We're celebrating National Inclusion Week by taking a look at how far we've come in our quest to be more diverse and inclusive.
An important part of the way we work with our clients is to help them evaluate the assumptions they hold about their organisations, so they evolve beyond them. Occasionally, we get so hung up on the beliefs and assumptions of other organisations, we forget to acknowledge our own. I want to share a story about how we faced our diversity and inclusion challenges face-on, when we questioned some of our own beliefs.
At it’s next birthday, Made by Many will be 13 years old. In business terms, it’s still a rosy-cheeked baby; but in innovation-consultancy terms, it’s the ‘grandee’ of a sector it helped to design and fashion. Made by Many has been at the forefront of some of the industry’s most exciting innovations for well over a decade, making digital products that have truly changed people’s lives. So perhaps one might assume we wouldn’t suffer from the deficit in representative talent being experienced by the wider industry. Another assumption worth studying is the idea that our way of working guarantees inclusion. Made by Many is a lean, limber company comprised of small, cross-functional teams who work in a deeply agile and iterative manner. Inclusion must be baked into the behaviour of every person in order to deliver work of such a high calibre.
These beliefs and assumptions have done their job and delivered Made by Many into its teenagedom in robust health. But lately it has felt like a good time to consider them through a fresh lens and decide whether they are beliefs and assumptions that will ensure we survive into our twenties.
These assumptions - that successful organisations don’t have to try to attract representative talent; that lean, agile teams are intrinsically inclusive so you don’t have to work hard at integrating teammates - are flawed. Made by Many has the same diversity and inclusion challenges as any other company and we’ve been working hard to meet these challenges head-on.
See the challenge
The first thing we did was fully acknowledge the extent of the challenge by working with an external diversity and inclusion specialist. If you want a crude measure of your diversity credentials, look around the office and count the ratio of gender, age, ethnicity and other protected characteristics being represented by your workforce. If you want a more insightful understanding, you need to find out why your ratio is as it is. And that means a thorough assessment of your ‘people’ processes and procedures. We invited Jenny Barrow, a leading expert in diversity and inclusion to spend some time with us, talk to us and dig in the weeds of the way we do things. By interviewing in small groups, Jenny was able to form a picture of how we do things, sufficient enough to identify where we might be getting in our own way.
As a direct result of Jenny’s report, we now understand that a diverse workforce is something you have to work hard to build. Talent acquisition isn’t about hiring the most capable person at the best price - it’s about searching high and low for the ‘ideal candidate’ - someone who can do the job, bring a different point of view and add value to the culture. It takes organisations way to long to realise that ‘cultural fit’ and cost efficiency are not ideal considerations. We now invest in a number of search partners who value what we value and who are committed to putting time and effort into scouring the market for diverse and representative talent.
Own the solution
It wasn’t an easy process. Acknowledging where bias, privilege and a lack of awareness have played a part in creating a team that doesn’t stand for everyone has been a true test of individual and team character. But we all stepped up and took responsibility. You can’t change what you don’t understand and all understanding is dependent on accepting ‘what is’. So we did just that. We took the time to acknowledge Jenny’s findings and we talked about it, together. Reaching consensus on our current reality created a platform of collective ownership. There’s a bit in ‘Die Hard’ when John McClane tells Dwayne T Johnson if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem - “so quit being part of the f*@cking problem!”. By June, there was a growing understanding of where we’d all become part of the problem, which inspired us all to seek and own the solution.
We became members of ‘Inclusive Employers’, the country’s first and leading membership organisation for employers looking to build inclusive workplaces. Working closely with Richard McKenna, a program of learning was introduced to help us understand what it means to truly include others. We’re still on that learning journey, studying topics like ‘unconscious bias’, ‘inclusive feedback’ and ‘neurodiversity in the workplace’. We’re more informed than ever about the impact we have on other people when we don’t empathise with, consider or include them.
This week we’ll be celebrating National Inclusion Week for the very first time, hosting a variety of different events to which everyone has been invited. Making time to be together, to include each other in different ways, is a big part of how we’re moving forward.
Act to change
Change shouldn’t be a passive process. It should be something you are an active participant in. The more people get involved in change, the stronger and more far-reaching that change becomes. The biggest danger with cultural change is that it loses impetus. Once the challenge has been acknowledged and the solution ideated, momentum can wane just enough to allow the status quo to sneak back in. When it comes to a change agenda for diversity and inclusion, the status quo is exactly the thing you are trying to evolve beyond. And the only way to evolve is to keep up the energy and act. ‘Everyday acts of inclusion’ are important ways of keeping your colleagues in mind. Say hello to everyone in the kitchen - not just the people you know well. Keep an eye out for neurodiverse colleagues and colleagues who struggle to use your preferred communication style - don’t assume they don’t want to connect. Make sure everyone’s tastes are catered for when you get together - think hard about the menu, the activity, the location. These everyday acts of inclusion might seem quite small but if you commit to doing them every day, they soon add up.
What does success look like?
“You’re going to get some of this wrong - but don’t worry - because over time, you’ll start getting more of it right. And that’s all that matters” - a great piece of advice Jenny left us with in May. There is always a worry when you try to improve your culture, you’ll unintentionally do or say something that offends or excludes the people you are trying to represent and include. The tendency then is to walk on egg-shells and allow tokenism to guide your decision-making, so you’re always on the compliant side of the line. But that doesn’t help a team become kinder and fairer. You’ll know you’re getting it right when you stop fretting about getting it wrong. You’ll know you’re getting it right when you know how to learn from the mistakes you make.
And never expect to finish the job! Building organisations which are committed to offering opportunities to everyone and are capable of making sure everyone feels able to participate is a constant enterprise and one that you should commit to for life. It shouldn’t be seen as a project, but a promise to seek out and eradicate any barrier or behaviour that causes injustice and inhibits people from enjoying the work they really want to do.
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