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‘Diversity brings an increase in innovation and creativity’

Diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace should not need to be a conversation in 2024. And yet the transition to an inclusive, friendlier workspace has been anything but seamless. Why are some companies excelling and others stumbling at the starting block? How can everyone pull together for a more positive, respectful and accepting work environment? Sammy Jones spoke with Keith Emmett III, director of Milton Keynes Pride Festival, to find out.

THE EMMETT family name is a known brand in its own right in Milton Keynes. For more than 40 years they have united the city at the annual fireworks spectacular.

Keith Emmett III.

But now Keith, at the helm of the Milton Keynes Pride Festival, is continuing the conversation about diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace. Those three little words are often packaged as one and the same thing… but it is not that simple.

“Diversity refers to the variety of differences found in our wonderful communities including but not limited to race, gender identity, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background,” Keith said.

“It is important to remember that everyone is not just one thing – we all come with layers of lived experience. I do not come to work just as a man. I carry various identities and so do each of us.

“At many companies, we have seen that diversity is based on those visible characteristics and the problem with that is you are not truly understanding of what matters to that person and what will make them feel truly included.”

Inclusion is considering how to create an environment where people can be their true authentic self and celebrate their unique identity. This includes reasonable adjustments; delivering safe spaces such as prayer rooms and sensory rooms and resources specific to an individual’s needs.

“The act of being inclusive is ensuring everyone has a safe platform and to equally feel heard. Platforms vary on a need-to-need basis so collaboration is vital,” said Keith. “Equity has evolved from equality and is about treating individuals fairly, based on their needs and requirements.”

But change for good is happening, with more LGBTQ+ and DE&I networks developing across the UK. Milton Keynes-based charity Q:Alliance provides LGBTQ+ training – an important tool in educating organisations seeking to develop their knowledge bases – and opportunities for systemic developments around DE&I.

Failure to be an inviting, inclusive business does not only damage individuals. It is detrimental to the business. Diverse workforces can prove enormously powerful and hugely beneficial, Keith said.

“Diversity brings an increase in innovation and creativity with everyone having their own learning experiences and expertise to share. This can help motivate employees, foster camaraderie and ultimately promote team unity.”

Milton Keynes prides itself as being innovative and forward-thinking in so many ways. “We encourage all businesses and sector organisations to collaborate and co-produce as often as possible and the momentum we have at present is great,” said Keith. “Year on year we are seeing more organisations celebrate their diverse workforces and implement policies to ensure that inclusive practice is integrated throughout all their systems.”

Pride returns for its fifth Milton Keynes outing this September. The weekend does wonders for promoting community cohesion, understanding and acceptance and Keith is expecting up to 20,000 visitors to take part.

“Milton Keynes Pride Festival stands as a testament to the inclusivity on which the city thrives and we cannot wait to welcome everyone,” said Keith.

Pride brings collaborations with big-name brands including Volkswagen Group UK, Santander and Oracle Red Bull Racing that contribute to the success of the event. “It is so very important that we ensure our partners amplify and share the same values as us about creating inclusive spaces for all,” said Keith.

“Our sponsorships are fundamentally different. Just the same as with love, there is no secret recipe for longevity. But they all share the same values and interests in supporting the Pride Festival.

“We are proud to work with sponsors who create an environment that supports members of the LGBTQ+ community to thrive and succeed as well as fostering allyship on all levels.”

Keith is adamant about the responsibility that falls on business leaders to ensure that DE&I is adhered to and correctly monitored. “Diversity and inclusion is not the responsibility of minority groups. It is the responsibility of leadership and leaders must ensure this responsibility is taken seriously.”

And from the perspective of an employee? “Work with, not for, your employees and beneficiaries. Create safe spaces and platforms for everyone to have their say and learn from these conversations and the shared experiences.”

Employers should be aware of unconscious appearance-related biases, relational issues to do with ethnic and cultural backgrounds and preconceptions based on gender. Keith’s advice: Create a support network and develop a clear strategy for supporting LGBTQ+ employees.

“Take sexual orientation discrimination seriously,” he added. “Choose an ally champion and get involved in the local LGBTQ+ community.

“It is all about education and presence. Many people just lack the knowledge and were never given the opportunity to learn. There is a lot of misinformation and it is so important for events like Milton Keynes Pride Festival to provide safe spaces not just for our community but also for our allies to come, participate and learn.”

More companies are realising that diversity plays a key role in business success.

“Everyone is responsible but leadership is vital to achieving it, both in the workplace and in society,” said Keith. “LGBTQ+ people still struggle to find a job, with many feeling personally discriminated against in the workplace. More and more, companies are opening their eyes to the simple reality that businesses succeed in an environment that enables diverse talent to thrive.”

Pride speaks for everyone’s inclusiveness. “The truth is, diversity and inclusion are a state of mind,” Keith said. “Laws cannot dictate feelings or shape mentalities. They can only set boundaries.

“Our education and experiences as individuals are what truly influence the society we live in. It is important to remember that, while progress has been made, there is still much work to be done.”

Milton Keynes Pride Festival returns to Campbell Park on September 14 and organisers are calling on businesses to support this year’s event. Sponsorship opportunities are available for companies or organisations aligned with LGBTQ+ rights, diversity and social responsibility. To request a sponsorship pack email info@mkpridefestival.com. For more information visit mkpridefestival.com. The not-for-profit event is free for all, thanks to the generosity of local businesses.


Let’s celebrate the diversity that makes Milton Keynes so special’

Pulse Group Media is the media partner for this year’s Milton Keynes Pride Festival.

“As publishers of Business MK and MK Pulse Magazine in the new city, we are deeply committed to the values of diversity, inclusion and unity,” said Pulse group Media director Kerry Lewis-Stevenson. “This partnership aligns perfectly with our mission to celebrate every individual for who they are while keeping the community informed and connected.

“Milton Keynes is a vibrant tapestry of cultures and identities and we believe in the power of media to foster an environment where everyone feels valued, respected and included. Pride is more than a celebration; it is a declaration of love, equality and the freedom to be oneself.

“By supporting the Milton Keynes Pride Festival, we aim to amplify the voices of the LGBTQ+ community, ensuring their stories are heard and respected.”

Both Business MK and MK Pulse are deeply rooted in the Milton Keynes community. “Our involvement with the Pride festival signifies our ongoing commitment to showcase the city’s diversity and support the rights and well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals,” said Kerry.

“Join us in making this year’s festival a landmark event for love, acceptance and unity.”

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