Inclusion at Work

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about inclusion at work.

Last year at the festival I run, I saw only 5 BME people out of the roughly 1000 festival attendees, though we did alright for all other racial backgrounds. Along with the Trump election, this shocked me into gear – I realised that the festival needs to go out of its way to become more accessible. That’s the only way to be truly inclusive for the BME community.

We live in a toxic culture which is racist, homophobic, sexist, ageist, ableist, etc. There is an undercurrent of it through everything that happens – which is so normal to us that we can’t even see it. We are products of our culture – so unfortunately, in deep profound ways, we have racism and sexism in all of us – and we each have to work on ourselves to tackle it. People who have their heart in the right place can still unintentionally hurt people with unchecked discrimination.

The way out of this is to read up on discrimination and try to understand a variety of perspectives. I recommend everydayfeminism.com – it has been my gateway into understanding discrimination more deeply.

The working world over centuries has been created by white men, for white men. Now the world has to make this uncomfortable effort to change to make work work for minorities too.

Jewish women in Israel – including me

Though I’m white passing, I’m not actually white – I’m mixed. My mum grew up in Israel, and her parents were from Yemen and Persia. I’m Jewish. I have faced discrimination in the past for facets of my identity. This lights a fire under me to want to make a difference for other people.

Being Jewish and white passing is a different story from being black. If you are the only black person in the room, you can’t hide that. I can choose to not disclose my identity if I feel it might be unsafe for any reason. Being black is inescapably visible. I’m never going to be able to fully empathise with that – but I have enough motivation, given my own experiences, to do something to make things fairer for people who don’t share my white passing privilege.

I’m in a new position of power, as the festival grows. I never set out to grow the festival into a business. It was just a thing I did that snowballed because of the interest it got. I’m now in a position where I have the power to decide which freelancer to hire, and which service designers to put a spotlight on.

Really, I’m right at the beginning. There are no permanent festival employees – it’s all freelancers, and freelancers aren’t covered by the Equality Act at work. As far as I know, I have no legal obligation to be taking steps to ensure there’s no discrimination in the workplace I’m creating for others.* However, I feel a strong moral obligation to do so. I want to start things off in the right way, so that there will be no need for a ‘culture change programme’ later down the line.

This report by Baroness McGregor-Smith explains the problems and describes some actions to take around inclusion of people with BME backgrounds at work.

I am actively looking for resources such as this. Please let me know if you know of any, or if you would like to help in any other way. I’d be interested in meeting up with other small business owners to share ideas and strategies.

I’ve got no formal management experience. I’ve never been an employee – I’ve always contracted. The advantage of not having ideas instilled in me about ‘the right way to do things’ from traditional Diversity & Inclusion guidelines is that I have the ability to see things with fresh eyes.

My approach is designerly through and through, so my plan is to co-design an inclusion policy with the festival team (once they’ve been recruited!) and to iterate how we do things, in response to the changing times (both within the festival and in the wider world). We’re going to strategise, then we’re going to bring that into reality – that’s what designers do: we know how to make visions real.

With the power that I have, I want to be part of creating environments for work that are actively inclusive of people, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, ability, and other identity facets. BME inclusion is something that the festival and the service design industry need to actively work on. I’m also specifically interested in mental health, but more on that another time 🙂

This isn’t something that anyone can do alone. It requires insights from different directions. Please join me in thinking hard and taking action to make workplaces inclusive.

*Please correct me if I’m wrong – I’d love to be wrong about not having any legal obligation to prevent discrimination to hired freelancers.

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