding - improving colleagues’ awareness and understanding of the nature, challenges, and opportunities with D&I 
  2. Listening & measuring - improving our ability to understand the experiences of different groups at the BHF and improving our ability to measure progress
  3. Leadership, talent & culture - improving our ability to recruit and retain talent through enhancing leadership capability and creating a culture of D&I 

All these activities are supported by the technologies that we provide to our teams with some examples being:

  • Yammer – enabling our groups to maintain a two-way social presence with the wider organisation, including those in our shops & stores.
  • Teams – enabling collaboration between the groups, as well as the delivery of live events to the organisation such as our “in conversation with..” series, which recently through our Black Affinity Group had guest speaker and former professional footballer Anton Ferdinand talk through his experience of racism.
  • SharePoint – hosting our internal intranet where we highlight some of the achievements made by the groups and bring to the surface some key information to all our BHF colleagues through our Internal Communications team.

Q: Many fundraising events are geared towards running/cycling, do you have any recommendations for adding more accessible events to an events portfolio?

Ursula: Whilst many of the BHF events do incorporate running and cycling, we also have options which have a focus on individuals or teams setting their own challenges and fundraising in their own unique and innovative ways – which would be a recommendation to include across any events portfolio. A few BHF examples of this are: MyStep, MyMarathon – these fundraising opportunities create a unique style of event where anybody can adapt a common challenge into something they would like to achieve themselves.

Whether that be running, walking, or hopping a marathon over the course of a month, or making something more unique to their own reason to take part. These formats can be interpreted in many ways, which in their nature makes them accessible to anyone. Remote / Online – now more than ever, remote, and online events have enabled the BHF to provide further access to those wanting to complete a fundraising event from the comfort of their own home. The BHF already has a portfolio of remote & online events with some examples being Dechox (giving up chocolate for a month) & MyCycle, but we are also further exploring this space through our partner relationships to bring fundraising activities to new areas such as livestreaming through Twitch.

Q: How many of your staff/volunteers cannot use a computer through impairment?

Ursula: Due to the size and nature of our volunteering base it’s often difficult to identify how many cannot use computer through impairment. However, our technology engagement and operations teams, working closely with our Facilities and H&S teams, engage closely with existing colleagues and hiring managers to identify and support any specialist hardware or software that can help aid those with impairments across our offices, shops & for those working from home. We know the importance of diversity across the BHF, and the innovations that can be achieved through bringing differing opinions and experiences to our organisation. One of the things that we aim to continue to do is provide a personalised service at scale to those who require it most and continue to learn how to improve on this.

Q: Do you have additional support for older stakeholders who struggle with digital?

Ursula: At present we don’t provide additional support to those who struggle with digital, whether they are young or old. One area that our teams have begun to open up conversations with though is through our partner relationships, identify opportunities to provide support to those who are struggling with digital.

Q: What trends do you think will be here to stay in a post-COVID world? How can organisations make sure they can continue to accommodate those?

Ursula: Whilst always hard to predict the future, what the BHF have analysed through staff engagement focus groups and surveys is that remote working is here to stay, but within a hybrid model of home and the office. At the BHF we were already working remotely in pockets before the COVID-19 pandemic, though the scale and the extent of remote working has now increased, meaning that we need to ensure the bridge between our work environments is enhanced to ensure equity of access to all.

To date we’ve seen challenges that remote working has when it comes to individuals’ setups becoming more varied and ‘at-desk’ support becoming distanced, I think improving the awareness of individual needs across varying situations, improving the cultural norms and repeated practices related to accessibility, as well as aspiring to be a workplace for all is increasingly important. Digital transformation has been accelerated through Covid-19, but areas around people, practices and processes need to be focused upon and revaluated once hybrid-working comes to life.

How we set our new working norms like making effective and inclusive meetings, reimagine our spaces to maximise our impact and revaluate our processes to be more effective is going to be an iterative challenge, one which we may not get right first time – but will learn from and adapt to. Having this mindset will be key for all our teams as we go through this transition period.

Q: How do you make sure all can access MSTeams, in my experience many impaired are excluded? I do not have it on my system!

Ursula: I would recommend picking up with your account team at Microsoft to highlight some of the challenges you are having with Teams deployment or accessibility to see if they can provide any assistance.

Q: What are the best resources to stay on top of various technologies that can be used to support employees and clients/service users?

Ursula: Given our strategy at the BHF is to make use of supplier hosted services and platforms, we have introduced several ways to stay on top of the various changes that are increasing in frequency. One of these changes was to introduce a technology champions network that focused on interpreting some of the new features, trialling them and collaborating in their community before sharing their experiences with their wider teams.

This, alongside ensuring there is a dedicated resource within our operations team to interpret some of the changes coming through admin portals, emails and communications across our internally and externally facing services was important to put in place to adapt to modern technologies. Working together, our teams align to ensure guidance, training and knowledge is updated and communicated frequently for those that require it.

As an aside, many applications now host their own accessible training materials within the apps themselves. Microsoft do this particularly well with their applications, sharing in-app training, enhancements to ways of working through their updates and other features – all by accessing the ‘Info’ buttons within the apps.

Q: What is the best way to help take everyone (staff, supporters, service users, etc.) on the D&I journey?

Ursula: From a technology perspective, the best way to take everyone on the D&I journey is to highlight the importance of designing for all, collaborate closely with business stakeholders and interested parties, and create a culture that embraces problems/opportunities to solve them effectively. Within Technology at the BHF we identify opportunities every day from multiple sources. Being able to embrace them, resolve them through our people engagement, our solution design or through our process enhancements is what motivates us, knowing that together we can Beat Heartbreak Forever.



Date of webinar: 
10 Aug 2021 - 13:00