Interview with Ellie Harrison: Equality, Diversity, & Inclusion
This interview was originally featured exclusively in our PROSPERO newsletter. In these conversations we share insights and expertise from our Catapult team members, exploring how their roles affect us as an organisation, their impact on the wider sector, and what drives them personally.
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We sat down with our Head of HR, Ellie Harrison, and discussed how attitudes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace has evolved over her career, why a focus on ED&I is so important in the workplace, and what we are doing as an organisation to create a safe working environment.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career so far?
I decided to study Politics at York University after school, I actually can’t really remember why! For my dissertation I chose to write about the use of all women shortlisting for parliamentary seats and whether this was a useful and successful tool, or not. This subject led to my interest in organisational design and recruitment practices and my first job working for Worcestershire County Council in their child services recruitment team.
How did you find out about the Catapult? We have a very specific culture here, were you aware of that before starting?
I had never heard of the Catapults before seeing an advert for the Head of HR role here. After that I discovered a world of Catapults and wondered why I had never been aware of them before!
I don’t think you can truly know a culture unless you are part of it. So was I ‘aware’? Not really, as every organisation has their cultural norms, but what I did know was I was firmly aligned with those who interviewed me and they clearly felt the same, so I trusted it would be a good place for me to work.
What are your current aims/goals as a HR team?
So many things! I have inherited a really great team which is a luxury I have never had before. There are some foundational elements like establishing an HR system which creates automation, gives managers good access to accurate data and helps relieve administration burdens. Our team is taking the lead for our ‘Learning and Development’ which is an area where we can add so much value. And our Recruitment Manager is taking recruitment from strength to strength. We have also been trialling a recruitment tool called ‘Applied’ which structurally removes bias from the first stages of the recruitment process and have decided to continue using it due to its success and positive feedback.
What does Diversity and Inclusion mean to you?
Inclusion means for me bringing your whole self to work. Any groups that you may identify with, any particular part of your personality, your upbringing, or your ethnic and religious background, and being free to be able to express those in the workplace in a respectful way, and do so in a safe space. I think if you have not faced any particular barriers in work, you can take this for granted. I count myself in this group. I don’t consider I have ever found a workplace that I have chosen to not be inclusive. But I am aware this is not everyone’s norms and there are people like me who have had very different experiences.
For me, I’m really pleased to work for an organization that takes inclusion and diversity so seriously. My background really hasn’t included a lot of diversity and inclusion work. I worked for an Australian employer before this who really didn’t have any agenda regarding inclusion. And prior to that I worked in private healthcare where it was very much just a tick-box exercise because we have contracts with the NHS and they asked us to report on certain elements, but there was certainly no agenda within the company to actually pay any attention to diversity inclusion in a positive actionable way. So, it’s a real privilege to work for an employer that actually wants to shake things up and make a difference in this area. And I think we’ve had an opportunity to do that recently.
What does success look like for you? What would you like to see in the future regarding diversity and inclusion at the Catapult?
I hope that through our existing initiatives and new employee-led activities that these important conversations are generated, and that we get to understand each other a little better. We perhaps offer up a little bit more of ourselves and share that with our colleagues and we get to know each other better than we did before and that we’re all really comfortable doing so. That would be a sign of success for me.
I hope that we have a culture here at the Catapult where this is already happening, and I do think I see it happening, but we have to consider whether that happens for everybody all the time. It’s important to me to understand if we are on the right side of this from our employee’s perspective. A big focus of our work is to run regular pulse checks to ensure we are upholding our values and creating a safe and inclusive environment. I think we have a really strong foundation here; we have a diverse group of employees across the organisation and are diverse in many different aspects: from country of origin, languages spoken, and religions practiced. There’s of course a lot more under the surface and that’s part of the work we want to do, to better understand how diverse we are.