Photo by Owen Mathias Photography
Celtic English Academy achieves prestigious workplace equality award
Cardiff-based English UK member Celtic English Academy (CEA) is the first private sector and SME organisation in Wales to be awarded a Gold Standard FairPlay Employer Award for equality in the workplace.
The award is from the inclusive working charity and consultancy, Chwarae Teg, which evaluates a workplace's approach to inclusion by recognising everyone's contribution and ensuring everyone has the chance to succeed.
"I must congratulate everyone at Celtic English Academy. To achieve a Gold Award the client needs to be of a very high standard and their staff must also believe in those standards and really live and breathe the culture across the business," said Chwarae Teg's commercial director Stephanie Griffiths. The school is also a finalist in the FairPlay Employer category at the charity's 2021 Womenspire Awards.
CEA had worked with the charity for three years to improve unconscious bias, recruitment and selection, gender pay gap, family-friendly policies, and create a more inclusive and flexible working environment. During the last year, the school has gone further by implementing agile working and improving internal communications and digitisation to enable increased productivity, better working relationships and enhancing work-life balance.
Shoko Doherty, the school's chief executive officer and vice-chair of English UK, said: "We have worked hard to achieve the award by improving our HR and organisational culture and evidencing our solid commitment to fairness, inclusivity, wellbeing, and workplace flexibility. The changes have had many positive effects on the business. The award comes from an anonymous staff survey and benchmarking, so I am humbled and honoured by the genuine feedback and that we are one of only three gold award recipients in Wales."
Moving to agile working at CEA required rewriting job descriptions for each member of staff, reviewing team and organisation strategic goals, breaking those down into individual responsibilities and accountabilities, and creating team charters and service level agreements. These outline good practice and set expectations, for individuals and collectively as a team, for instance around email response times, and keeping colleagues informed about working hours. Each was created with full staff input.
"Everyone is working towards a common goal and result, and providing that is achieved according to your job role, staff can have flexibility around the hours they work, where they work and their daily routine," said Shoko, adding: "That might include starting work early, having a longer lunch or being able to pick children up or attend an appointment without needing to take annual leave."
"The implementation took approximately six months and so far it's working really well. I feel genuinely supported by our staff, and they work together for us to be successful. Although most of our office staff have been working part-time, furloughed and flexibly, our partner agents have often asked me how we always replied promptly to their emails in the pandemic. I think it's strong evidence that we are doing good things and maintaining high levels of service despite the pandemic, and agents are responding positively to that."
Andrew Campbell, Chair of the Wales Tourism Alliance said: "Achieving the award is a clear example of how valuable an organisation like CEA is – Wales and UK-wide educational tourism generates significant economic spend for local visitor economies, as well as promoting greater cultural understanding between nations and future opportunities."
The award is the latest development in CEA's drive to lead the way in improving work conditions and sustainability. The academy is Disability Confident registered and has joined the Welsh Government's economic contract appraisal and Wales Green Growth Pledge, changing electricity supplier, replacing a car park with bike racks and installing energy-efficient lighting before the pandemic. CEA was also the first UK language school to become a Real Living Wage employer in 2018.
Shoko said: "In ELT we all have a responsibility for diversity and inclusion. We have made it a priority and we can continue to go further still to building a brighter, fairer and more sustainable tomorrow".
"Many UK language schools in the UK are SMEs like us, and to change society, the culture and communities around us, every organisation has to take action. Making things better doesn't mean a burden to the employer or certain employees – people think it must cost more and creates chaos, but I think not. If you properly implement these changes the result is productive, positive, and effective.
"Implementing agile working and improving people processes or organisational culture doesn't necessarily cost a lot of money, but it takes time and focus, and you may need expert guidance. I appreciate the support from the Welsh Government during the pandemic which has enabled us to follow this through in a way that might not be open to many English UK colleagues right now.
"I am happy to share, for example, samples of our Service Level Agreements or Team Charter to show how we've done it."
Shoko believes the relationship CEA has built with its staff in the past few years helped it to weather the pandemic.
"One of my philosophies was that if we treat our staff well, they will treat our students and agents really well, so improving their working environment has consistently been a priority. I try my best to be transparent and honest with my staff.
"When the pandemic struck it was a huge shock to us all. Even when we had difficult conversations, the trust we've built prior really helped us to work together and they supported the decisions from Celtic's leadership. That was the biggest reward."
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