What is the conversation for the Network for Ethnically Diverse staff?
Each year around the UNESCO World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development we reflect on and continue to see the great lasting impact groups such as the network have. They can contribute towards reaching a diverse, inclusive and positive work culture for ethnically diverse staff and all.
So after just over 2 years since the Network was established by Shantol Campbell, we asked some of the Members and Allies to discuss what it means to be in this group.
In our terms of reference we define:
Ethnically Diverse Staff refer to MOLA employees who are globally, ethnically, and culturally diverse, particularly those who may also have experienced discrimination, isolation and racism in workplace or personal life because of their ethnicity.
An ally is someone who does not experience prejudice, marginalisation, and racism because of their ethnicity but who wants to actively support, advocate, and engage with the Network.
But what do these words mean?
It's different to different people - being told by others what you "should know" or what you "should think" (Network Member)
How do we define the conversation?
The group discussed how there is a huge range of experiences. There are many terms that are used in the conversations around race equity, diversity and inclusion:
Members felt each of these words have real life consequences, and can be experienced by individuals and groups in completely different ways. These terms overlap and are often a symptom or cause of the other.
Language is an extremely important part of the conversation and we cannot assume everyone has the same understanding or experience of these terms.
“Interesting to hear other peoples stories, good to hear from allies too. The Network is good because it provides support where previously experience had none…” (Network Member)
The Allies talked about how they also try to sensitively navigate these conversations and want to be a part of creating these safe spaces – what is a safe space for everyone? Through the years we have continued to discuss why the use of language is so important and how it helps to create safe spaces. We can create safe spaces by keeping up to date with inclusive language which is always evolving.
We all agreed that having an understanding of intersectionality (the network of connections between social categories such as race, class and gender, especially when this may result in additional disadvantage or discrimination) is particularly important. It will help us to acknowledge different experiences.
How do we protect diverse identities in the workplace?
Many in the Network were positive and felt that MOLA is generally a good, inclusive place to work. Some Members said they have developed and created a team connection themselves. They’ve therefore built small supportive relationships with those they work closely with on a regular basis and feel comfortable being themselves at work.
While some Members noted that may not necessarily be the case outside of those spaces it’s been important to reflect on how and why some may feel like they can or can’t "be themselves" at work. The wider context of the world such as global or local incidents do have an impact on individuals and therefore also impact the way they behave and feel at work.
Through the Network, Allies have expressed and tried to actively support their colleagues in whatever way seems appropriate for the situation. They do this by challenging outdated language and want to be part of changing the culture at MOLA. We believe that essentially the key is to be active, not just passive.
The values of the group go beyond roles as we all respect and uplift underrepresented voices, advocate for each other.
Some Allies mentioned a need to “To scrutinise any normalisation of white gaze in project work – raise alternative ways of knowing and being (I’ve had to do this in relation to disabilities too)” Network Ally.
“To be open to discussions about race and ethnicity: whether in a group or as an individual – basically to keep practicing being open!” (Network Ally)
How can we remain actively anti-racist?
We agreed there should be regular reminders of reporting policies as well as clear stances on racism to ensure staff understand, feel support and are empowered by the systems.
In some cases, simply explained processes and good relations with line managers helped members speak up in certain situations. Systems, HR policies and other support groups allow people to feel supported and empowered to report something may help to reduce barriers faced by others.
“Who do you go to…how comfortable do you feel with your line manager.” (Network Member)
We found it is again important for the Allies to be visible, be a good listener, and be active in pushing things forward to uplift the voices of underrepresented staff. This could involve engaging regularly with updates and communications from the Network. That includes those who may be shy or introverted and may have trouble speaking out, particularly around a group of people.
We often discuss the difficulties around how to appropriately challenge existing barriers or what to do if we see inappropriate behaviour towards ethnically diverse colleagues.
We all agreed the important thing is to listen first, don’t make assumptions about what people want and always seek to educate yourself through your own initiative.
“stand up for what we believe, against racial bullying and harassment” (Network Member)