4 things the Diversity Forum is doing to achieve an inclusive workplace

10 March 2020

SIB is proud to be the current hosts of The Diversity Forum. Our Diversity Coordinator Ebru Buyukgul shares an update of what the Diversity Forum has been working on since December, along with its plans for the year ahead.

Born out of important discussions held at The Gathering in 2017, the Diversity Forum is a collective of individuals on a mission to drive inclusive social investment in the UK, through the convening of sector-wide groups, commissioning research and knowledge sharing.

Our thinking on diversity is informed by the world of equalities and a fundamental belief that differences – whether protected or unprotected characteristics – make for richer experiences, workplaces and decisions. Since then the Forum has grown to encompass three sector-wide initiatives to improve diversity among social investors in the UK: The Diversity Working Group, the Diversity Champions Network and the Diversity Training Group.

Thanks to the Connect Fund, a £3 million fund managed by the Barrow Cadbury Trust in partnership with Access – the Foundation for Social Investment – the Diversity Forum has funding to embark on diversity projects with five strands:

  • Leadership and convening;
  • Research: commissioning research;
  • Skills development and resources sharing;
  • Data sharing and networks mapping;
  • Communications.

I’m delighted to have joined the Diversity Forum as its Coordinator in its new home at Social Investment Business (SIB) and to be helping to facilitate and deliver the above five strands. Promoting a more diverse and inclusive social investment sector is not an easy task; it involves understanding and challenging a well-established system of structural discrimination perpetuated through unconscious biases and internalised norms. There are no simple and straightforward solutions with guaranteed effectiveness. However, here are four things that the Diversity Forum is working on to bring us closer to becoming a more diverse and inclusive sector:

1. Advocating for more women in senior leadership positions

Legislation preventing discrimination based on sex has existed since the 1970s. The Equal Pay Act (1970) and the Sex Discrimination Act (1975) provided protection, equal pay and employment conditions for both women and men. However, women are still significantly underrepresented in many sectors and often face barriers to promotion at senior levels - this is no different in the social investment sector. Our Inclusive Impact report highlighted that male executives within the social investment sector outnumber women by 3:2 and BAME women are the least likely group to hold directorships accounting for just 2.8% of all directors. The report also highlighted that women were less likely than men to rate their organisation as ‘an excellent place to work.’ Gender-based diversity in social investment has the potential to advance gender equality and create financial returns. However, this can only be achieved if women are equally represented in social investment decision making.

2. Encouraging more visibility for people with disabilities

Just 7% of respondents to our survey for the Inclusive Impact report considered themselves to have a disability, this is less than half the working age population who identify as having a disability (equivalent to around 16% for adults of working age). This is simply not good enough and there is much to be done to change things. Our Inclusive Impact report found that there were barriers that individuals with disabilities faced, including a lack of focus on recruiting people with disabilities and accessibility issues with office premises. More also needs to be done to understand issues faced by those with ‘un-seen’ disabilities. Hiring people with disabilities is not only fair, but it is also better for business; it creates a workforce that reflects the diverse range of customers and communities it serves.

3. Valuing lived experience

Individuals with valuable and relevant lived experience that can greatly benefit us as a sector are often overlooked and undervalued. Indeed, our Inclusive Impact report found that almost one in five of directors in the social investment sector attended Oxford or Cambridge universities. If we want a sector that truly represents the people and communities its designed to serve, we must start valuing lived experience and not just technical, learned knowledge.

4. Facilitating regular engagements

On 21 February 2020, the Diversity Forum hosted its first breakfast talk on lived experience and inclusive leadership with Baljeet Sandhu – founder of the Knowledge Equity Initiative and Global Visiting Innovator at Yale University - and a passionate advocate of lived experience in leadership.

The talk began with Baljeet stressing the many benefits of valuing lived experience in leadership and highlighting that the innovations that have made the world the world it is today have often been made by people who have direct and personal experience. Just like other leaders in the social investment sector, lived experience leaders want to make a positive impact on their communities and society in general. But what makes these leaders exceptional is that they are using invaluable knowledge, insight and understanding that they have gathered from years of lived experience to inform their social purpose work. Bringing people with direct and lived experience into different parts of the social investment process can be transformational and positively impact the lives of people that funds are aimed at serving in the first place.

There are, however, significant structural, systemic and cultural barriers that hinder the ability of lived experience leaders to flourish: recognition and celebration of these leaders has often been neglected. Leaders with lived experience have minimal access to opportunity as well as visibility. Instead we see that technical and learned knowledge continue to dominate the social investment sector, behaviour and actions. As a result, many leaders with lived experienced feel isolated, undervalued and excluded from the sector.

But what does valuing lived experience mean in practice? An important starting point is recognising that lived experience leaders are already creating, innovating and finding solutions to society’s biggest problems: they just need and deserve to be recognised and credited. Instead their ideas and efforts are often co-opted and appropriated. If we want a whole movement and not just one of fragmented well intentions, we need to start naming and crediting lived experience leaders.

It is not simply a moral imperative for the social investment sector to include and credit lived experience leaders, there are also economic and social imperatives to do so. Supporting and including lived experience leaders in decision-making and innovation will not only help wider community cohesion, it will also ultimately transform the structure of the social investment sector by generating new ideas and social interventions that benefit everyone.

<< The Diversity Forum’s next Breakfast Talk will be on 29 April 2020. If you’re interested in attending, please sign up to their newsletter to stay in the loop. >>

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