Creating a diverse and inclusive culture isn’t easy, but it’s necessary
Jenneh Edem-Hotah became our first Head of Diversity and Inclusion in 2020. Now, with the launch of IntoUniversity’s three-year Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) strategy, she reflects on what she has learned from the last two years.
The launch of our three-year D&I strategy is as much an end to a journey for IntoUniversity as it is the beginning of one. IntoUniversity has always been an organisation which valued diversity and inclusion through our work, but the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, reaffirmed that there was more we could be doing to enable and celebrate diversity as an organisation.
When I became Head of Diversity and Inclusion in 2020, I knew there would be challenges to achieving real and lasting change that values every individual across IntoUniversity, whether they are one of our students, staff members, volunteers or supporters. However, I was motivated by being able to make a positive impact organisationally with an area that I am personally passionate about. It was important for me to be a role model to those around me and champion D&I.
Two years later, we now have:
- A Diversity & Inclusion Statement and Strategy
- Integrated Diversity & Inclusion into our values
- Developed Areas of Practice to empower all teams to create goals that continue to drive improvements
- Established our Diversity and Inclusion Forum
- Improved inclusivity in our recruitment practices
- Extended staff Diversity & Inclusion training
- Staff Networks around LGBTQIA+, Ethnicity and Disability
But how did we get here? I’ve pulled out three main learnings from our experience that have been essential in this work.
Senior Management support and expert guidance
From the beginning, we had the support and involvement of our Senior Management Team who believed improving our diversity and inclusion was a priority for the organisation. All throughout the formation of our strategy and the development of our D&I work, I feel fortunate to have been led and supported by them. Three out of four of our Senior Management Team currently sit on the D&I Forum, which means that it can be a real vehicle for action and change within the organisation.
We also received essential pro bono support from one of our corporate partners, Deloitte, during 2021, who produced a report on recommendations for the framework of our strategy. Access to this expert guidance and advice allowed us to get an outside perspective on the strengths and weaknesses of our D&I work, and was a massive support to me and the rest of our team.
We knew how important it was to involve all staff in the development of our D&I work as it is these diverse and varied voices across the organisation that will ensure our approach is truly reflective. Because of this, we took time to get it right.
All teams across the organisation, from centre teams to fundraising to Senior Leadership Team undertook a SWOT analysis of their current work and how it relates to D&I. This helped us to determine whole organisational strengths and weaknesses as well as individual teams.
We also conducted employee surveys for staff to anonymously feedback about their current experience of diversity and inclusion within the organisation and any potential improvements. This all fed back into our strategy, including improvements in our HR processes and communications.
Open and understanding discussion
The last two years have been a period of real learning for me personally, and for all of us at IntoUniversity. While we are proud of all that has been achieved, we had to have difficult conversations along the way about what our priorities were.
How can the strategy find the balance of working for both the young people we work with and the staff team, without trying to do the impossible? Trying to understand each other was not always easy, but having the confidence to have an open conversation with all levels and areas of the organisation was so important to finding out what works for us.
As we implement the strategy over the next three years, I will be the first to admit that we won’t get everything right. But we’re not letting that stop us from becoming the kind of organisation where everyone can thrive and feel accepted.