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July has been our busiest month on the Creative Workforce for the Future programme so far. Several more businesses signed up to the programme and we are now working actively with over 30 creative Small to Medium sized businesses in the West of England on inclusion readiness. To see who they are, check out the companies page for a list.

We ran four industry workshops with a range of topics and started a series of Reflective Sense Making coaching sessions for leaders who want to delve deeper and transform their learning into practice.

Elonka Soros from Creative Access ran another packed session called ‘Fitting in vs Belonging’ which naturally followed on from the materials in the Unconscious Bias workshop. We were invited to rank our businesses on a Diversity & Inclusion maturity model, which is a useful tool for action as it has statements around culture, company and leadership. There are various versions of this model, but we used one which ranked: unaware, compliant, strategic, integrated and disruptive. Elonka stated that most business leaders rank their business in between strategic and integrated when in fact they are hovering on the top end of compliant. Compliancy translates into companies fulfilling legal requirements around diversity and inclusion with a sense of duty, rather than purpose, with responsibilities for policy often being held by devolved powers such as a HR department. The result of this is the familiar lack of buy in from the rest of the organisation, little or no action, change or impact. The next step up from compliancy is where Diversity and Inclusion is recognised as important to the success of the business and it becomes a strategic objective with KPIs that are tracked and has active leadership & accountability. Sounds good? It’s a start.

Most of the creative sector is on the start of a journey to eventually integrate inclusion or even be disruptive as an organisation. Inclusion is as much a personal development journey as a business journey and is not merely about diversifying a workforce.

The workshop covered useful tips for leaders to make sure that at each stage of the talent cycle, whether this is for permanent roles, freelancers, interns or work experience, the right questions are asked around attracting candidates, selecting procedures, fairness, development, promotions, opportunities and leaving processes. We’ll talk about some of these processes in another post.

Elonka talked about allyship: how to recognise your biases and lever your privilege as individuals at work (a life-long journey), whoever you are. She mentioned that prior to the most recent Black Lives Matter activity, ignited by police brutality in the US, she had to explain what white privilege is to her workshop participants but that she no longer had to define this concept. This makes explaining the myth of meritocracy, the idea that you are selected on merit alone and external factors, such as luck and coming from a wealthy family have no influence on success, much easier. Our perceptions are as good as the data we put in, so creating a hyper awareness of our bubbles, the content we consume and making sure that we force ourselves to ask the right questions at each stage of any process involving people is vital to break some of our unconscious responses. What is spoken can be addressed, what is not can cause damage at systemic levels as one of the BBC employees stated in a recent Huffington Post article where employees speak out about systemic racism at the corporation. “I think the most horrendous form of racism is covert, because you can’t put a finger on it.” 

Deb Hoy, Creative Director at Stand + Stare reflected on her time on the Creative Workforce for the Future programme in a recent blog post:

“Despite what I thought I knew, I can see that there is so much more to learn, and the responsibility for that learning lies with me. Engaging in this work is inspiring as well as challenging. It sometimes causes surges of enthusiasm to move through me, nudging me to take greater responsibility in becoming part of the change. At other times, I feel vulnerable, naive and complicit in witnessing the injustices that are embedded into the fabric of the society I have grown up in.”

A group of SMEs have chosen to interrogate their personal journeys as leaders on a deeper level on our programme and have been attending a series of Reflective Sense Making coaching sessions led by Dr Charlotte von Bülow. These sessions offer a safe space where leaders can identify and explore personal and organisational narratives and discover how these might help or hinder the change they want to create, as well as explore their own (inherited) behaviours and practices. Charlotte reflects on some of the realities facing leaders and managers :

“Leaders and managers are caught in a difficult and rather binary situation where there is a perceived but unarticulated ‘right and wrong’ that is difficult to get one’s head around. This makes for a very anxiety provoking daily experience of ‘not knowing what the right thing is’ and many are getting stuck in narratives about the issue of diversity and inclusion, rather than looking at each situation in its own right. Ayshat Akanbi’s provocative but inspiring message – that we can move the focus from ‘right/wrong’ to empathy, compassion and respect – is pointing to what may be another way of approaching the issue. Is it possible to explore ways in which leaders and managers (and others) can inspire a culture of respectful situational awareness over excessive policy writing – and if so, how do we go about that? These are the kinds of questions that are being explored.”

In addition, a group of SMEs have been working with Marissa Ellis from Diversily on a practical approach to inclusive leadership using The Change Canvas, a simple but powerful visual framework for driving change.

Inclusion is a slow journey as it involves cultural change. It is therefore way too early to see what long-term changes are taking place for our cohort of SMEs who are all at different stages on their journeys and not merely through this programme. However, we have seen some great investment pledges from leaders to take their workforce on this journey. Some SMEs have adapted their recruitment processes, others are revising their boards or organised training for all their employees. There is a noticeable shift from ‘we need to diversify as an industry’ to ‘we need to dismantle the culture that sustains the inequality and lack of inclusion’. Considering the state of the sector at present, that is a great start. The programme is here to plant seeds, let’s hope they get watered and nurtured so that they can grow into robust self-seeders.

In our August blog post we will focus on the learnings from Dr Mena Fombo’s workshops on the realities behind equality & diversity policies and creating brilliant work placements. We will also give some highlights of our live industry placements. 

The Inclusion CPD programme will have an August break, but we are back in September with a repeat of Mena’s sessions as well as a focus on networks, connections and class and live networking with our brilliant cohort of young creative professionals. We will be advertising sessions with a closer lens on recruitment and HR for the Autumn soon.

Some useful related resources:

A Belief in Meritocracy Is Not Only False: It’s Bad for You

Better Decisions Through Diversity

Business Case for diversity

Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash