How to be an inclusive line manager

A short guide for anyone managing young people on internships, apprenticeships, placements, graduate schemes or other early careers programmes. This is a small extract from The Brokerage Line Management Training

Introduction

It’s your first day at your internship – you beat hundreds of applicants to secure your place. You’re nervous – anyone would be – but even more so because you will be the first person in your family to enter this industry. You haven’t had anyone you can go to with your questions but you’ve done as much research as you can. You brush off your suit that you’ve lint-rolled over and over, take a deep breath and step into the marble-surfaced foyer. You’ve made it! You smile and head to the receptionist –

‘Hi.’
‘Oh hello! You must be here for our event, catering staff are meeting on the 7th floor -’
‘No, sorry. I’m actually the new intern…’

While horrifying, this is sadly a true story and not a unique one for early careers recruits from underrepresented backgrounds.

Over our 25 year history, The Brokerage has worked with thousands of talented young people from working class backgrounds, many of whom are also from racially minoritised communities and we know that their experience of entering the workplace has not always been a positive one. While we support young people to develop their knowledge and understanding of the corporate world, it is imperative that we also use the insights and understanding we have gathered from them to inform business practices – to ensure that employers are providing an environment where everyone, irrespective of background or race, feels like they belong.

We know that organisations are doing more to try to recruit from a diverse talent pool and that the young people we work with are more than capable of making it through the doors of competitive industries, but how can you make sure that you are creating the best experience for your new recruit from the very beginning? How can you make sure every door remains open for them?

We recently commissioned a report, The Overlooked Advantage, which explored the attributes young people from working class backgrounds have and the key steps employers need to take to attract and retain them. We found that culture plays a huge role in retaining underrepresented young people and should be taken seriously.

“Turnover of new hires due to a lack of fit should be a concern for employers from the start – else their efforts to attract and hire underrepresented young people will not result in an increased organisational diversity.” The Overlooked Advantage

In order to address this we outline below The Brokerage’s inclusive line management principles – 4 key areas employers can focus on to ensure that their early careers programmes are inclusive and effective:

Create belonging

Coming into a new environment is daunting. Even more so for young people from underrepresented backgrounds, as their placement or entry level role may be their very first experience of being in an office environment (especially due to the reduction of opportunities that occurred as a result of the pandemic).

Unfamiliarity with workplace culture, behavioural codes and social norms individual to each organisation are further exacerbated if you don’t see yourself reflected in your colleagues – not only in the way people look, but how they speak, present themselves and what their interests are – something our young people often face. Many will inevitably feel like an outsider.

‘While some form of adaptation is part of any job for employees of any background, this process of attempting to ‘fit’ can negatively impact on employees, resulting in lower engagement in work’ Social Mobility in the Workplace – Sutton Trust

It’s important therefore to foster a sense of belonging for your early careers recruits, ensuring they get a warm welcome, even before their first day. Inform all colleagues about new starters, including those at senior levels, so they are ready to provide friendly introductions and help them to build their social capital through networking opportunities.

Young people from underrepresented backgrounds want to feel seen and valued, they are eager to build their network and learn from as many people as they can – particularly as they are unlikely to have any professional role models within their family or personal networks. Getting the opportunity to speak to C-suite professionals is one of the most common highlights of our interns’ experiences.

‘My line manager always ensured that I was meeting with different parts of the company in my free time which was really helpful. It helped me to experience more than the department I was interning in’ – Brokerage Candidate

We surveyed Brokerage candidates about what they wanted from their internships. 67% said they wanted to network with different people in the organisation, with many specifically mentioning meeting those of a similar ‘background or character’. Representation matters and these interactions are among the most meaningful to our young people.

‘It’s hard to be what you cannot see…[I]t’s vital for lower SEB employees to see people from a similar background who have “made it” to the top.’ A fair chance to advance | The power of culture to break socioeconomic barriers in the workplace – Accenture

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Be intentional

When asked about experiences of poor line management, our young people often highlighted experiences that have lacked structure and clear expectations. Think carefully about the work they are given, how it supports their development and how this is communicated to them.

Young people from underrepresented backgrounds want to do meaningful and challenging work – they want to know that their contributions make a difference to your organisation. Ensure that any tasks and activities undertaken have this idea at its core. Ensure you make this clear to the new starter.

What do line managers do wrong when it comes to nurturing early careers employees?
‘Disorganisation of intern tasks or offloading generic tasks to interns that don’t really provide them any learning.’ – Brokerage Candidate

We know the young people we work with typically have a high work ethic – they want to work hard and do well. In The Overlooked Advantage, we also identified six key strengths that our candidates and other young people from similar working class and underrepresented communities have as a result of their experience of inequality. These strengths: readiness to learn, emotional and cultural intelligence, desire for excellence, creativity and resilience, are all highly desirable and can be further enhanced and developed via a structured programme.

If you build a strong foundation with a programme that is clearly laid out, gives them opportunities to work with a variety of departments or individuals, include a mix of formal and informal activities with briefings, feedback and practical skills development – then they will be able to hit the ground flying.

‘My previous managers were great because they constantly checked up on me and gave me relevant work relating to the industry but not above my skill level…when managers ask relevant questions to make sure you understand the topic in depth makes me feel like I’m actually learning and critical feedback is not upsetting as a result’– Brokerage Candidate

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Listen and act

At The Brokerage we believe that youth voice and insight are vital and this is integral to how we develop our services and programme, because how else would we know what works and what doesn’t for our young people? We believe this principle should also be applied to the way line-managers and employers approach welcoming and working with new starters. Listen to your new starters, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, and act on their feedback. Make their voice integral to how you operate.

To do this, it’s crucial that you lead in creating a safe space for empathy and understanding (thereby allowing you to ‘spot potential issues that junior employees are having but are not speaking up about’ – Brokerage candidate). Have you asked your new starter what provisions they might need to work both comfortably and confidently? Can they be their authentic selves in the workplace and talk about any issues they might have?

How could line managers ensure they have an inclusive onboarding process? ‘Ensure transparent and empathetic discussion is had with [your] intern to establish and ensure any necessary adjustments due to disabilities or difficult circumstances, etc.’ – Brokerage Candidate

By having these conversations, you open yourself up to great learning. If your new recruit feels that they are able to provide feedback – both positive and negative – you can reflect on where your programme is effective and where it can be improved. Then, make sure to take action! There is nothing more demotivating than to share your thoughts but not see any follow through or change. Your new starter’s constructive feedback is gold, and showing you value this can prevent an employee from dropping off because they feel unheard and unmotivated.

That being said, keep in mind the added pressure young people from underrepresented backgrounds may face – finding it more difficult to feel comfortable in their own skin in the workplace; often code-switching to better fit in with the dominant culture around them; and holding back in expressing any issues so as not to ‘rock the boat’.

This is particularly true if they are a woman of colour (89% of Brokerage candidates who identify as women are people of colour):

‘The constant work of trying to seem ‘palatable’ within the culture of workplaces places additional emotional labour for all women of colour. Many felt pressure to constantly do more, do better, prove themselves and justify their presence in the workplace’ – Broken Ladders, The Fawcett Society & Runnymede Trust report 

So, talk to your new recruit- and above all – implement the change needed for them to be able to bring their whole selves to work and be successful. Not only will you be able to nurture talented individuals from underrepresented backgrounds – but also be more likely to retain them.

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Remove learning barriers

Anyone who has started at a new role knows that you will have 1001 questions. But are you fostering an environment that allows your new talent to to easily learn and ask for help?

‘I know sometimes managers make it hard for early starters to ask questions. The environment is not friendly…’ – Brokerage Candidate

Young people from underrepresented backgrounds are high achievers and self-reliant – they’ve fought through many barriers to get ‘a seat at the table’. Many will therefore feel reluctant to ask questions for fear of looking ‘stupid’ or ‘incapable’. Make it clear that questions are welcome and very much encouraged. Ensure there are key contacts they can go to for this, and that ‘everyone in the workforce is ready to answer questions and offer help without judgement’ (Brokerage Candidate). Even better, set your intern up with a buddy/mentor so they can do this in a more informal (and therefore candid) way.

On top of this, normalise the steep learning curve that comes when starting a new role and preempt the things they might stumble over the most. Say it with me now: TEACH THE ACRONYMS! By making time to teach terminology and other integral processes and norms, new joiners can focus their energy on more important learning and outputs.

New starters will always fear making mistakes, and for those who come from underrepresented backgrounds, this can be laden with the added pressures of cultural expectations, imposter syndrome and perfectionism. To mitigate this, reassure your intern that making mistakes is to be expected – as one of our young people noted when asked what good management practices they have experienced.

“Having your back when you inevitably make a mistake, at the time it may seem like the end of the world even if it’s something minor. Good management that I’ve experienced regarding this has been to rationalise that mistakes occur and explain that it’s rare for it to be severe.” – Brokerage Candidate

Finally, celebrate achievements! As we have said – starting a new role anywhere is challenging and can be highly stressful. Make sure to highlight all of your new recruits strengths and accomplishments, no matter how small, as ultimately their success is your success.

If you can get these four areas right, you will be among the workplaces leading the movement to true inclusivity and your early careers recruits will sing your praise, like these Brokerage Candidates when asked about their recent managers:

‘In my last internship my manager was amazing and he organised my projects and internship schedule very well so that I learnt a lot and was challenged just the right amount without being overwhelmed. So I guess I’d say thank you for developing my skills and making a great opportunity even more fulfilling.’ – Brokerage Candidate

 

‘I would tell him that he did an amazing job of making me feel included into the team and his support was great’ – Brokerage candidate

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Next steps

This piece is an extract from The Brokerage Line Management Training.

Find out more here or email us on partnerships@thebrokerage.org.uk

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Acknowledgements

This short guide has been developed and written by Jennifer Hien, Senior Delivery and Innovation Manager at The Brokerage. It is based on Brokerage candidate insights gathered from mid- and end-point internship reviews, as well as surveying early careers talent on their experiences of inclusive line management. Thank you to those who participated and also to Aisha Lysejko, Katherine Garrett and for their inputs. Thank you also to input and feedback from the following Brokerage Candidates: Priyanka Mistry, Edna Bannor, Bevin Tosun, Neha Ramesh, Olivia Weston, Nezihe Yay, Josephine Haligah, Minhazur Rahman, Sofia Dadou

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