As part of Spencer Stuart's focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I), we invited Simon Bolton, who at the time was CEO for NHS Digital, the national information and technology partner to the UK’s health and social care system, to talk to our team in London. He shared reflections about his career and explained why DE&I is so important to him and his role as a leader.
Spencer Stuart: Why is DE&I such a key priority for you?
Simon Bolton: I was on a business trip in the late 1980s with a colleague who was black. We were headed to France but flew in to Geneva.
We went through several border controls and my colleague was stopped at every single one, including the road border between Switzerland and France, while I was just waved through. The same thing happened on the way back. I asked him if this is a regular occurrence and he said yes. This experience, some 25 years ago, has always stayed with me and it really has fuelled my thinking about DE&I.
To be honest, as a white man in my 50s, I feel totally underqualified to talk about it. Let’s face it, there are an awful lot of people in business, particularly at senior level, who look an awful lot like me. But DE&I is a topic that I do care passionately about.
Spencer Stuart: When it comes to DE&I, what is the role of organisational culture?
Simon Bolton: My first job was at Hewlett Packard and it could be described as quite forward thinking in many ways. It had a really strong corporate culture and it proved a great foundation for me as an individual and for my future career. DE&I, though, was something we didn’t really think about that much.
As I continued my journey at work, I realised that one of the things that was really important to me is corporate culture. I’ve got some leadership principles myself which I wrote down a number of years ago — things like people first; goal oriented; ambitious; empowering; high integrity; and lead by example.
These are great, but what I found over time is that it comes down to creating a culture that enables you to live those values. It’s partly about making sure everyone in the workplace is able to perform at their very best. In essence, it’s the role of leadership to create an environment where people can come to work to do a great job.