By Zahra Niazi, Bradford District and Craven Strategic Equality Diversity and Inclusion Lead
I was reminded recently whilst reading a book on ‘White Fragility’ how jarring, uncomfortable and confrontational the work of equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) really is.
EDI if done well, is not just about improving opportunities and outcomes for people, or making services accessible because we have a statutory, moral and ethical responsibility to do so, but it requires personal investment. This may mean confronting some uncomfortable truths; we all operate in a place of privilege whether it is being heterosexual, non-disabled, white, male or wealthy, but it is recognising this privilege and the doors we can unlock for others, for whom we do it for and in what context.
In the last 10 years of my working career, I have been privileged to be in spaces where I can make significant impact, however I have been made more aware of subtle nuances. For example, who delivers a message, what the message says, the emphasis, the tone, how it is received and perceived, what the historic context is and the collective vs individualism debate. In the context of EDI, how interventions are designed, who for and how this is communicated to others to ensure that it lands well with the intentions and spirit it was meant to.
While we know EDI is the right thing to do, this isn’t always reflected in the funding or attention it receives. Below I have highlighted some of the current challenges facing the EDI space:
- Investment is unstable – This means EDI is usually the first thing to go. It’s seen as ‘pandering’ to left wing supporters. It’s no surprise that EDI officers try and embed things as fast as we can as there is always uncertainty about how long this investment will last. EDI is a specialism, and it is something we should all care about, but without continual support and investment, we’re never able to go the extra distance we need to.
- EDI is often given attention after some major catastrophic event or tragedy – like the death of George Floyd and Jo Cox. It astounds me that it really takes something as big as this to draw our attention back to the fact that this is an area that needs constant focus, but yet we cannot convince the naysayers of EDI value.
- Language and context is everything – and it’s a massive indicator of what we’re comfortable with. Integration is acceptable because it is assuming that others will work hard to ‘fit in with us’. There is a general feeling in many spaces that we focus too much on ‘race’. It is the ‘all lives matter’ debate playing out – internally this makes me cringe, it denies, dismisses and wipes out hundreds of years of oppression and systemised and structural racism. ‘Intersectionality’ is fast becoming a term people are finding more comfortable, in essence it moves away from boxing people into homogenous groups but recognises how people’s multiple identities can cause different levels of prejudice, discrimination and disadvantage.
- We’re not actually sure what EDI really is – Since Covid-19 there has been a renewed energy and focus on inequalities, naturally most people who I speak to believe that EDI is the logical and obvious solution. However, our understanding of EDI has changed over time, including the terminology we use. For example, in recent years we’ve been focussing on equity and belonging. Language has expanded for LGBTQ+ and where once we were comfortable to use the term ‘BAME’, we now acknowledge that this is a generalisation of many diverse and different communities. We need to have an evolving shared understanding and vision of what EDI is and what it isn’t and we can only do this if we’re creating space to talk about it.
A systems approach to EDI
In Bradford district and Craven we’ve taken a systems approach to EDI, this in itself is pioneering, innovative and the first of its kind. The work has rapidly evolved and has scale and scope. Under the guidance and support from the Wellbeing Board, which is our lead strategic partnership for Bradford district and Craven, we have committed for coordinated collective action to improve our approach to equalities, maximising opportunities, learning and expertise across our place.
The actions we’re focussed on are intended to give us extra stretch and competitive edge. Work is factored across five work-streams;
- Lead inclusively – focussing on diversifying our leadership, governance, and workforce representation
- Elevate equity – focussing on bridging and linking communities into our strategic mechanisms and working collectively to increase levels of trust at local (community) and strategic (workforce) level
- Activate diversity – focussing on upskilling our workforce to improve quality of service delivery and identifying and supercharging our talent
- Inspire belonging – amplifying and celebrating our diversity as a place and raising aspirations with visible role models
- Work intersectionally – focussing on improving integrated working and cross collaboration on equality issues such as the first ever intersectional action plan.
At the heart of the systems EDI work, we emphasise trust as the driver for culture change. This is recognising that the brain influences our behaviour consciously and sub-consciously. In other words, this relates to how our brains have been wired over time, the connections we’ve made and attitudes and biases we hold and in turn how they influence the social connections and decisions we make.
Research and evidence tells us that increasing levels of trust has a direct correlation to improving wellbeing and elevating equity. The more we understand it and can actively work to increase trust as a place, the better the experiences will be for our population and workforce.
What you can do
- Participation and engagement – Share good practice and learning around EDI to build expertise and capacity,
- Research and data – Support with building an evidence base of what works in diversity interventions
- Focussed intention – Build a culture of trust by being single-minded in our pursuit to measure and increase it at all levels
- Money and people – Energy and commitment
To get in touch or to get involved, please contact Zahra via the Reducing Inequalities Alliance by emailing email@example.com
If you’d like to learn more about the alliance, visit the Reducing Inequalities Alliance webpage. To write a blog about inequalities work you’re involved in, please email firstname.lastname@example.org