How the FT’s Next Generation Board aims to build diversity, sustainability and inclusion

The Financial Times is piloting a global and diverse team called the Next Generation Board (NGB), drawn from all areas of business, which aims to provide a fresh perspective on company strategy and develop new ideas to help make the FT a better place to work.

Pilot NGB members

by Neha Gupta | January 13, 2021

Hannah Sarney, the Head of Audience Engagement at the FT, joined WAN-IFRA’s recent Newsroom Summit conference to discuss how the NGB aims to provide a fresh perspective on the company’s strategy.

Sarney’s responsibilities include ensuring inter-departmental coordination, which has helped her to better understand product and data strategy, marketing, commercial aspects and live events.

Since the post-COVID world is a new and different one, the Next Generation Board is looking at the future of the 2,400 employee strong FT newsroom and a key part of that is inter-departmental collaboration to encourage sharing, listening and facilitating positive change.

This is made possible through reverse mentoring the senior management board. After rigorous brainstorming and extensive research, employees were paired up one-to-one with senior leaders, carefully organised across departments and regions to maximise diversity of thought, in a bid to initiate informal conversations. 

“We wanted to mix everyone up,” said Sarney. “For instance, while on the one hand product and editorial were paired up, on the other hand, employees from London and New York formed a team.”

The reverse mentor-mentee conversations are an attempt to organically unpick invisible bias that creeps in, something that would probably not have happened if not for these conversations.

The makeup of the Next Generation Board

The primary themes championing FT’s values are innovation, inclusive workforce, knowledge sharing, learning, and supporting the development of staff with high potential from underrepresented groups.

Once the company had these objectives and measures approved, the NGB selection process started.

“I was able to rope in some amazing senior leaders to be on the selection committee. And we opened up applications to all full time FT staff, who could either step up or nominate others,” Sarney said. 

The NGB was looking for employees ready to see past their own roles, teams and departments. To keep it fair, the selection process was blind and the application asked the employees about the potential challenges they saw facing the FT, and the solutions. 

The first NGB, comprising 13 members, was launched in January 2020 and is based in London, New York, Beijing and Moscow. To facilitate a collaborative and democratic way of working, the group tries to meet monthly and have informal fortnightly catch-ups.

The reverse mentoring pairs catch up for an hour, every six weeks. For the board meetings, the chair position is voluntary and cycles around the agenda.

“We all contribute to the notes and projects, which sounds laborious, but we end up feeling like a cohesive unit,” Sarney said. 

Early impacts and plans for continuation

Implementing this collaborative and democratic work process, the NGB decided to go big on diversity and inclusion, environmental sustainability (with a brand strategy for the next 10 years), and openness and opportunities (to foster an integrated, less silo-based and nimbler FT).

Did the coronavirus pandemic, economic crisis, climate crisis, and the crisis of racial injustice manage to derail these projects? Sarney says no.

“The NGB members were either already working on one of these projects or it proved to be a chance to jump on some ideas that we had been chatting about,” she said. 

With everything that happened in the summer of 2020, particularly in the US, a lot of work went into the company’s DnI (diversity and inclusion) workstream to give birth to a global DnI task force and a new leave allowance.

Apart from the NGB, the FT also has mental health, LGBTQ+, and disability groups. 

Under the new leave allowance policy, these boards get recognised for the work they do and the value they bring to the FT. Now, in addition to the regular leave allowance, an employee also gets six working days a year to focus on these employee network projects. 

The pilot NGB will run until June 2021, and the plan is to have the current NGB members mentor the second group that will be coming through.

Neha Gupta

Multimedia Journalist

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