Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a practice and equity is a goal –
Dereca Blackmon, Stanford
What do diversity, inclusion and equity really mean? …This is the question we might want to ask ourselves, especially in a diverse digitally connected world in the 21st century. It can be unclear why we even need to discuss this topic but it has been on my radar particularly since I was asked to take part in a SLA Task Force for Diversity and Inclusion in 2016. I was an honour to be asked, and I was unsure if I had anything insightful to contribute but to be honest, I realised that I was already championing the features of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. We don’t usually need to disclose attributes of people, but for the purpose of this blog post, I have mentioned information on myself and gave a couple of real examples.
I am a little ahead of the game for some obvious reasons – I am female, an ethnic minority, working mother with a powerful diverse background of being a Trinidadian (other Trinidadians will understand what I mean with regards to diversity), married to a European, living in multicultural London…and I worked in world class libraries. I am heterosexual with no obvious disabilities. However we must remember that there are other areas of diversity and inclusion that is deeper than the physical and obvious. The point of this blog post is to discuss some of the challenging issues we face, but also to find examples of good practices and stress how important it is for information professionals to advocate, champion and stand up for diversity and inclusion for the communities and customers we serve. In this context, I am mainly discussing the business workplace and libraries with some principles for the wider society.
I need to do some more research on an official definition for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity as it tends to cover Equality rights and anti-discrimination policies. However there are some good pointers on this Wikipedia page, and the SLA Caucus page has a good example of the motive behind the topics. The term Equity is used more in the US, where I saw a good example on this voluntary sector site Independent Sector.
Freedom is Indivisible –Nelson Mandela
My research also came across a motivating quote on Diversity and Inclusion at the closing keynote at the National Diversity in Libraries Conference, Los Angeles – “Bourg, as a white, butch, lesbian, Army veteran, library director, and Hathcock, as a black, straight, cisgender, Christian, Southern, non-director, sat on stage and talked from the heart about the ways in which they are attempting to learn from and with each other along their varying intersections. Their work, said Bourg and Hathcock, begins first and foremost with an acknowledgement that “libraries have never been, are not now, and will never be neutral,” that whiteness sits at the heart of our society and therefore our institutions”.
This puts the topic in context and shows the library and information professional position on Diversity and Inclusion. There is a quest of best practice by information professionals in being pragmatic with neutrality versus social justice for the communities who we serve in providing facts, unbiased and trusted information. For example, I remember being ‘as nice as apple pie’ serving members of the British National Party in a working library where impartiality and neutrality were the guiding principles. However at the same time, on balance I would advocate for libraries that were cut by mainstream Politicians and government policies. As I am aware, I still try in my own way to reach marginalised library users by stretching out. There is a need to try to reach as many as possible, regardless of biases and background. This world should be a level playing field where everyone has a voice. We certainly should also stand up if something or if someone was harmful or threatening to others.
Looking at ‘The Bigger Picture’ shows that Diversity, Inclusion and Equity are progressive hot topics. It is important for us to think about these terms in the workplace as well as in society. There are a few events that I kept a close eye on social media recently, where there were online events advocating and discussing the topics. The UK Lib Chat Twitter talk on ‘Celebrating Diversity: supporting clients and broadening the profession in libraries’ held some great nuggets of thoughts on how we should implement this in this sector. It was also fabulous to see the tweets (Twitter @StemGameChange) shared for the Gender Diversity in STEM event at the Alan Turing Institute a couple of weeks ago. It was nice for the speakers to invite me in too but I was busy in my normal work, so could not attend. I also refer to CILIP and SLA Connect online community caucus on Diversity and Inclusion for best practices and information.
So what is the problem? Why do we need to be reminded about Diversity & Inclusion? Harvard Business Review’s ‘Research: People share more information with colleagues of similar backgrounds’ states: “in the workplace, people tend to trust and attribute a higher status to colleagues whose cultural background are similar to their own. As a result, members of the majority national group – and minorities who share cultural similarities with the majority – also share the most information with one another. Whereas minorities with the most cultural differences are often attributed a lower status and information is withheld from them. This withholding can cause those from ‘low status’ minority groups to underperform and never reach their full potential”.
This is just one of the problems. There are other issues around privilege, recruitment, team dynamics, talent development, gender pay-gap, cronyism, cliques, tribes and exclusivity, which act as barriers to diversity and inclusion. There have been some progress and positive steps to have better talent and support systems, but this also requires diversity and inclusion to be fluid enough to filter to the top of teams and even executive boards. There is a lot of research that a more diverse board or top management around the table will have broader viewpoints and experiences, which will heed better business decisions that are best for an organisation.
Most of the research I read says that it is not always easy to achieve the right balance. “True equality is not taking away for one to give to another. It means having an equal voice, opportunities and rights”. There is a lot written on the ‘privileged’ White Alpha Male – a group that has long been overdone and it can be monotonous for the rest of us in the shadows. It is possible to seek more balance where anyone can get an opportunity to contribute and to harness talent. There is richness in diversity, inclusion and equity in all of this…if we are in it together. The demography, scope and locations of the global consumers are also more diverse in a digital world – and top management have to reflect and understand their audience, staff, customers, clients and stakeholders. We are not forgetting the White Alpha Male – we are simply including him in the mixture with a balanced and broader talent pool. We just have to make room for more diversity and inclusion.
In the article ‘While automation eats jobs, it doesn’t eat work’ on Equity: “companies are committed to a diverse work force for varying motivations. Some believe that diverse teams are just smarter and more creative… Other firms, especially technology companies believe that they are disproportionally responsible for designing the future and therefore it’s simply wrong to leave entire communities out of their teams”. There is also a positive outcome when people feel they belong – they perform better.
The other aspect of Diversity and Inclusion practices is that there are strategies for a supportive culture, with advocacy to maintain and sustain positive levels. It is recommended that organisations examine themselves and their policies for: “without them, diversity cannot be achieved because people will leave before they are given the opportunity to make a difference”.
Another piece of research by Culture Amp states: “Creating a workplaces that make people feel they belong. Without this, no matter how much diversity you might achieve by the numbers. You may find people feel disconnected, disengaged and prone to leaving your organisation”.
There is another issue of unconscious and conscious bias. There may be physical attributes to humans that make us compassionate and conscious to inclusiveness. At a Public Library Conference in the USA this year, keynote speaker Steve Pemberton (Chief Diversity Officer at GloboForce) explains: “the first picture you see of someone is not the full picture”. We come into this world with visible characteristics and diversity traits… but the real story is below the line: “This things you can’t see would be stunned to see how much commonality there really is, but it requires conversation and willingness to be open and to learn”. So with this in mind – an inclusive environment means providing everyone, no matter who they are with equal access. The richness of inclusion and diversity is below this invisible line: “Top of the waterline are people’s visible traits but below the water line many other invisible traits emerge, such as sexual orientation, beliefs and background”. Pemberton went on to say: “that we need to depend on each other and celebrate our myriad experiences because we all have something new to learn about the world”.
I may be thinking of a Utopian idea…but we can dream, and hopefully we can forget the hostile and divisive hot air that is currently blowing in parts of this world.
In reality, there is still some work to do. Libraries still play a large part in diversity and inclusion, and operate in one of the most open physical and digital areas you would expect to encounter. But we are still a profession in the English-speaking world that has mainly white professionals. It is heart-warming and motivating when I see social media shares from libraries in Trinidad and Tobago for their good work on diversity and inclusion programmes.
There are still vast issues, levels of poverty and access for customers in a ‘first world’ country like the United Kingdom. A multi-cultural and diverse content coverage should be programmed, but there are pressures on public funds. Socio-economic barriers prevent diversity in developing professionals and the communities they serve. Most of these issues are in disadvantaged urban environments where there are discourse for crime, low income families struggles, poverty, underprivileged persons and other societal disparities – therefore librarians act as a haven for promoting diversity and inclusion in their communities. There are other barriers like the digital divide, dyslexia, the elderly, literacy, languages, and physical disabilities. Some will be visible and some below the line. This may be a good point to acknowledge too that there are some people who may never come into the library, but there are still a large proportion of people who do see its’ worth and will continue to use them.
Therefore we must continue to be diverse, inclusive and equitable. Outreach and marketing work helps to reach marginalised communities which will foster positive inclusion for developing diverse professionals and customer bases. CILIP has a great page on the work they are doing in their diversity and inclusion programmes. It is motivating as an information professional that we are doing our little bit on the front line to help disadvantaged communities and individuals. It leads to better social cohesion, improve economic prosperity and the possibilities in a more level playing field in a diverse and inclusive society.
There are a lot of best practices out there for professionals and organisations to champion the business and corporate social responsibility (CSR) benefits for Diversity, Inclusion and Equity programming. These types of programmes are leading the way and act as a benchmark to adopt and ‘anchor’ in our businesses and mission. Some of these admirable organisations are Channel Four, Touchstone and Halebury. There are some tips on the CIPD factsheet, and the Gov.UK website as an employer.
So what does this all mean to us now? …There are a lot of positive policy, narrative changes, game-changers and professionals working to create more diverse and inclusive work environments. There are also inclusiveness programmes that are trying to balance representation, content, coverage and highlight diverse stories for personnel and patrons for all types of businesses. Some cynics may even be ‘fatigued’ by the words ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ and much more so by an inclusive agenda! However, if we don’t continue to encourage positive policy and action – we will end up with an echo chamber and miss out on the richness of celebrating our differences and similarities.
In the bigger picture – diversity, inclusion and equity have a lot of benefits and are the best ingredients for shared collaboration and empowerment of individuals and organisations. Embedded inclusion with a whirlpool of diverse talent makes life more interesting, and exposes us to fresh perspectives, bringing better understanding and with it respect, compassion and hopefully, greater all-round success.