Catie Owen interviews Ray Rhodes, head of inclusion and diversity, RX (pictured below), about the exhibition organiser’s new Race Equality Matters Bronze Trailblazer Status.
What drives your passion for your role at RX?
This work is extremely important, and very personal to me. I grew up in a very conservative culture where I was ‘othered’ from a very early age. Being a gay young man where I grew up, in a rural area of the southern United States, was dangerous. I was forced deep into the closet.
As I progressed through my career, presenting as a straight man, I worked hard to disguise my identity, and over time, it became a great source of sadness and despair for me.
A couple of close friends and colleagues at work recognised that something was wrong and supported me through the “coming out” process. They didn’t know it at the time, but they quite literally saved my life.
In the past, I would hear colleagues casually make ignorant statements about people, and over time I found that sharing my story and actively engaging in promoting Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B) programming in the workplace has taken away that destructive power that others held over me for so long. I work every day to ensure ALL our employees know that they belong at RX, that their unique perspectives are treasured, and that, no matter what they are facing outside of the workplace, RX is a safe place to be.
What was the process behind achieving the Race Equality Matters Bronze Trailblazer Status?
We have a remarkable global executive sponsor for race and ethnicity, Alinne Rosa, who is also the head of HR for RX Americas. We were seeking ways of measuring our efforts and opportunities for creating a more psychologically safe environment, increasing representation of People of Colour in our workforce, and improving the diversity of our candidate pipeline. Race Equality Matters provided us with a great vehicle for steering our work.
Alinne navigated a lengthy application process, detailing our efforts to promote race and ethnicity inclusion and equality over the past few years. Our application was reviewed by a panel of diverse judges from across the world, and we received invaluable feedback from the panel to help shape our strategy to achieve the next level of status.
What drove RX to want to achieve the Status?
We weren’t driven by the promise of an ‘award’. Our DEI&B strategy is built around regularly exploring who we are and who we want to be and identifying actions to help us continually improve over time. We now have a better sense of what we’re doing well and have identified some meaningful opportunities to expand our levels of support to colleagues across the globe. The tiered achievement approach that Race Equality Matters enables us to thoughtfully pace our progress towards long-term behavioural and cultural change.
What is RX doing to progress to the higher Status levels?
In the past, we’ve placed quite a bit of focus on addressing racial equality in the UK and USA. We have some wonderful opportunities to expand this work in other markets throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia Pacific. We’re partnering with organisations, including BYP Network (Black Young Professionals), to help us identify and execute meaningful and tangible actions to help us progress our goals.
Are there any other DE&I awards and certifications RX is working towards?
We’re proud of our achievement of Comparably Awards for Best Company Global Culture, Best CEO for Women, and Best CEO for Diversity. In addition to our work around Race and Ethnicity, we are partnering with several external organisations to help us identify opportunities to advance our inclusion goals around Gender Equity, LGBTQIA+, Disability, and Inclusive Workplace.
One example is our work with Business Disability Forum and their Disability Smart programme, which helps us continuously assess our levels of leadership, policies and procedures that impact support for People with Disabilities. This year RX and our sibling and parent companies jointly submitted the HRC Foundation’s Corporate Equality Index assessment, which serves as a roadmap and benchmarking tool for businesses for advancing LGBTQIA+ equality in the workplace.
How can other industry leaders follow in RX’s footsteps towards creating more inclusive environments?
Leadership from the front of the organisation: It is very important to progressively build a DEI&B focus into core functions for every organisation member. Our CEO, Hugh Jones, and the entire executive leadership team have not only supported our strategy, but they have been the faces and sponsors of many of the programmes we’ve launched across the business. We’ve built DEI&B objectives into their KPIs, and they are engaged in this work every day.
We also have a very strong set of values at RX. We use the acronym NIMBLE to communicate effectively, and globally, and we have placed Inclusion at the heart of these values: Networked – Inclusive – Magical – Brave – Love of Learning – Entrepreneurial.
Engage everyone at all levels: As I mentioned before, there are over 180 RX colleagues who have volunteered to be members of the RX Global Inclusion Council, Global Diversity Committees, or ERG Leadership Teams. We have early career professionals working alongside senior executives in these groups, which has created a strong level of trust, safety, and collaboration.
Focus internally first: My most important piece of advice is to start with an internal focus, beginning with ensuring diverse representation in your talent acquisition and development processes. Be sure all colleagues know why various DEI&B topics are important and valuable. Finally, be sure to measure your progress. It’s great to have rich DEI&B programming in place but be sure you are connecting employee feedback sentiments with this work. Over time, you will see new behaviours and mindsets make their way into your show strategies. EW
For more guidance on DEI&B, check out the Guide to Inclusive Events at RX.