Bentley puts a priority on employee diversity

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Bentley’s future-proofing strategy makes diversity and inclusion a key to its future.

Picture the colour palette of a Bentley social gathering and you would be forgiven for imagining a world of tweed and restrained tones.

A sparkling red Continental GT Convertible with a rainbow pinstripe might seem like an interloper of the highest order. Yet that’s exactly what was driven in Manchester Pride’s bustling 2022 parade, more than 50 Bentley employees on its coat-tails, in a first for the 103-year-old car maker.

It’s the brainchild of the company’s BeProud network, co-founded by Tom Dawes, an exterior engineer who has been with the company eight years. Bentley’s first physical appearance at a Pride festival was something he had been cooking up for a while.

He explained: “This all started about five years ago when me and colleague Adam White went to Manchester Pride and said ‘we’ve got to bring this to Bentley’. We put together the BeProud network at the start of 2020 to bring together our LGBTQ+ colleagues and straight allies.”

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That last bit is important: everyone in the company is welcomed to BeProud without prejudice.

“It’s making a safe space for people to be themselves at work,” Dawes says. “The bit that has been humbling about organising this parade is the number of allies from across the business who aren’t necessarily LGBTQ+ but who see it as a symbol of hope.

“That’s exactly what we wanted to do. The BeProud network has had a ripple effect: we’ve helped set up four other networks, covering gender balance, ethnicity and race, veterans and armed forces and health and wellbeing. We’ve now got five colleague networks with over 300 colleagues engaged in them, which is nearing 10% of Bentley’s workforce.”

Proving that inclusion isn’t limited to those perceived as minority groups, BeAccessible – Bentley’s wellbeing network – is the most attended of all. Its work has included a rethinking of the traffic-light structure used in company presentations to make sure colourblind employees aren’t left out of the loop.

Leading his own network at Pride clearly means an awful lot to Daws (pictured above right). “It’s my most emotional day in eight years of work,” he said. “It’s an immensely personal project, but it’s so humbling that the business has got behind it.

“It comes from the top down. Our CEO, Adrian Hallmark, has given us the most incredible support to make this happen. It has sent a real message to the workforce that you can bring your whole self to work. We want you to bring your whole self to work.”

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Bentley has targeted 30% diversity at management level by 2025 and inclusion is an intrinsic part of the same Beyond100 futureproofing strategy under which its cars will go fully electric by 2030.

Part of the process has seen the creation of a head of diversity role, filled by Anne Hoerner.

“It’s a constant drumbeat and not a conversation we have once a year for Pride month,” she says. “In May, we stopped the production line to talk about the concept of safety and belonging and to ask the team if they had ever felt excluded and if so, what could we do about that? How could we change our daily behaviour to make everyone feel welcome and included?

“We’re on a journey. It’s a learning process that all companies are on. But the feedback is that we’re more attractive to new recruits. We haven’t done a big survey, but I know from our leaders that people ask about it in interviews. They see it on LinkedIn – not only on Bentley’s official channels but [also] those of individual employees. That’s the difference between rainbow-washing and real, honest diversity.”

Bentley’s loud-and-proud inclusion policies don’t just bleep on the radar of wannabe workers itching for an interview; they also help cement loyalty among those already at the company.

A shining example is Benjamin McCormick, an apprentice who now co-chairs BeProud alongside Dawes, a backpack role for both on top of their day jobs. McCormick helped corral together everyone for the parade as well as dish out their T-shirts, doused in the colours of the progress pride flag, just like Bentley’s Unifying Spur show car was in 2021.

“I didn’t expect to be here today,” he admits. “That wasn’t something that occurred to me when I joined Bentley. The company is still old-fashioned in some regards, but I’ve seen a massive change in the 18 months since I started here.

“The culture is really transforming when it comes to diversity and inclusion workstreams. It’s becoming such an important part of the business and one of the main reasons I’ve decided to stay. No company has got their inclusion perfect, but it’s the commitment and motivation that really matters.

“We never ask anyone what their identity is; that doesn’t matter. What matters is their passion and commitment. That’s what really carries us and ensures our network is constantly growing.

“Bentley has come a very long way in a very short space of time. It’s a sheer transformation from the car brand for gentlemen of a certain age with cufflinks in their shirts to showing our pride in today’s parade with a great car and group of people. If we can do it, then everyone else can.”

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