Celebrating diversity and inclusion


National Inclusion Week 2021 launched on Monday, 27 September. Over the past five days, we have shared stories and resources to promote the great work taking place to champion diversity and inclusion (D&I), both at the Defence Academy and across wider defence.

For a decade, National Inclusion Week has been celebrating everyday inclusion. This year’s theme - ‘United For Inclusion’ - aligns perfectly with the ‘One Academy’ approach at the Defence Academy, where different perspectives create better critical thinkers.

Read on for a summary of what we got up to over the week...

Fostering a positive workplace culture

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Celebrating diversity and inclusion - Fostering a positive workplace culture

According to Inclusive Employers, organisations that are focused on building a more inclusive culture attract and retain a wider diversity of talent, as well as driving better innovation, development and engagement. A recent survey by BUPA, however, revealed that the number of employees experiencing workplace bullying has almost doubled since 2019, despite more people working from home during the pandemic.

In 2017 the Defence Academy initiated an Active Bystander intervention to deal with inappropriate behaviour. Any form of bullying, harassment or discrimination is strictly against our code of conduct and our philosophy seeks to embrace diversity and promote inclusion, to make sure our environment is safe and supportive for all staff and students.

The Active Bystander Fundamentals course, launched in 2019 and available through the Defence Learning Environment (DLE), is designed to help us help others who are being bullied, harassed or discriminated against. This Ministry of Defence (MOD) training, which has been completed by tens of thousands of people across the organisation, provides MOD personnel with knowledge and skills that can be used to challenge unacceptable behaviour positively and safely, while fostering a workplace culture founded on respect and dignity.

Leading inclusively

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Celebrating diversity and inclusion - Leading inclusively

Staff and students across the Defence Academy came together on Tuesday 28 September in the Cormorant Building, Joint Services Command and Staff College, to attend a National Inclusion Week 2021 event, hosted by the Shrivenham Inclusivity Network.

The presentation, titled ‘Leading Inclusively – becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable’, explored ‘top tips’ for creating safe spaces for discussion to build more trust and better teams, including:

  • Have a conversation with colleagues about inclusion
  • Create an 'inclusion moment' at the start of meetings to spark discussion
  • Take time to learn about diversity and inclusion
  • Join an employee network

Staff stories

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Defence Academy staff have shared their personal and professional journeys throughout National Inclusion Week 2021.

Wing Commander Leonie Boyd, Station Commander, Shrivenham

Celebrating diversity and inclusion - Staff stories - Leonie Boyd

In a traditionally male-dominated sector, Wg Cdr Boyd has challenged stereotypes to build a successful career in engineering. She was the only female on her RAF engineering officer training and has enjoyed working in front-line squadron roles which have, historically, been filled by men.

“While I never experienced serious discrimination in my career, I have certainly experienced sub-threshold incidents that can make you feel like you are wasting your time and wear you down,” she said. “In most cases, I don’t think it’s deliberate; most don’t realise they are doing it. But it can erode your confidence when it happens on a regular basis.”

In 2020 Wg Cdr Boyd was appointed Station Commander at the Defence Academy, where her role entails estate management, project and risk management, security, health and safety, welfare and discipline issues, and external engagement with the community, schools and councils.

“From personal experience, I know that people will respond positively, work harder for you and want to be part of the team if you make them feel valued and appreciated. I’ve learnt many lessons, both positive and negative, from those I have worked with and for, but I am also a strong believer in being yourself and simply getting on with your job. If you spend time measuring yourself against others, you have lost valuable time to contribute and ultimately make things better for those around you and following you.”

Firyal Akel-Johnson, Equality Diversity and Inclusion Advisor (EDIA), Joint Services Command and Staff College (JSCSC)

Celebrating diversity and inclusion - Staff stories - Firyal Akel-Johnson

Positive leadership styles and recognition of different working needs are critical to creating a diverse, inclusive culture, says Firyal Akel-Johnson, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Advisor for the Joint Services Command and Staff College.

“Inclusion is not just about protected characteristics. It is about acknowledging other people’s needs and that everyone has different working styles and strengths,” says Firyal.

“This requires emotional intelligence… making allowances for other people’s differences and realising that generally everyone is trying to do their best in their job and can contribute in different ways.”

Firyal, whose day job is as an RAF Division course designer, joined the Defence Academy in 2016 from the Department of Work and Pensions and was recently awarded a 3* commendation from JFD Director General, Air Marshal Ian Gale, for her work in D&I. She is passionate about research, networking and education to drive D&I awareness and positive change within all 3 Services and the wider community at the One Academy.

National Inclusion Week provides important resources, but Firyal believes it is imperative that we take these lessons onboard in our lives every day. “It’s about trying to be kind and mindful to people, while being true to yourself morally. We all know the ‘right thing’ to do.”

A day in the life of a D&I specialist

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Each College and Group at the Defence Academy has designated a D&I Focal Point and D&I Advisors. It is their role to promote and support an inclusive environment and culture, and free from discrimination, bullying and harassment.

But how do they do that?

For National Inclusion Week, we spoke to a D&I Focal Point - Suraja Phillips (Leadership and Business Group) and a D&I Advisor – Sgt Mike Brooksbank (HQ J7), to find out more about their roles.

The roles of the D&I Focal Points and D&I Advisors include providing impartial subject matter advice; increasing understanding and engagement through education; supporting D&I initiatives within their areas; and (for Focal Points) acting as the primary ‘gateway’ for D&I matters such as policy updates.

Sgt Mike Brooksbank

Celebrating diversity and inclusion - Mike Brooksbank

“As a D&I Advisor in HQ J7, I coordinate the completion our D&I mandatory training, support personnel and, in the event of a D&I issue and advise them should they need advice or guidance.”

As part of his wider support to the HQ area, Mike has created a monthly HQ D&I newsletter that includes a list of future events and updates from the wider D&I community.

Mike says he became involved in D&I because “I originally wanted to be more informed on D&I matters for personal reasons. I learn best when I am immersed in a subject, so volunteered for a D&I practitioner role. As a result, I was invited to attend events where I could learn about a wide range of D&I subjects, some of which had never occurred to me.’’

He thinks National Inclusion Week is beneficial and necessary. “I joined the RAF in 1998 and at that time homosexuality was banned in the military; personnel were encouraged to report any such activities, even if just suspected. This mindset became engrained in many young adults at the start of their careers.

“Jump forward 23 years, it is now a more inclusive environment, although unfortunately some of these old mindsets still linger. National Inclusion Week is one tool of many that can help to educate all personnel to adopt a more diverse and inclusive attitude.”

Mike said: “The training provided by the D&I team in the Defence Leadership Centre is exceptional and the resources provided for D&I advisors and practitioners are very helpful.”

Outside of work, Mike is an ally for the A: Gender group, a civil service community that supports transgender personnel. He has also joined a new group that supports military veterans.

Suraja Phillips

Celebrating diversity and inclusion - Suraja Phillips

Having previously worked in a D&I training role, Suraja was a natural candidate to become a Diversity and Inclusion Advisor in the Defence Leadership Centre and subsequently the D&I Focal Point for the Defence Academy’s Leadership and Business Group.

Following what she describes as “my first introduction to D&I in its official capacity,” she explained that her current role includes providing advice and support for people raising D&I complaints, ensuring all personnel are aware of their D&I responsibilities (including at staff inductions) and monitoring the diversity and inclusion climate in the group.

Suraja also believes that, where it is possible to do so, staff should be allocated time to attend events, since it can be difficult to do so in work time.

With an international cohort and many backgrounds and cultures represented at Shrivenham, D&I at the Defence Academy is particularly important. Suraja believes that making time for cultural awareness and neurodiverse discussions among teams to create a better understanding of people’s differences is vital.

The pandemic has created challenges as people moved to remote working. “Informally assessing the wellbeing climate and gauging morale by walking around and talking to members of the team is more difficult when many are working remotely,” she said. “I would think this is a challenge for most Focal Points and D&I advisors.”

National Inclusion Week is over for another year – but the work doesn’t stop!

Diversity and inclusion remains a priority core value that shapes how we work and interact with colleagues and students every day.

At the Defence Academy, we will continue embracing different perspectives to enrich learning, challenge thinking and encourage collaboration.