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UNBOXED – Ethical storytelling in employer branding [video]

Watch our first UNBOXED event on the ethics of using employee stories to reflect your company’s culture and values.


As part of UNBOXED – the inclusive employer branding series, ThirtyThree brought together leading employer branding experts to discuss ‘Ethical storytelling in employer branding’ – specifically, the telling of employee stories.


[00:00:00] Eleni Antoniou: Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to Unboxed, our Inclusive Employee Branding series. My name is Eleni. I'm one of the client partners here, and I also head up our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion function for anyone that's new to 33. We are an award-winning creative agency and for years we've helped our clients create communications to support their diversity and inclusion. 

[00:00:55] Eleni Antoniou: And as the visual creators and storytellers in that process, we are very well aware of the fact that our creative choices and practices matter, that they can shape perceptions, enable conversations, and ultimately inspire change. And we do take our role in that process very seriously, which is one of the reasons why we set up our own in-house D and I function recently. 

[00:01:22] Eleni Antoniou: To enable us to scrutinize our practices further and to better support our clients with their ambitions and their challenges in this space. Now, as part, of Unboxed, we will be bringing together, um, companies from different sectors to explore different topics. Um, and these are all topics that here at 33, we kind of discuss and we cover all the time. 

[00:01:49] Eleni Antoniou: But we thought this is an opportunity to bring them into a bigger platform, get more people to contribute, and essentially this is how Unboxed was born. Now, before we start, I have a few tips to improve your audience experience. You should all have a chat appearing underneath your screen. Feel free to drop that on the right of your screen. 

[00:02:18] Eleni Antoniou: We'll have a Q and A and a few polls throughout the conversation, so you should be able to see those appear underneath the chat. So, um, without any further delay, um, I'd like to welcome my colleague Jo on stage. Jo is a Senior Communications Consultant here at 33. Hello Jo.  

[00:02:18] Joanna Drury Hello.  

[00:02:45] Eleni Antoniou: Um, she, um, is doing a lot of work with her clients at helping them diagnose their challenges and helping them use communications to inspire change in businesses. So, um, Jo has been doing a lot of research in the topic of Ethical Storytelling. So, we have asked, uh, to give us a bit of an introduction into those principles and to also, um, start exploring how we can apply those to the work we all do as employer brand practitioners. So Jo, welcome and over to you. 

[00:03:17] Joanna Drury: Thank you very much, Eleni. Uh, so welcome everyone to our session on Ethical Storytelling in employer branding. Today what we're going to be discussing is why you should be thinking about ethical storytelling, what it looks and sounds like, and how you can start to adopt these practices into your own work and your own campaigns. 

[00:03:39] Joanna Drury: So why do we care about telling ethical stories? Well, employer branding at its heart relies on the power of effective stories. It's about stories that explain what you stand for, how you operate, and what it's like to be part of your organization. In recent years, we've seen a rise in the use of employee stories in employer branding to evidence companies, cultures, and your commitments to DE and I. 

[00:04:06] Joanna Drury: The way that we gather and tell those stories is also materially shaping not only how our employees see us, but also how our candidates see us. So how do we know what candidates want. Well, research conducted by Glassdoor has shown us that 76% of job seekers look at diversity and inclusion when they're deciding whether to accept your job offer. 

[00:04:32] Joanna Drury: And McKinsey has shown us that more than 3 in 4 Gen Z’ers who are forming a rising proportion in our workforce will actually end relationships with companies who run ad campaigns that are perceived as macho, racist, or homo. And how do we know what our employees think? Well, McKinsey has also shown us that 4 out of 5 Gen Z employees identify themselves as allies or state that they care about allyship. 

[00:04:59] Joanna Drury: And Deloitte has shown that over half would actually leave their current organization within two years if dissatisfied with their company's commitment to diversity and inclusion. So clearly, if you want to attract and retain fresh talent in this marketplace, you've got to ensure that the stories you tell about your culture and about your commitments to diversity and inclusion are watertight beyond that. 

[00:05:25] Joanna Drury: Every single story you tell is a chance to live out your values and prove your authenticity, and that's where we believe ethical storytelling comes in. You might think that telling an ethical story is just about the words that you put on the page, on your website, on your social platform, but it's about so much more than that. 

[00:05:46] Joanna Drury: It's actually about examining why you want to tell someone's story, how you persuade them to share that story with you, whether they have a clear understanding of where and when their story will be published, what images you choose to depict alongside that story and who retains editorial control. All of those elements have been set down in a pledge by a community of storytellers, researchers, and activists in the social impact space called the Ethical Storytelling Foundation. 

[00:06:20] Joanna Drury: And their pledge outlines a set of principles that help nonprofits to tell stories that are truthful, nuanced, educational, and empowering. So, you might be wondering what we can take from this social impact pledge that will help us in the employer branding space. It turns out that a lot of the themes that they identify are actually highly relevant to those of us telling stories about our employees in the private. 

[00:06:45] Joanna Drury: Above all else, the Ethical Storytelling Pledge focuses on three key themes, consent, freedom, and dignity. That means ensuring that you have the informed consent of the employee whose story that you are telling and that they fully understand why, how, and where their story will be used before any interview or shoot takes place. 

[00:07:07] Joanna Drury: And they should also have the psychological safety, power, and opportunity to withdraw that story at any time if it conflicts with how they wish to be represented. Freedom means truthfully representing the nuances in those employees' experiences and giving them the final say on their story. It means not going into an interview with the expectation of a particular sound bite, and instead it's about being open to the experience that the employee wishes to share with you. 

[00:07:38] Joanna Drury: It means acknowledging and confronting what needs to change in your organization and sharing your aspirations if you don't yet have the culture that you're working towards. Dignity, our third theme is about ensuring that you empower your people through both the imagery and the messages that you choose. 

[00:07:57] Joanna Drury: Because just like companies in the social impact space, we in DE and I are often telling the stories of people in marginalized groups. And they may face a considerable amount of unconscious bias, especially if they have multiple marginalized identities. Dealing with this unconscious bias could lead to colleagues fearing misinterpretation of their words, fearing negative representation in terms of the images chosen. 

[00:08:23] Joanna Drury: It could ultimately lead to them feeling reluctant to offer their story to your campaign. Also, keep in mind that they may have been approached to take part in several campaigns by the time that you are speaking to them, and this could lead to them feeling fatigued or exploited. So how can we avoid unethical storytelling and ensure consent, freedom, and dignity? 

[00:08:46] Joanna Drury: Well, we must challenge the unconscious bias in our storytelling, and we can start to do that by considering additional methodologies that can help us to ensure positive portrayals of our employees. One such methodology is the gender equality methodology, and this is widely recognized as the gold standard for measuring gender equality in advertising and media. 

[00:09:08] Joanna Drury: It measures against four key criteria opinions on how the female character is presented, whether they're shown in a respectful and appropriate manner, and whether they're perceived as a positive role model by their audience. Research from Ipsos shows us that when adverts positively portray women in this way, there's actually an increased likelihood of long-term improvements to your brand relationships as well as improvements in short-term behavior change. 

[00:09:37] Joanna Drury: And it is not a stretch for us to consider that the same impact might be felt if we can adapt and adopt this framework to guide our portrayals of other identities. Google's all-in framework for inclusive marketing also offers us another perspective on challenging unconscious bias, but this time in relation to stereotypes of place. 

[00:09:58] Joanna Drury: So, Google recommends avoiding romanticized or assumed settings, and instead they recommend that you choose a variety of authentic locations that are based on your knowledge of the person's experience. They also recommend eliminating discriminatory place-based language, which means instead of saying, for example, that someone comes from the inner city, you should instead specify a particular neighborhood or area. 

[00:10:24] Joanna Drury: Finally, they recommend avoiding place-based hierarchies or value judgements that include words such as best or worst. So unconscious bias and stereotyping might influence the types of images and the language that we use for both people and places, but what else can lead to unethical storytelling? 

[00:10:44] Joanna Drury: Let's consider the power imbalance between employer and employee. The story that employers want to tell and that employers are going to be happy to share won't always overlap, but cause of the contractual nature of the relationship between employer and employee. Employees may feel pressured into participating in a campaign they're not happy with, or they may not feel comfortable speaking up when their story is used in a way, they're not okay with. 

[00:11:11] Joanna Drury: So how can we ensure that they can give us true consent and that their experience is a positive one? It starts with how you position your campaign. Instead of focusing on the benefits to your organization, try reframing your request in terms of what's in it for your employee. Perhaps that could be increased exposure for their career, or it could be an opportunity to further a cause that they care about. 

[00:11:39] Joanna Drury: Next, make sure that the employee knows they can retract anything they say at a later stage if they feel uncomfortable. And finally, consider inserting several steps into your approval process where the employee can withdraw their story without all these steps. Some employees may not have the psychological safety to speak up about any changes that they wish to see. 

[00:12:05] Joanna Drury: So, let's pause here to recap what we've learnt. To attract and retain fresh talent, we must display an authentic commitment to diversity and inclusion, and we can do so by starting to follow the principles of ethical storytelling. Ethical storytelling in turn focuses on the three themes of consent, freedom, and dignity. 

[00:12:24] Joanna Drury: And we can ensure consent, freedom, and dignity in our storytelling by challenging our unconscious biases in relation to people and places using the additional frameworks such as the Google, or in framework and gender equality methodology. And we can also start to give power back to the employee through increased psychological safety and by increased editorial control. 

[00:12:47] Joanna Drury: But what exactly can you take away and start doing today? These are our three top tips to help you improve your ethical storytelling practice. Create space for no. Make sure employers understand exactly what they're signing up for, especially if they're working in a second language and building multiple explicit opportunities for them before and after the interview to make changes, suggestions, or withdraw their story. 

[00:13:16] Joanna Drury: Don't be afraid to reframe your campaign, although you might start with a specific idea of the story you need. You should leave room in your interview and in your editing process to ensure that you capture your employee's true insights and opinions because the story you create together will be so much more authentic, engaging, and believable if it's one your people want to tell. 

[00:13:37] Joanna Drury: Finally, we are focusing on the individual. When creating D&I campaigns, it can be quite easy for the concept to overwhelm the individual, be aware of and challenge your own unconscious biases to ensure that all your language and design decisions are grounded fully in the story your employee has shared with you and not in pervasive stereotype. 

[00:14:03] Joanna Drury: I hope that you've enjoyed this brief introduction into the field of Ethical Storytelling, and I'm now going to hand back over to Eleni who will be introducing the panelists for our discussion.  

[00:14:16] Eleni Antoniou: Thank you so much, Jo. So much food for thought there. So, um, joining me and Jo, um, in our panel today is Holly Parsons from B&Q and Alex Claremont from Accenture. 

[00:14:29] Eleni Antoniou: But before I bring them onto the screen, I think it's good time to launch our first poll for the day. Just to kind of warm us up a bit. So you can see the question pop up on the screen now, but if you want to vote and look at the full answers, they should all appear underneath your chat function, so please use that to vote. 

[00:14:48] Eleni Antoniou: Um, and while you're doing that, I would like to invite Holly, Alex, and Jo to join me on the screen. 

[00:15:00] Joanna Drury: Hi.  

[00:15:00] Eleni Antoniou: Yeah. Hello everyone. Thank you so much for joining us today. Welcome to our discussion. Um, I am gonna start with you, Alex, if that's okay. Um, sorry to pick you first. Um, so, um, obviously Jo talked a lot about employee storytelling. Um, how central is that to your employee branding strategy at Accenture? 

[00:15:21] Eleni Antoniou: Do you often run campaigns that have employees, um, at their heart?  

[00:15:27] Alex Claremont: Sure. Um, nearly all the time across it embedded into nearly all of the marketing that we're putting out there, particularly where there's focused inclusion, diversity moments that are taking place such as International Women's Day. Um, but we also have run separate campaigns. 

[00:15:44] Alex Claremont: So in fact, uh, last year we ran, um, an event called ID Empowered, um, where we worked with 33 and that was focused on the topic of identity and how we talk about inclusion, diversity at an even greater level as we can.  

[00:16:01] Eleni Antoniou: Thank you, Alex. And Holly, how about you? Do you often use kind of employee stories, um, as part of your, your campaigns? 

[00:16:09] Hollie Parsons: Yeah, it's a really interesting time actually. We've just currently this year been working on a recruitment campaign, which is completely colleague centric. Um, and it's due to launch in 2023, early 23. So, watch this space. Um, but when we designed and thought through the campaign, it was really important to us as a business that it was a, a genuine campaign that felt natural. 

[00:16:28] Hollie Parsons: Um, so the brief was really just to share externally what it feels like to work at B&Q. We've got some really long serving. That have worked here, um, and they love working here, but to, to pinpoint that magic as to why, um, was a really tricky one. Um, so we made sure that the campaign that we are launching is completely colleague centric. 

[00:16:48] Hollie Parsons: So, we've got five short films that are focused on, um, colleagues experience and they're bringing to life and sharing what being human means to them inside and outside of work. So yes, definitely really important that the colleagues are at the heart.  

[00:17:03] Eleni Antoniou: And Holly, how do you choose who takes part in those campaigns? 

[00:17:07] Eleni Antoniou: And I guess, how do you convince them to open up and share their story?  

[00:17:11] Hollie Parsons: Yeah, great question. So, we started by doing a lot of listening. So, we really wanted to know what it feels like. Um, and everyone's reality is different. So, you know, we know what it feels like. But in terms of interviewing colleagues across our store network and in our head office, we did a lot of listening to understand what stories they had to share. 

[00:17:28] Hollie Parsons: Um, so that's where we started. And out of that we really naturally got some people that were particularly passionate about sharing their story. So I would, I would say it's self selection. Um, and we got to the point where we had, um, five really strong stories, um, along the way. 

[00:17:47] Hollie Parsons: We did have a couple of others. Um, Um, decided not to take part or, or they didn't take the briefs. They're just following on from a lot of what Joanna said. We've always been really open around, um, if there's any reason why people don't feel comfortable con continue, then you know, that's absolutely their call. 

[00:18:04] Hollie Parsons: These stories are really personal, um, and the colleagues need to feel really comfortable that, that they're sharing them. So, so yeah, it was self selection really. And, and we ended up with the five stories and we are really proud of, and, um, we've, they've, we've just seen them, um, working with 33, uh, over the last couple of weeks. 

[00:18:22] Hollie Parsons: So we are sharing them internally, um, moving into December. Um, so to answer the second part of your question, um, did you say, how do you make them feel comfortable? Yeah, it's, it's interesting. We worked really closely with 33 Red, um, and they were great at creating a natural environment for them. Um, and we worked really closely involved them in the whole process, um, right through to choosing the voiceover. 

[00:18:48] Hollie Parsons: So on the videos, it's not our colleagues doing the voiceover, but we wanted to make them play, you know, help them play a major role in, in picking who represented them, um, as part of their film. So I would say involve them in the whole process. Um, and, and 33 Red on, on the shoots. Did a really great job of, of making them feel comfortable. 

[00:19:09] Hollie Parsons: Um, and, and, and it's come out with some really natural, um, and powerful films.  

[00:19:15] Eleni Antoniou: So, yeah. So it, it is going back to that kind of co-creation that, um, Jo talked about earlier and making sure employees feel it's their story and they're not telling their story their employer wants, um, wants to tell. Yeah. Um, Alex, do you have kind of similar practices at Accenture in terms of how you choose your people and how, you know, how do you make them feel comfortable? 

[00:19:36] Alex Claremont: Yeah. So, um, yeah, the first is always that it's a, it's a voluntary ask. It's not, um, something that's, uh, a demand that's pressed out there. Um, the second I think is looking for the people who are passionate within the organization, uh, about, about their story. Um, whether that's, um, a particular aspect of who they are or just what they have been. 

[00:19:56] Alex Claremont: Achieving, and that's the other thing that I think it can often be slightly overlooked is inclusion. Diversity can come through in all types of content. It doesn't need to be a story, which is just about a singular aspect of who that person is that. The way that they want to represent themselves in the story they want to tell is the most important part of that. 

[00:20:21] Alex Claremont: Um, whether that's, you know, talking to your inclusion, diversity networks, if they already exist within your organization or talking to leaders as well of, you know, who do they see, who is passionate, who is a, you know, has a great story to tell. Um, and then going out with that ask and an open ask of, you know, please, we would love you to, but, you know, open refusal if you would not like. 

[00:20:44] Eleni Antoniou: Great. Thank you Alex. Um, Jo, um, what does good practice look like when interviewing employees for a campaign, um, and kind of empowering them to tell their true story in, in that process?  

[00:20:58] Joanna Drury: Sure. So whether we are kind of producing written profiles or social content or employee films, um, as Holly mentioned, we have a sister brand that's through Red who produce employee films for us. 

[00:21:11] Joanna Drury: Um, it all comes down to those three themes of consent, freedom, and dignity. So when we are constructing interview questions or when we're sort of conducting the interview itself, we have to make sure that we are not constraining. Potential story because employees chosen for a campaign aren't always comfortable necessarily telling the story that they've been picked for. 

[00:21:34] Joanna Drury: Uh, so actually most authentic stories come from following a thread within an interview that you can't always predict. Um, so even though you might go in with a question guide, it is just a guide. Um, and so it's really about the skill of the interviewer to kind of shift the emphasis of that interview to honor the employee experience while still meeting the campaign aims. 

[00:21:57] Joanna Drury: Um, we also ensure that interviewees obviously have full sight of any finished product. Whether that's a film or a written article, um, and everything that we do up to the point of the finished article should have ensured that it's a true and empowering reflection of that person. Um, and that might include, as Holly mentioned, our 33 Red Team, putting people at ease on set. 

[00:22:19] Joanna Drury: Um, it might involve repeatedly checking for consent because one yes isn't always enough, uh, because of those kind of employer-employee power dynamics that are in place. And it also, uh, includes our copywriters skills in identifying what needs to be kept confidential and what should actually be put forward into the final story. 

[00:22:39] Joanna Drury: Uh, and finally, if it's a sensitive or a senior interview, we can give interviewees sight of that interview transcript before anyone else sees it. So kind of assuring them that their words are confidential in the, um, interview with the copywriter itself, that can help them to have kind of more psychological safety, and it helps them to share their story more freely. 

[00:23:03] Eleni Antoniou: Great. Thank you Jo. And do you think it's still possible to tell a holistic story in those instances where it is necessary to focus on a particular trait for a campaign? I know we often have campaigns that are trying to attract more women or more candidates from specific backgrounds. Can we still tell a holistic story within those. 

[00:23:26] Joanna Drury: Mm-hmm. So, I think the most important thing to remember is that the focus of your campaign might not be the story that the person themselves identifies with. Um, so if you're kind of concerned about telling a holistic story, you are, you are thinking about how not to tokenize people, I think. My advice would be to take it back to first principles. 

[00:23:49] Joanna Drury: So, what is it that you want to convey? What is the key message that you want to get across? Um, and be clear with yourself and the interviewee about sort of why you want them to take part specifically, um, and about what's in it for them to, uh, because the more context that they have, the better they can make an informed decision about whether or not they want to be part of the campaign and also, uh, they can make a better decision. 

[00:24:12] Joanna Drury: What aspect of their story they want to share as well. And I think if your key message is that you have a welcoming culture where your group can belong as it often is, um, then remember that the interviews themselves are an extension and an expression of that culture. So rather than kind of maybe pigeonholing interviewees or dictating stories that. 

[00:24:36] Joanna Drury: Um, think they would be best suited to tell. It is about kind of going back, giving them that freedom to choose, um, what they discuss. Uh, because if people feel listened to and that they've kind of played a part in building the success of the campaign, that's when you are like much more likely to get people who are acting as true ambassadors, um, for your campaign. 

[00:24:58] Joanna Drury: They're not just sort of passive part.  

[00:25:02] Eleni Antoniou: And I guess that's very important, the employees wanting to share their stories more broadly with their networks because they, they feel that is their story and not something that doesn't quite represent them fully. Um, Alex, following on from that, how can we bridge the gap between the need to showcase certain stories that support, you know, the wider organizational agenda? 

[00:25:28] Eleni Antoniou: And the duties we have towards our employees to not see them as defined by one single trait 

[00:25:34] Alex Claremont: Sure. So, um, the first is always that your, your aim should be the representation of the true organization, who you are and, and where you are going to. And I think the way you are going to is such an important aspect within this, you know, often, um, we can be tasked with increasing particular target goals and inclusion, diversity statistics, but then if you misrepresent the organization, all you are really going to lead to. 

[00:26:02] Alex Claremont: Greater levels of attrition when somebody arrives and goes, this isn't the company I thought it was from all the things I was shown. But that can feel very daunting of going, well, how do I then increase this number when we are starting from a, a low base level? And my advice always is to then look for the passion within the organization. 

[00:26:22] Alex Claremont: Why, why are you thinking about this? Why is inclusion and diversity important? Um, and people can be very cynical about it. It's become a piece of going..organizations had checked the tick box thing and, and pushing this because they feel that they have to, but do they truly care? And finding those stories within the organization could be super powerful of who are the leaders who are, um, advocating for this? 

[00:26:46] Alex Claremont: Why is it, um, part of, um, a target? Have you made public aspirational goals? Um, across. What, what difference will it make within the organization? Um, and that being able to tell those stories alongside the stories of employees who are part of, um, uh, the, the kind of, uh, I and d metrics that you are looking at can really make a difference as to how people feel about the organization. 

[00:27:15] Alex Claremont: A truthful representation with an aspirational view is always the way I would push it. 

[00:27:23] Eleni Antoniou: Thank you for that. And I'm gonna, I'm gonna stay with you, Alex, for this next question and, um, I, I can see there's a few questions from the audience as well, so we'll kind of, we'll, we'll, we'll jump onto a few of those shortly as well. But, um, I'm gonna throw a term that I know you often use at Accenture. 

[00:27:38] Eleni Antoniou: Um, should we start talking more about intersectionality and how, how do we do that as part of, again, D and I campaigns that might have kind of very specific objectives to.  

[00:27:50] Alex Claremont: Sure. So, um, so intersectionality is such an important piece because it touches into the understanding that there are no homogenous experiences. 

[00:28:02] Alex Claremont: Across this and we run an exercise inside ET central, which is called a meap, which is looking at how would you describe yourself across these pieces. And for some people, their aspects of inclusion diversity might be that they're a parent or a carer. Um, it may be they're ethnicity or it may be, um, they're, um, queerness within things. 

[00:28:23] Alex Claremont: But for some who fall into those um, categories, it's not something that they feel defines them. Um, and when we are then looking at intersectionality, it's the understanding that the experience is not one. Being a woman does not mean that. Everybody encounters the same environment or has had the same challenges. 

[00:28:42] Alex Claremont: Instead, the real crux there is going into and following that storyline as Jo was talking about, that then you can start to see that while there are commonalities of experience, each person receives those differently, has different effects on their lives, has different effects on the ways that they've worked or their work experiences. 

[00:29:03] Alex Claremont: And being able to look at that and be an organization that is representing itself in that way that it understands that this is not a single experience, um, then means that really you are getting to a place where, um, your organization is showing that the nuances and the differences in these people and, you know, ultimately we'll be trying to tackle them. 

[00:29:28] Alex Claremont: Down into, you know, different aspects of those pieces as well.  

[00:29:33] Eleni Antoniou: Great. Thank you so much, Alex. Um, Holly, I'm gonna come over to you for the next question. You kind of, you mentioned a little bit at the beginning, um, you talked about the process of how you engage your employees, how you allowed them to kind of say no in, in that process. 

[00:29:49] Eleni Antoniou: Um, Can we ensure that employees have the psychological safety to say no? Again, going back to what Jo said about the relationship, it is a co contractual relationship. Um, should they have the power to do this and like who, who, who should have editorial control, I guess, of their story.  

[00:30:08] Hollie Parsons: Yeah, great question. 

[00:30:09] Hollie Parsons: I think it's really important that you get that trust from the colleague, and the only way to do that is build that relationship. So, as I said earlier, bringing them on the journey of what we are doing and why, and the fact if they believe in it, they're gonna feel closely connected to it. And so I think that's a great starting point. 

[00:30:28] Hollie Parsons: But also something else we did was we really involved their line managers in the process. So someone they know and trust already, um, to bring them along to, uh, because we felt like if there was any instance where the colleagues felt like they didn't wanna take part and they didn't want to do that via the employer brand team, they could do that via their line manager. 

[00:30:48] Hollie Parsons: Um, so we made sure that they also played a really key role in the process. And we were always extremely open. And, um, I think I heard Jo say one yes isn't enough. Um, we checked a lot. Um, so throughout the process, you know, they reviewed their scripts, they tweaked their scripts. Um, they, and along the way we were like, are you comfortable sharing this? 

[00:31:10] Hollie Parsons: Some of the stories we are sharing are very personal and it's not something that B&Q has done before externally. Um, so I think from that perspective, we've been really close to those. Along the way, um, and created those working relationships with them to build that trust. It's really important, um, to the point, like I said, we did have one colleague that was involved and they decided actually, um, they didn't, they didn't want to share their story externally. 

[00:31:38] Hollie Parsons: It just felt too much for them. Um, and that was absolutely fine. And, and, um, we've looked at offering that individual to do a story on our website instead of being on film and they're really comfortable with that and they're happy that they can still be part of the campaign. So, I think it's just building that trust, building that relationship, and being really flexible and open along the way. 

[00:31:57] Hollie Parsons: And I think the line manager piece is really important. Um, obviously dependent on line manager relationships. It might not be their line manager, it might be a peer, it might be a buddy, but someone close to that colleague that they do trust that they wanna bring along the journey with them so that they can have that confidence and, and psychological safety to say, actually this doesn't feel right. 

[00:32:15] Hollie Parsons: I don't want to. Um, so yeah,  

[00:32:18] Joanna Drury: it's a really important part of,  

[00:32:19] Hollie Parsons: of building that campaign.  

[00:32:21] Eleni Antoniou: Yeah. And um, again, going back to that comment that Jo made around one yes isn't enough. We kind of, we see that a lot in, in the work that we do where people might agree to take part in something when you kind of show them a written brief, but then when they actually come to the shoot or where you know, it's time to publish the story, they realize what it actually means. 

[00:32:40] Eleni Antoniou: So, you know, they start kind of looking at it from different perspectives. It's kind of important, as you say, to have those checking points across the entire duration of the project and up to up to go live.   

[00:32:52] Hollie Parsons: Where we are at now with the project is that I can really comfortably say that each of those colleagues are really happy, proud, um, and comfortable to be part of the campaign, and that is an amazing place to be. 

[00:33:05] Hollie Parsons: I don't have any doubts, just, and, and that's because of the work that we put in throughout creating it so,  

[00:33:10] Eleni Antoniou: Yeah. Yeah. It takes a bit longer sometimes, but I think you end up with Yes. With a better outcome. Yeah. Um, Alex, anything, anything to add to that?  

[00:33:20] Alex Claremont: No, no, I think I, I, I agree, um, uh, across all of those things, um, uh, yeah, yeah. 

[00:33:29] Eleni Antoniou: lovely. Um, Joe, I'm gonna come back to you now. Um, as someone who kind of interviews, um, employees for stories, um, and kind. Make some editorial decisions, I guess before, um, before those stories reach, um, their employer or even the individual themselves. Um, do we have a duty to convey the nuances in an employee's experience and how should we, as the agencies treat some of, you know, off the record, comments made in an interview. 

[00:34:00] Eleni Antoniou: Um, and to what extent, I guess, is an employee expected to position their employer in a kind of a hundred percent positive light.  

[00:34:09] Joanna Drury: Mm-hmm. Okay. So I think I'm going to, um, tackle each of those three questions. That was three questions. No one, sorry. Um, so in answer to whether we have a duty to. Convey the nuances in employees experience. 

[00:34:23] Joanna Drury: I think incorporating those, um, those nuances and, and maybe some sort of constructive feedback into an employee story. Into an employee profile, it can give that story a sense of. Authenticity and integrity and credibility, um, that perhaps a less nuance story can't achieve. Um, I also think it's more engaging and persuasive for the audience if they can see that the company, uh, that the employees work for actually has a true commitment to change. 

[00:34:57] Joanna Drury: So a company that doesn't value diversity and inclusion and doesn't value kind of freedom of expression for their employees won't put the effort into. Sharing some of those more aspirational points. Uh, and also in the past, um, in some employee interviews, I've actually chosen to include, if not all of it, then some of the aspirational content because it would be disingenuous to disregard some of what that employee sees as a core aspect of their experience at the comapny 

[00:35:32] Joanna Drury: Um, and I think this comes back again to making sure that the employee feels proud of the story that they're telling so that they can be a, a true ambassador for the campaign in terms of how we treat off the record comments. In interviews, I think, um, you are right as a, an agency interviewer, we are often kind of seeing more perhaps accurate or honest accounts of an employee's experience because it's outside of those power structures of the employee and the employer. 

[00:36:05] Joanna Drury: So depending on the employee's personality, they may feel more uninhibited to kind of share their opinions. Um, and that's actually really helpful for us as copywriters because it means that we can tell more truthful, more accurate stories, and even if we are not necessarily using all of the information that we hear. 

[00:36:24] Joanna Drury: It is giving us that kind of grounding in the realities of your organization. And it helps us to shape the stories that we do tell so that we are not saying something, um, that is incorrect or perhaps misleading. Uh, like Alex mentioned, what you don't want is to put out a campaign that attracts a lot of diverse talent, and then once they get into your organization, your culture is actually at odds with the messaging that you've put out. 

[00:36:49] Joanna Drury: So it's helpful in that case. Um, we also sometimes receive pieces of constructive feedback for the organization on what needs to change, and we can sometimes anonymize that feedback and give it to our clients, but only if there are enough interviews to actually ensure the anonymity of those, uh, employees opinions. 

[00:37:10] Joanna Drury: And we also need to make sure the interviewees understand the repercussions of anything that they say. And I think this, um, partly goes to what Holly was saying about potentially getting the line managers involved in the process. Some employees don't feel comfortable necessarily, uh, or they don't feel sure of what they can and can't say in an interview. 

[00:37:34] Joanna Drury: So sometimes getting the line manager involved can help to give them a little bit of okay, comfort blanket almost to kind of guide their off-record comments because some people will be making those off the record comments intentionally because they feel that it's, uh, important for their organization to be aware of changes that need to be made. 

[00:37:55] Joanna Drury: And some people will be making off the record comments because they aren't quite aware of the repercussions of what they're saying. So, there are kind of two sides, uh, there to consider. Um, and your third question was about portraying the employer in a positive light. Um, and I think sharing aspirational changes can actually employ in a more positive light purely on things that are going well because again, by focusing on those aspirational changes, you are positioning yourself as an employer that is pushing forward and isn't happy with the status quo, and that you are actually valuing your people's experiences. 

[00:38:38] Eleni Antoniou: Great. Thank you so much, Jo. Um, Alex, have you had to deal with any situations in the past where, again, picking up from, from what Jo was saying, where um, employees felt they were being used in a tokenistic way, and how do you think, um, all of us as employee brand practitioners should address those situations? 

[00:38:58] Alex Claremont: Sure. So, um, the conversation has come up when, and it, I think this is all then focusing on how you start the conversation, um, where the question has been asked of, well, are you doing this just because of whichever aspect of inclusion and diversity they represent. Um, and that I think, you know, we have very valid concern across stuff that you don't want to be the poster person, uh, for an organization. 

[00:39:28] Alex Claremont: You don't want to necessarily go, this is my cultural heritage, and you are going to use that to deliver something for your business. Um, and I think that the best way that, that, um, made clear that that's not the, the process or, or where it's driving towards, is to have that as an open conversation at the beginning to say, you know, we don't want this to be tokenistic. 

[00:39:51] Alex Claremont: We don't, you know, we want to represent your lived experience. We want to understand who you are within this piece and within this story. So, and you know, often the other, you know, really helpful part of that is to be open and honest about your own story. You know, talk about those pieces, talk about your lived experience as part of the piece. 

[00:40:12] Alex Claremont: If you know it's a very vulnerable place, particularly if you're going to talk about something which has, you know, has been difficult and you've had a good experience at this organization, you know, that can feel very challenging. You know, um, it can be a place of going, oh, well, if I tell this story is that going to, you know, be something that's I'm, follows me around. 

[00:40:33] Alex Claremont: I'm labeled with the person who, you know, talked about this particular piece. So being able to be in those conversations early and to those points of care of whether that's having line managers involved, et cetera. Um, Or colleagues. Um, within it, it's useful to have advocates and allies as part of the conversation as well. 

[00:40:54] Alex Claremont: Um, but that's about getting somebody comfortable about the intent. And then the obvious piece that we've spoken about was the, the continuing option to say no. Making sure you have those gate checks to go, Hey, this is where we are. This is what we heard. Did we hear you correctly? Uh, and allowing. Real open moments to go. 

[00:41:12] Alex Claremont: If we've misheard you, please tell us at this point. Because again, that reassures that process of, oh, they're not taking my story and focusing on one singular aspect that I didn't think was particularly what I was saying, um, across it. And you know, the worst possible situation is you end up with particularly content. 

[00:41:31] Alex Claremont: That the person themselves isn't an ambassador for, doesn't want to advocate, doesn't want to push, pushes it under the rug going, oh God, I can't believe I said that in the end, because you know, they are the main pipeline to get, get that out, and for it to feel authentic. Across. So when people are reading it, they go, oh look, they also posted it on their LinkedIn profile. 

[00:41:52] Alex Claremont: All those kind of aspects. You know, people do look for those check boxes as well. And I think that's the other thing that becomes so important in all of this is you will have checks and balances made by people from your marketing materials. They will go and check your glass door. They will go and look at the comments on your LinkedIn profile, um, on your Instagram, let's. 

[00:42:13] Alex Claremont: And if those things really have a massive delta between them and we all know, you know, that there will be some negativity within some of those pieces because that's, you know, an aspect of work. Um, but people will go and check to see are they telling the lived experience here or are they selling me a pipe dream that doesn't exist when I join the organization. 

[00:42:35] Eleni Antoniou: Thank you Alex. And and that is so true and again, it keeps coming up in a lot of the conversations we have internally. Our audiences are much more switched on these days. They've got loads of platforms and loads of ways to fact check if we are telling them the truth and they can see through a story that feels very staged and very one-dimensional as well. 

[00:42:57] Eleni Antoniou: And we've kind of, we've seen that in the past. Holly, would you like to share your views there? So have you ever had to deal with a situation where an employee was kind of feeling they were being used as a token for a particular campaign?  

[00:43:13] Hollie Parsons: I don't think I can think of an example where we've had that, but I think it's definitely been, uh, a, a variant of how we've managed this campaign. 

[00:43:23] Hollie Parsons: Um, because to Alex's point, it's always something that you need to think about in terms of internally. Externally is this genuine? Are we telling those stories? And I think the two points that are most important here are telling a genuine story and making sure it's colleague centric. So, you can't argue with a colleague's story if it's their story, um, because it's how they feel and, and it's theirs. 

[00:43:45] Hollie Parsons: Um, so it's true for them. I think the reality is it's, it's not gonna be true for everyone in the business. Um, but that's okay because if it isn't as an organization, we want to hear about that. I think employer brand is kind of a small part of a bigger picture around culture. Um, especially when we are telling our colleagues stories. 

[00:44:04] Hollie Parsons: It's, it's not just about. Sharing how it feels to work there to attract people to come and work for us. It's the evolution of that culture as well. Um, so something that Alex said earlier around colleague networks, you know, we've got a really passionate internal, um, group of individuals that belong to our colleague networks that we're telling us that. 

[00:44:24] Hollie Parsons: We need to be braver and share these stories externally. Um, so a lot of this passion has come from those internal stories, and that's the point when, you know it's genuine. You've got your colleague saying, why are we not telling people that we're, you know, creating this environment internally because this would be a great reason that people want to come and work for us. 

[00:44:43] Hollie Parsons: So I think it, it, it's that listening, it's making sure that, um, it is genuine. And you are always thinking about it because I think, you know, when they're being filmed, you come out and you see them there, there could have been a risk of those colleagues feeling like, um, because they are quite specific about, you know, we've got an individual that's talking about their religion. 

[00:45:03] Hollie Parsons: We've got an individual that's talking about their sick parent. Um, and we've got a transgender individual that's talking about her journey. So, it, it was a, could have been a risk, but actually I'm really comfortable in saying, these are their stories and they want to share them. And, and the journey that they ha they've had at B&Q is, is why it's a great place to work. 

[00:45:22] Hollie Parsons: And we want to be brave and we want to share that externally because they're genuine. So, it's, it's a really important topic, um, to keep in mind throughout a d and I campaign for sure.  

[00:45:34] Eleni Antoniou: Great. Thank you so much, both. Um, I think it's a good time to launch our second poll now, so, You might see that pop on the screen, um, briefly, but if you want to vote, um, those of you in the audience, please use, um, the, the bit that you can see underneath the chat function. 

[00:45:52] Eleni Antoniou: You can see the full, um, question and answers there. Um, I've got a couple more questions. Um, and I've got a couple, um, that, um, I can see from the audience that I'd like to kind of, um, ask you in a minute. Again, this is something we, um, very often discuss internally, um, when we're supporting our clients with their sorts of campaigns. 

[00:46:15] Eleni Antoniou: But, um, Jo, I'm gonna come to you first. Um, what other ways do organizations have of telling credible ? D&I stories without having to lean on their employees to do it for them every single time? Or what can they be doing, I guess, alongside the kind of employee-centric?  

[00:46:35] Joanna Drury: Mm-hmm. So, I think this again, is, is about going back to your core motivations for your campaign. 

[00:46:42] Joanna Drury: So, if your goal is to show that your culture is one that candidates and employees want to be part of, obviously authentic people stories are only one part of that. Theirs is kind of, um, anecdotal evidence. But what you can also do is you can start to look at sharing your aspirations in terms of your diversity and inclusion strategy. 

[00:47:05] Joanna Drury: Um, maybe signaling your commitments, showing how you're progressing against those, and also, um, signposting your ambitions for the future as well. Um, You can also potentially, if you are looking for example, at showing support for an underrepresented group, perhaps you want to have more people from ethnic minorities, uh, coming into leadership positions. 

[00:47:28] Joanna Drury: You can look to find out what factors actually influence their decisions when they're deciding whether to join a company, because it might be that there are particular processes or ways of thinking or working that might be attractive to that group that you can actually showcase. Um, without interviewing the same group of employees over and over again. 

[00:47:47] Joanna Drury: Um, for example, you might be able to turn to a different group of employees who aren't in the demographic that you're targeting, who can actually speak about, um, what they're doing to improve the diversity of your organization. So, it's not just about ways of not using employee stories, it's also about finding ways to use other employee stories so you're not repetitively asking the same people to be part of your campaigns. 

[00:48:22] Eleni Antoniou: Sorry, um, thought from that, again, kind of picking up from, from what Jo just said, um, what other ways do we have to tell, you know, to showcase the organization's commitment, I guess, to diversity and inclusion?  

[00:48:40] Alex Claremont: Which that to me, yeah. Yes, please. Sure. Um, uh, the other thing I would say is what, what are you doing within the organization? 

[00:48:48] Alex Claremont: So, you know, are there particular programs that you've, um, created leadership development programs? Are there, um, uh, particular pieces that you are doing within the community as well? So what's, um, part of some of the CSR activities, et cetera? Um, you know, the, action is so important here that. There's, um, telling the story, but there's also, you know, what, what makes, what makes the difference? 

[00:49:14] Alex Claremont: How do you think that you are going to get more diversity into leadership positions and telling that story, uh, as part of it. And the other really critical thing, and you know, I would say this across all aspects of inclusion, diversity, is it has to be top down. It has to be from leadership who really care and understand. 

[00:49:35] Alex Claremont: The, the value of inclusion, diversity to their organization. We've released, um, a huge amount of research over the years that shows that this, it hits the bottom line across it. Um, it really does make an organization more innovative. It, um, increases, um, the growth of an organization, um, and having leaders out the out the front talking about this, caring about it. 

[00:50:01] Alex Claremont: Makes such a palpable difference across that. And that can also be about where are you showing up, what speaking events are taking place, you know, how, how much are you in the fabric of some of this conversation? And, you know, that can sound overwhelming as you know a piece when you are starting out on that journey. 

[00:50:22] Alex Claremont: But the, the smallest of pieces to show and indicate that this is why we care and this is why we are doing it, and this is what we are. Again, makes such a difference to understanding what's that aspirational journey for the organization and where do you want to go and how do you think you'll get there, um, across it. 

[00:50:44] Eleni Antoniou: Thank you so much, Alex. Um, you have actually partly answered the next question. It's coming from the audience, so I'm going to address that, um, to Holly as well. Um, so one of the questions from the audience is around, you know, how do you go about. Buying from the business for this sort of, um, campaigns. 

[00:51:03] Eleni Antoniou: How do you prove that, you know, um, how do you link it, I guess, to improve business outcomes? Which Alex, um, alluded to briefly.  

[00:51:13] Hollie Parsons: It's really interesting. It probably links back to my last answer around this is more, more than just employer brand. This is about culture. Um, so I think that it's working. How do you get buy-in? 

[00:51:27] Hollie Parsons: I think it's working really closely with the other functions across, um, hr. So we've got colleagues. Experience team that run our colleague networks and, um, understanding that colleague voice and how we're sharing that. I think to get the buy-in, I think leadership really understand what need to understand what's going on in the business to then create a genuine, credible, colleague-centric campaign. 

[00:51:50] Hollie Parsons: Um, so it's more about employer brand and it is really about sharing the culture, um, and actually as an employer brand specialist. Both of those things are important. So, if you can contribute to sharing internally from an internal employer brand perspective, the changes in the culture. And back to the last question is, you know, sharing that journey that the company are going on. 

[00:52:13] Hollie Parsons: So, we wouldn't have been in a place, you know, 18 months ago to share the films we are now. But we did share our journey. So, we were really honest about our aspirations and where we were at that point and said, you know, this is what we are doing to, to make this an inclusive place to work and we've worked with external agencies to, to understand the current state of B&Q and we're working really hard to, to make sure that we are creating that inclusive environment and now we are ready to share some of those stories because it's genuinely happening. 

[00:52:41] Hollie Parsons: So, I think, I think the priority and the buy-in needs to come via the colleagues. So, it's how do you make sure that you work across the HR function to ensure that colleagues are being listened to and you are hearing that. Um, and that the leaders are hearing that voice too, so that they know what direction to take the business in. 

[00:53:00] Hollie Parsons: Um, so yeah, that's quite a broad answer, but I think it is such a bigger picture, um, to get that buy-in because again, it needs to be genuine. Um, if the leaders don't believe in it, it's not going to be genuine.  

[00:53:12] Eleni Antoniou: Yeah, that's such a good point. And it is all about, kind of start from within. First, make sure, um, you've embedded that culture internally before you go out and kind of be very vocal about it. 

[00:53:24] Eleni Antoniou: Um, we have one more question. I am going to address that to you, Alex. It is around authenticity. We've talked a lot about authenticity. Um, and this question is around, it's specifically about LGBTQ, but I guess it can apply to any trade. How do you share stories that are about a very specific, um, trait, I guess, um, without being perceived as, you know, in this case, pink washing, for example, or, you know, as being a bit not really authentic about what you're trying to say. 

[00:53:56] Alex Claremont: Sure. Uh, so it's about following the, the story threads itself. So, um, when then looking to try and address a particular, um, aspect of inclusion diversity, it's understanding what the lived experience of that piece is and for that particular individual, uh, and talking about it in that aspect of this is where, where they have come from, where they are going, their experience of being in our workplace, uh, because that, that is always going to be true and honest and unique to… 

[00:54:35] Alex Claremont: and rather than creating it that they, this is the lived experience and this would be the lived experience for every single person in this I & D category. Um, that's the way to then really move around and not have it agnostic. The other part of that is to look how the particular story of what all pieces developed. 

[00:55:01] Alex Claremont: So, if we're entering into the conversation just going, I'm only going to ask you questions about this particular aspect of who you are, then for the individual that's, you know, this does not define me. This is not the one thing that, uh, I am. And if the does in the end, focus on that, that means it, and, and really looking to understand the nuances within that story rather than, The big ticket pieces, um, of that, because that's where really the, the magic lies across it. 

[00:55:34] Eleni Antoniou: Lovely. Thank you. Thank you Alex. Um, I've got one last question just to try and kind of bring everything together. And I think this, you know, this will be things you've touched on, um, during our conversation, but, um, Holly, um, I'm gonna come to you first. Um, how can we find the right balance between aspiration and reality? 

[00:55:56] Eleni Antoniou: When it comes to telling and sharing D and I stories? 

[00:56:02] Hollie Parsons: that's so tricky and, and I think that, you know, as you say, we probably answered that a lot along the way in what we're talking about and as I've been emphasizing on it being genuine, um, because I think you definitely need to be aspirational alongside, um, where the culture's heading internally, but I also think you need to be brave to bring that culture along with you. 

[00:56:23] Hollie Parsons: Um, so I think it's, it's getting how do you get that balance? I think making sure that you are comfortable, that those stories are genuine, but be brave. So, to the point I was saying earlier about, oh, there's always at risk of those individuals feeling like they're, um, being tokenized, but actually these stories came really naturally and genuinely, um, so comfortable that for the purpose of this campaign, we are in a really balanced place in that aspirational we are sharing. 

[00:56:52] Hollie Parsons: You know, sharing our stories externally that we've never done before, um, which is a great place to be, but from a balance to this is the reality. It is actually the reality. But it was, it was a long journey. So, we started this particular campaign in April, um, in terms of engaging the colleagues, doing the listening, understanding. 

[00:57:10] Hollie Parsons: Um, we're in a place now where we've got the films, um, we are educating, um, we are using those internally. I know that's not a question, but that's been really important as part of this campaign. This isn't just an external activation to attract people to come and work here. It's also, um, an internal retention campaign to remind people why it is amazing to work here. 

[00:57:31] Hollie Parsons: Um, so I think it's, it's. It's a tricky one, um, to look at being aspirational, but I think it's always better to err on the side of being genuine as a business because you never want to sell the dream and then someone come and work for you and it's not true. Um, so yeah. Hopefully that helps.  

[00:57:51] Eleni Antoniou: It does. Thank you Holly and Alex again, you have touched on this a couple of times, but I guess it's a kind of a good question to bring it all together. 

[00:57:58] Eleni Antoniou: So, um, how do you find the right balance between aspiration and reality?  

[00:58:03] Alex Claremont: I think there's, there's real value in not seeing things as one gigantic mountain that needs to be climbed. So, um, there's, you can do it within campaigns, et cetera, but trying to think about it in the fabric of pieces which are taking place as well, that there can be small before bigger wins. 

[00:58:24] Alex Claremont:. So whether that's working on employee advocacy and starting to think about how people feel empowered to tell their own stories before maybe then thinking about a, a larger marketing campaign, thinking about how to really give. Permission to HR to go, oh, right, what are we changing? 

[00:58:47] Alex Claremont: What's the thing that we want to do? And it doesn't need to be, Hey, we've signed up to the newest healthcare program, or all these kind of pieces. Take the quick win across start because that, I think, can really feel empowering to everybody. And then, when you have those stories starting to come through, then that's where it becomes the aspirational piece of, right. 

[00:59:10] Alex Claremont: So, we've started to see these things. We've seen the landscape of the organization now, and now what's the bigger, bolder things that we want to to chase forward. And that then sits within that genuine place of this is where we are and this is where we are going towards.  

[00:59:27] Eleni Antoniou: Great, thank you. Um, well, I'm afraid we have run out of time, so, um, massive thank you to all of you, um, on our panel who joined us today, but also, um, everyone in the audience as well. 

[00:59:40] Eleni Antoniou: So, um, I hope you have taken something out of this discussion and do keep an eye out for the recording and some top tips that we'll be sharing with all of you shortly. So, thank you and I hope to see you all at our next Unboxed event in the new year.  

Hosted by ThirtyThree’s Client Partner and Head of DE&I Eleni Antoniou, we heard from the brilliant minds of Accenture Song’s Global People Communications Lead Alex Claremont, B&Q’s Employer Brand & Candidate Experience Manager Hollie Parsons, and ThirtyThree’s Senior Communications Consultant Joanna Drury

The panel explored the following topics: 

  • The importance of employee storytelling in employer branding 
  • DE&I and how to select who takes part 
  • Best practice when interviewing employees 
  • How to tell a holistic story 
  • How to avoid tokenism, bias and stereotypes 
  • Empowering employees to tell their stories 
  • Creating a process involving employees’ consent

You can also find the corresponding guide to Ethical storytelling in employer branding here

Ready to incorporate ethical storytelling into your next DE&I campaign? Get in touch with us  


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