The Last Word: Di Keller

October 8, 2021

Closing this month’s issue of North East Times, Di Keller, the Institute of Directors’ new ambassador for diversity and inclusion, explains her role and why businesses and organisations embracing the need to change represents an exciting opportunity for the region.

Tell us a little about your new post. What does it entail and what are your aims and objectives?

Institute of Directors (IoD) ambassadors are key people within their regions, focusing on a key area of expertise.

It is a two-way conversation connecting with members to give a local voice and presence to the Institute, to ensure national policy is reflective of local issues and vice versa.

My focus is diversity and inclusion, and my aim is to bring my expertise into the group, engaging new and existing members to join and engage in this conversation.

Ultimately, I want to ensure we keep this conversation firmly on the table to support the growth of the North East.

Businesses are at different points in their journey. I want to create a safe space for members to discuss topics that can feel uncomfortable, enable members to share best practice and support each other, and to develop learning on key topics when big issues hit the headlines.

You have worked across the private, public and third sectors to improve diversity, inclusion and wellbeing for several years, and were last year appointed strategic equality, diversity and inclusion lead at Karbon Homes. To what extent will your experiences inform your IoD role?

One of the key benefits of diversity is the innovation it can bring to thinking and decision-making.

Working across the different sectors has given me insight into the different challenges they may have, but also the opportunities and progress they have made.

The IoD has a broad membership, so being able to bring this insight into those conversations will enable businesses to become more comfortable with the topic and look at ideas for their own organisation.

Businesses can sometimes fear the topic for worry of getting it wrong, so can choose to either do nothing or have initiative- based approaches. These often aren’t sustained or embedded, and if we want the North East to build back better and tackle the inequalities that we face, we must keep talking.

I want to have these conversations at all levels.

As a business community, we have seen strides made in recent years to improve awareness – and support meaningful change – around diversity and inclusion. How far do you think we have come and, equally, how far do we still have to go?

I think good progress has been made in pockets, and the conversation has definitely grown.

To build on this, we need to ensure we are speaking and listening to those groups who are under-represented and therefore most impacted, but also encourage businesses who aren’t engaged to get involved.

In terms of how far we have to go, it will always be a continuum of re-learning as society changes.

We have seen an increased focus on racial inequalities following the death of George Floyd, and the social and health inequalities highlighted through the pandemic, which have disproportionately impacted the North East.

Ultimately, diversity and inclusion are about people and, as people and society change, businesses will need to change and evolve.

Embracing this will bring talent, customers and increased profits to local businesses.

It’s an exciting opportunity for the North East.

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