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The change that must start from within

Written by: Alexis Curtis-Harris is lead for diversity and inclusion at Penna
Published on: 18 Feb 2021

With the public sector thrust into the forefront of the battle against the pandemic, the importance of diversity within local government is more important than ever within the communities that councils represent. BAME communities having been disproportionately hit by COVID-19 is a consistent topic of conversation, and the challenge for diverse representation in the people we look to for guidance and leadership at this difficult time has never been more prominent.

While diversity and inclusion has been a hot topic for a while, and many people have already made strides in this space, 2021 should be the year for even more meaningful change and action. The spotlight is on and the opportunity is there for local government to lead the way, and this change starts from within.

Diversity and inclusion are often logically grouped together, and while they do go hand-in-hand they are not identical. One cannot, and should not, exist without the other. In fact, there has been extensive research over the years that shows that diversity alone can be damaging to individuals and to organisations in the long run. Why? Because they are missing that all-important ingredient which ensures all employees have a sense of belonging: inclusivity.

If we break it down into these two parts, then diversity is all about the who. Who is being recruited, who is being promoted and who is in the organisation. It’s looking around your workplace and recognising the individual uniqueness of the people around you and celebrating differences, knowing the benefits this brings.

On the other hand, inclusivity is about the how. It’s having the mindset to look at how we are embracing diversity, how we are allowing people to be themselves and how we are stimulating and empowering the differences in our voices and identities. It’s supporting the needs of people in your teams from diverse backgrounds, respecting and enhancing their contribution and allowing them to feel valued enough to fully participate.

But what can we do, and how can we pioneer real, significant and long-lasting change within this sector? Well it all starts with insight, data and understanding. It’s looking further than what we perceive, and identifying areas of concern, then developing tangible and measurable objectives. It’s about setting realistic goals and holding up the mirror to force a true reflection of yourselves, going beyond policies and practices and looking at and working with the people around you. 

Once you have objectives and an understanding of the direction you need to travel in, it’s about creating a strategic framework for action and initiatives that provide a clear path for progression, all with an underpinning emphasis on solutions. You need internal initiatives that address issues head-on, drive change through education and create a positive and honest narrative for betterment.

We’ve helped clients with training and development for staff, creating behavioural standards that will hold leaders accountable, integration of diversity and inclusion strategies into performance management and leadership assessment, and embedding diversity and inclusion into organisational values.

But as mentioned, diversity without inclusion or vice versa is not enough. Attracting and recruiting diverse talent at all levels cannot be achieved through a singular activity. It requires an all-encompassing methodical approach. It starts with authenticity, and an honest and open external representation of you as an organisation, your goals and aims, and how you are creating a culture of change. It’s about reaching your audience using innovative tactics that develop interest, trust and ongoing proactive engagement, giving clear insights into your culture and routes for progression.

Be proactive with the removal of bias in hiring, encourage conscious inclusion, and eradicate the dreaded ‘F’ word from your recruitment mentality – fit – and focus on value, aptitude, and potential. Speak to us if you need assistance in this area.

Sometimes, you need an objective viewpoint to do this efficiently. We have been privileged to work in partnership with clients over the past 12 months to support this change, be that critical friend, and challenge where we need to. From identifying concerns, to setting goals and collaboratively designing initiatives; we have given a viewpoint of best practice and competitive industry insights. We enable our clients to set standards and take actionable measures to confront issues head-on, making steps towards inclusion.

True diversity and inclusion cannot be a project or task, but a continuous commitment and approach that doesn’t end. Cultivating a workplace that embodies diversity and inclusion is not an overnight task. There is no one size fits all solution. But, driving collective accountability internally sets a standard of practice that starts from the top and can rapidly filter in all directions.

Be realistic with your aims but encourage continuous dialogue, consistent reviews, ongoing reflection, and acknowledge that you aren’t striving for perfection, but positive progression is the ultimate goal. 

Alexis Curtis-Harris is lead for diversity and inclusion at Penna