Improving the passenger experience with diversity and inclusion
Staynton Brown, Director for Diversity and Inclusion and Talent at Transport for London, discusses how transporting passengers from A to B enables them to take advantage of the capital, however there is always more to be done to make the city and the transport network more inclusive.
At Transport for London (TfL), accessibility is one of our top priorities. In December 2016, the Mayor of London announced the beginning of the biggest boost to step-free access on the Underground in the network’s 155 year history – the investment of an additional £200 million by 2022 which would enable 30 additional Tube stations to become step-free.
We are always looking at new ways to make journeys easier for passengers with reduced mobility or cognitive disabilities (visible or non-visible), such as through our ‘Please Offer Me a Seat’ badges.
As well as talking to our customers, one of the best ways we can improve the experiences of passengers with accessibility needs is by making our workforce more diverse. This doesn’t just mean recruiting people with different professional backgrounds, it is about reflecting the different demographics of the customers that you serve. In order for an organisation to excel, members of staff can’t be held back, or not recruited due to a disability, or because of their gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Some might question why having a diverse workforce stimulates creativity and innovation – some critics say that it is merely a tick-box exercise. However, research has shown this not to be the case and when you think about it logically, it makes sense. If you have employees that are all very similar, then they are likely to have had similar experiences and will approach things in a certain manner. By having lots of people with a variety of experiences within one team, they will each have their own approach that can inform their colleagues’, and vice versa.
For example, if a group of people were to plan the layout of a new station, somebody with a visual impairment might raise the importance of having tactile flooring and speakers throughout the station for clear audio announcements. However, they might not think about the importance of lifts, which a parent or somebody with a physical disability might recognise as being vital when travelling with a buggy, wheelchair or crutches. Someone whose parent has dementia might highlight the requirements that those with invisible impairments need and the importance of thinking about other elements, such as training, that should affect the design. Although this is just an example, it shows why having a diverse team can bring a number of benefits, ensuring that there are no opportunities left unexplored or viewpoints overlooked. Having an inclusive environment also means that people feel comfortable to express their ideas – this can sometimes be difficult if you feel like you are the only person in your team reflecting a certain opinion. We know that when people feel able to speak up everyone is safer and feels more valued.
That’s why, at TfL, I feel it is very important that we make it clear that we are an inclusive organisation, whether that’s to staff, potential employees or customers. One aspect of this is being recognised as a ‘Disability Confident employer’. This shows our commitment to recruiting and retaining people with disabilities and those with medical conditions, recognising that they often face barriers to work. Some employers may think that hiring a candidate with a disability or medical condition will be cumbersome or that they can’t offer the same value to an organisation. This is absolutely not the case. In many ways, they are likely to have developed the exact skills that we look for, such as problem-solving, tenacity and resilience.
We also help candidates with learning disabilities and those on the autism spectrum get their first taste of the working world through our Steps into Work programme. It’s a year-long work experience programme, which is run in partnership with Barnet and Southgate College and Remploy (a provider of specialist employment and skills support for disabled people and those with health conditions). The participants undertake three different placements at TfL, while studying for a BTEC Level 1 WorkSkills qualification. The placements are primarily office-based and offer those on the programme the chance to learn transferable skills, such as time management and customer service, in a range of exciting areas, which are helping to manage our roads and look after the finances of multi-million pound projects. If they are 18 or over, there is the opportunity for them to learn how to be a Customer Service Assistant in a Tube station.
The programme, which has been running since 2009, has been so successful that we have decided to double the number of students that we welcome to the organisation in January 2019. Since its creation, we have enabled more than 80 students with learning disabilities and those on the autism spectrum to gain access to employability skills, hosting more than 250 placements. However, the proof is in the pudding –
Organisations, including ours, need to make sure that preconceptions and myths don’t act as barriers to recruitment or to the potential of their own workforce. If we want to deliver the best service we can for our customers, we need to make sure that we are considering a wide range of candidates with a variety of different experiences. By enabling our workforce to be diverse, we can truly make a difference.
Brown went on to work for the Learning and Skills Council, both regionally and nationally, leading on social inclusion, equality and project management. He spent eight years in healthcare and in 2013 he was nominated and made a Health Services Journal BME pioneer in the inaugural list of the top 50 people in the NHS.
Brown is a fellow at the Royal Society of Arts and on the Board of Directors of a charity that runs a college and number of schools across London.