Is the gender agenda enough? How can we ensure diversity of culture, background and thinking?

diverse women at a conference

Written by Jemma Waters, Digital Insight and Partnerships Senior Manager at Lloyds Banking Group

This blog was co-authored with Graciella Martin Rijo, University of Warwick. 

Is the gender agenda enough?

It’s no surprise that gender was a key topic of discussion for the hackathon. However, the hackers also touched on the wider challenges: understanding the dangers of looking at marginalised groups in isolation, and being aware that people can fall into more than one such group – for example, being a woman and LGBT, or being from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background and having a disability. While this was not always a comfortable conversation, it highlighted that the topic of inclusion and diversity is not one of siloes, and that creating a fair and inclusive environment means taking into account these complexities, known as ‘intersectionality’.

Intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a leader in critical race theory, and we have defined it in more detail below:

“Each identity is unique and made up of various factors such as race, gender, and class. Due to various historical, political, and social contexts, these factors carry power dynamics. So, in a patriarchal society, men are favoured over women. In an ableist society, those with disabilities are marginalised. This means that our lived experiences are constantly a reflection of who we are and how we are perceived in social contexts. ‘Intersectionality’ is an analytical tool which acknowledges the ways in which the factors of identity interact and how power dynamics create complex oppression. Originally used by women of colour to foster an understanding of their experiences as both a raced and gendered one, this is now commonly applied across many social justice causes.”

Using this concept as a springboard, our hackers formed three key discussion points:

1. Targets as behaviour drivers

Setting goals for inclusion and diversity were criticised by some hackers for driving positive discrimination and, potentially, the wrong behaviours or unintended consequences in organisations and hiring managers. Finding solutions that don’t have some potential side effect, while effectively driving that change, is hard and perhaps impossible. We are facing into an issue which has been around for centuries. The majority of organisations do not have a balanced and diverse workforce at a senior level. In the UK IT sector, for example, women form only 17% of the workforce. The hackathon concluded that In an ideal world, no organisation would need targets or goals to create an inclusive and diverse working environment, however these targets can help drive the agenda to the very highest levels of an organisation – even more so if they are made public.

While gender was the focus of our hackathon, intersectionality and diversity played a key role. If organisations create targets for some demographics (such as women) and do not consider other groups, it may lead to resentment and an unconstructive and siloed approach to inclusion and diversity. As such, it is crucial that organisations consider characteristics and aspects of ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability and circumstance too.

At LBG, we are seeking to tackle the underlying root causes that affect all elements of diversity, not just for specific groups. To help tackle some of the issues within the tech sector in Group Transformation we are launching a dedicated campaign to raise awareness and drive action amongst colleagues in tackling unconscious bias. In addition, our diversity Networks are taking a joined up approach to inclusion, running joint events which recognise the overlapping elements of diversity, supporting our colleagues who fall into intersectional Groups. In November, we are looking forward to hosting one such event called “Diversity by Default: Under the Skin”; an event centred on intersectionality and the diversity agenda.

2. Community and Culture are Key

A key call to action from the day was to both maintain and strengthen contact with local communities and education providers. This helps create a pipeline of talent for people from different backgrounds, and allows organisations to hire from locations and talent pools previously untapped. This engagement could include school workshops, sponsoring local activities, taking out local advertisements or through localised industry-led events.

We heard some fantastic examples of building a positive culture, not just in the workplace but also in communities across the UK’. Birgit from Santander said:

“What I have found is that great culture goes hand in hand with a strong commitment to inclusion and diversity. You can’t have one without the other and together they can create some real strengths in any organisation. We’ve also been keen to point out that research has shown that companies with diverse boards perform better – so there’s a commercial element to this too!”

There was a particular focus on the stereotypes, images and language we are exposed to every day – whether that’s in the classroom, the media, the books we’re reading, the video games we’re playing or the websites we’re visiting. It is up to everyone to challenge stereotypes of women and other marginalised groups, and stand up to any representations felt inappropriate. Many of our hackers commented on the tendency to normalise such behaviour because it is “awkward” or “they don’t want to make a fuss.” However, those in supportive and vocally inclusive working environments said they were more likely to raise issues and to challenge inappropriate actions.

We also need to inspire, raise confidence and create excitement through positive role models and by driving recognition for women of different ethnicities and backgrounds. Awards, speaking engagements and representative panel events are all important ways of driving visible inclusion. This all starts in the classroom and some great examples of this in action are KPMG’s IT’s Her Future, BT’s Step into STEM and the Girls in Tech programmes.

3. Perfect your Processes

Many organisations have some way to go until their processes for hiring and promoting are completely fair and inclusive. The hackers sought to challenge traditional practices, and here are some of their great ideas to progress:

  1. Using gender-neutral language in job descriptions
  2. Focusing on core requirements and doing away with the “nice-to-have” nuances that can put some candidates off
  3. Ensuring that both interview panels and shortlists are diverse and resonate with candidates from different backgrounds, wherever possible
  4. Being aware that using digital technology in recruitment can discriminate against those who aren’t digitally literate
  5. Highlighting inclusion and diversity policies before and during recruitment processes – be clear on the measures taken to support and progress careers

The hackathon also raised questions over methods some organisations use in their recruitment of junior roles. There was a consensus that certain models – such as unpaid internships or work experience – might hinder people from underprivileged backgrounds. These should be avoided to keep the system as fair and equal as possible.

Finally, organisations need to ensure they upskill all colleagues to help them progress their careers. Claire Donaldson, Head of Engagement and Careers Policy at DCMS, said:

“Most organisations are talking about lifelong learning and upskilling, but I’ve worked all over the place and nobody I’ve come across is doing this well. If we want to support career progression we need programmes in place and they need far better signposting. The schemes also need to be far better quality if we want to produce the innovators and leaders of the future.”

Overall, it is clear that intersectionality is an important consideration for all organisations, and something they must address if they are to create truly diverse places to work. While targets are helpful instigators, it is our collective duty to be positive role models, to inspire the next generations of talent and to make roles accessible to as many people as possible.

If we are to close the gaps for women, BAME colleagues and other minorities, it is vital that organisations put fairness and equality at the front and centre of hiring, decision-making, talent and development.


Originally posted here

 

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