‘Diversity creates a wide ripple effect’

Pharmaceutical company Roche won the 2018 Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award for Talent Attraction. We interview UK Head of Talent Acquisition Andrew Armes to find out why.

working mums top employer awards

Working Mums - Top Employer Awards 2018 at the Soho Hotel

The pharmaceutical giant Roche says diversity and inclusion underpins its entire talent attraction and recruitment strategy and is critical to its business success. The company recognises and encourages employees to develop their inclusivity skills at every turn and is keen to keep innovating in this area. In the last months it has, for instance, initiated a neurodiversity audit and started a series of listening workshops.

It is for this reason that it was given the Workingmums.co.uk’s Top Employer Award for Talent Attraction. The judges highlighted how diversity and inclusion was woven into Roche’s culture and said they felt Roche was reaching out in a very determined way to different communities.

Roche has 2,000 employees in the UK and 95,000 globally in 150 countries. Over half [55%] of its UK employees are women.

It views diversity in the broadest sense and harnesses technology to achieve greater inclusion. For instance, it has used Textio for some time which is a system for checking the gender bias of words used in job adverts.

Textio suggests alternatives if it perceives the words being used exclude certain applicants. “Our philosophy is inclusion,” says Andrew Armes, UK Head of Talent Acquisition.

Given that the company has a balance in favour of women, it is not just about gender, but about broader issues around inclusion. “If we are only attracting competitive, ego-driven types for instance, that will set our culture, so we need to ensure we are mindful of what our selection processes encourage, explicitly and implicity,” says Armes.


Roche also aims to make the appraisal and internal progression process transparent through the use of technology which enables employees to load their cv (in the form of a professional profile) up on the system where it is visible to hiring managers and where it can be regularly updated.

Employees are then automatically alerted to any opportunities that meet their skills and interests. Skills which are acquired outside of work are also included, such as being a parent.

“It gives value to life experiences. It’s a way of unlocking potential and it’s a boon for internal succession planning,” says Armes.

Profiles can be updated following regular check-ins with managers. Roche prefers the informal check-in process to annual appraisals and these focus on skills people might need to develop in order to contribute more in the future.

As part of its extensive internal communications on inclusion, it has produced a set of “It’s Personal” videos where employees talk about working flexibly. These are shared internally.

“They are powerful because flexible working is about people’s personal lives,” says Armes. The company also has external videos. Line managers are encouraged to innovate and to see everyone as different with different drivers for flexible working.

Armes adds that Roche is open to flexible working discussions at hiring. “Line managers are open to all applicants and we realise some roles really suit part time or job share working, for instance, roles that cross different time or cultural zones and customer service is 24/7,” he states.

Engagement and inclusion

Roche is keen to be ahead of the curve on different approaches to working and broadening its talent pool. It holds regular employee engagement surveys.

These include an annual diversity survey, but there are also monthly regular pulse surveys so the company can keep on top of the issues facing employees.

The employee engagement survey is very detailed and provides HR with a lot of information about the environment in particular teams and areas of the business. This alerts them to whether they need to stage interventions, ranging from talking to particular line managers or looking at training or leadership programmes to encourage best practice.

“It’s not a blame game. We want to help everyone to do the best they can possibly do by marrying up different line managers so areas of the business that are performing under the average line can learn from those which are performing above average,” says Armes.

He adds that the #MeToo movement has prompted a much more wide-ranging discussion driving a bigger inclusion agenda. Last year, for instance, Roche conducted its first neuro-diversity audit after being approached by experts in the field.

The process has changed the way the company does certain things, for instance, it is moving to having all selection and assessment materials on green paper with black text after learning that people on the autism spectrum find it easier to absorb than the traditional black text on white paper approach.

“It really opened our eyes to certain things and provided wonderful practical applications,” says Armes. The audit was accompanied by a neurodiversity conference where people with all sorts of diagnosed neuro-diversities could talk about their experiences in the business.

Roche has a range of other ways for broadening its recruitment, retention and promotion practices. It has a targeted approach to early career development.

For instance, it works with the King’s College Advance Internship scheme for Students with Long Term diagnosed disabilities and has an annual bursary scheme targeted at students from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, providing them with mentors, employability skills training, and work-experience in addition to financial bursaries.

To tackle discrimination, it offers workshops on unconscious bias for recruiting line managers, involving them in discussions about issues such as using blind cvs. There is a voluntary quick fire online test of biases too which is neuroscientifically generated and open to all employees. It not only measures answers, but the speed of making a choice.

“It shows up any hidden biases in ways that would not be revealed in conversations. We hope this will help to change behaviour,” says Armes.

It’s all about listening

Another initiative which Roche introduced this year is incorporating the value of high quality listening into a wide range of their workshops which are open to all employees. Focusing on listening pulls all the other diversity issues together, says Armes, because listening is at the root of inclusion. “Listening is a skill,” he states.

“It is important in everything we do and is the most important behaviour for inclusion. It’s not just about listening to others, but about listening to yourself. And it’s not just about what is being said, but about what goes on in your head.

There is a simplicity to it which is appealing. You don’t have to be become a master of innovation or learn a whole new set of skills, but the more you do it the better the outcomes are.”

He compares it to mindfulness, given it is about being present in the moment. He adds that it is also about empathy – not just listening to what is being said, but hearing what is not being said. “It’s the elixir of inclusion. When ego and judgement is reduced and people feel they are being listened to it makes them feel included,” says Armes.

He is very clear about the business benefits of inclusion. “Our competitive advantage comes from innovation. And innovation comes with inclusion and with everyone feeling they can contribute.

Our pipeline of products speaks for itself which is testament to the idea that inclusion is innovation and that there is a clear link from this to business success,” he states. “We have some very smart people at Roche which keeps us on our toes and means we need to keep innovating. It’s an exciting place to work.”

Armes adds that the Roche Talent Acquisition team in the UK wants to promote inclusion more broadly than just within its own organisation. He says: “We want people to love what they do wherever they are. We strongly believe it has a beneficial ripple effect, creating a kinder society and happier people.”

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