Reflections on approaching diversity and inclusion

Posted on: 15 November 2018

Diversity and Inclusion should be at the core of all organisation’s cultures. I have been pleased that there has been increasing debate in the sector in relation to these areas, their importance and how organisations can foster inclusive and diverse workplaces, for staff, volunteers and beneficiaries. However, debate is not enough, what we need to see is more serious action to achieve this too.

Investing in diversity and inclusion is a no-brainer. Not only does it align with our values as a sector, and mean we will be able to better serve our beneficiaries, but there is a serious business case to invest in it too. Organisations that are more diverse are more likely to be innovative, perform better and have a greater impact.

At events and workshops and in discussions about these topics, I often hear people ask what the ‘simple solution’ to their organisation’s diversity and inclusion challenges are. Unfortunately I have to break it to you, there is no ‘simple solution’, as with any other organisational change, this is a complex problem and truly addressing it comes with investment, hard work and a commitment to continuous development. Diversity and inclusion cannot be pigeon-holed as a ‘HR problem’, it is woven throughout the fabric of our organisations and affects every area from compliance to volunteer management.

It is with this understanding that at Student Hubs we have been working to develop a rich and holistic approach to diversity and inclusion. It has been, and continues to be a constant learning process as we work to improve and develop.

For organisations that are beginning their journey in this area, I wanted to share some of the key lessons we have learnt so far.

  1. Form a team. Diversity and inclusion is not one person’s burden, nor can it be achieved with only one person’s perspective. The team leading this work should bring a range of networks, expertise and perspectives from across the organisation. This idea is what inspired me to create a team at Student Hubs who would drive forward real strategic change. At Student Hubs we have a Management Team lead who sets strategy, direction and ensures representation on all senior discussions and decisions making. This lead is then supported by a team of ‘Diversity and Inclusion Champions’ from across the organisation who bring all those networks and perspectives, whilst also building capacity for this area of work.
  2. Not everything will happen at once, but you should be approaching things with a long term view of achieving ‘embeddedness’, where processes or actions relating to diversity and inclusion don’t seem like an ‘add-on’ or ‘extra’ but are a normal part of routines and processes. For example at Student Hubs, training on diversity and inclusion didn’t just happen once, but was translated to a core part of inductions for every new staff member and analysing equal opportunities data wasn’t a task set for the D&I lead, but became a key step in our annual planning process for local hubs.
  3. You should be involving people from all levels, and function areas of the organisation. As you start out, the first reading you will do will tell you about the importance of senior management buy-in, and yes I can attest that this is extremely important. It doesn’t stop there though, everyone in your organisation has some role to play, or could be interesting or useful in some way, so always seek to bring people in. At Student Hubs we assessed our capacity and prioritised involvement and support according to this. For instance, when assessing training needs we prioritised staff training. From outset we identified that we wanted to empower them to talk more openly about diversity and inclusion and ensure they could then in turn provide the right training and support for student leaders on the ground.
  4. If things aren’t feeling uncomfortable then you probably aren’t being challenging enough. Seeking external perspectives is a great way to address this. Whether that means bringing on trustees who will provide true challenge and scrutiny in this area, finding critical friends in the sector or making sure your D&I team have opportunities to go out to related training, events and workshops.
  5. Find ways to measure your progress. Some monitoring might be more straightforward, for example tracking demographics of your volunteers, others might be a bit more complicated. Accountability around this progress is also important. At Student Hubs we are looking at how we can report better to our trustee board in relation to these areas and also share our commitments and progress publicly, as we did in this blog earlier this year.

Working in this area? We’d love to hear more about your approach and your successes and challenges. Or if you are you interested in learning more about our approach, get in touch with me on fatima@studenthubs.org!

Fatima Iftikhar

Fatima is our Development Director and leads Student Hubs' Equality & Inclusion work. She is part of our management team.

Tags: Education, Impact, Policy, Social Action


4 comments on “Reflections on approaching diversity and inclusion”

  1. Iftikhar Ahmad says:

    Timely and evidenced based

    1. admin says:

      Thanks Iftikhar, really glad you agree.

  2. Fayyaz Baqir says:

    Very interesting thoughts Fatima. May be you should sharing some interesting case histories also to support your views and plan to write a book by the end of the year; writing one page a day. That will make it easy for your mom to read also ( just kidding).

  3. Nahid Butt says:

    To promote diversitie is a global challenge in our world. To address this issue at students level mean young minds will join workforce with open mind and be prepared to creat justness at workplace. Having said that it is equally important to mobilise communities to break the barriers standing in the way of nurturing diversities. Starting point could be some volunteer organisation which takes such tasks on board.

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