A Message From Our CEO – A Happy Start to 2024

It is now the start of the first full week of the year, which sees many people returning to work after the festive holidays. Some of you however, might have started last week. Whatever your situation, we hope that you have managed to relax, recoup and are re-energized for what we hope will be a fantastic year ahead.

Last year at PILAA we had seen much growth in the organisation, beyond monetary value. We welcomed new Membership clients, and we are pleased to see how those relationships have flourished, with Members such as Corps Security winning awards for their commitment to EDI excellence in their specific industry.

We had won tenders at organisations doing meaningful work for their communities of service users. Some of those tenders have now come to an end, but we are grateful to the lasting relationships that we have made with those organisations. Like many of our clients that we have worked with over the years, we will continue to be good friends and offer support when needed.

We welcomed new team members at PILAA, with strong backgrounds in their respective fields. Despite the challenges of recruiting new employees under this current climate, we are pleased to say that we were still able to get the best people to join us and grow our PILAA family.

At the end of last year, we were pleased to have participated at London’s ExCeL Retrain Expo, running alongside The Business Show 2023. We met lots of interesting people from various industries and we are excited to let you know that 2024 will see the materialisation of some of those conversations into exciting projects. So do watch this space. We are also excited to share the winners of the competition we held at the ExCeL for free training. All entrants will be informed of the outcome after this message has gone out.

Finally, in December we were pleased to be on the judging panel of the DOJ Gaminz Festival, held by our clients DOJ Gaminz in Nigeria. It was an awe-inspiring two-day event; the first with leading gamers in Nigeria and the second with game developers responding to the theme of ‘breaking stereotypes’ in their video game submissions. There was so much talent and innovation in this sector, and we are grateful to our friends at DOJ Gaminz, who have allowed us to be part of their EDI journey within the gaming arena.

Further, we were also fortunate to have been able to deliver our CPD Course ‘The Grassroots of Diversity’, to Security Officers at the event. It was great to see Officers engaging with many EDI themes, such as unconscious bias, providing inclusive welcomes, (dis)ability and accessibility, but applying it to the landscape of Nigeria. Doing EDI work in the UK has its own challenges, but tailoring EDI for it to be culturally specific to where our clients are based, brings new and exciting learning opportunities and we were grateful to be in such a position.

Whilst we know there is lots more to be thankful for and to do, our focus for this year is to build on being a forward-thinking organisation, addressing EDI within and beyond its own parameters. This year you will see input from expert thinkers on exciting new topics. You will see the development of our EDI image bank and A-Zs in various identity categories. You will see the development of new PILAA-led research and resources. We will continue to deliver our workshops unpacking EDI issues at their root causes, whilst learning about the various industries that we enter through our work with past, present and new clients. We will continue to answer your mental health, accessibility, and well-being questions, irrespective of whether they seem too big or too small. Finally, we will continue to be advocates of EDI and continue to collaborate with organisations and individuals who are committed to engaging with EDI in a socially conscious way.

From us at PILAA, we would like to wish you a happy start to the year and an inclusive future in 2024.

Dr Ope Lori

How to support employees and colleagues during the current conflict

You are likely to have Jewish and/or Muslim colleagues, who will have friends and relatives in Israel and Palestine, and who will be experiencing strong emotions about the current conflict in the Middle East. How can you best support them at this difficult time?

The most important thing to remember – whether for this conflict or any others – is that it’s better to say something than to ignore the situation. Don’t worry about getting it wrong; showing people you care and that you’re there is what matters.

  • Acknowledge the war. You could perhaps mention it in your weekly newsletter or in your next meeting. You don’t have to offer any opinions – and you probably shouldn’t – but just say you’re aware that it’s happening and that it could be impacting on colleagues. Remind them that you’re there if anyone wants to talk.
  • Write specific colleagues who you know have friends or family in the region or who belong to the affected ethnic groups an email or a text message that says something like, “I just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you at what might be a challenging time for you. You don’t need to reply, but I’m here if you need anything.”
  • Similarly, you can say something along those lines in a face-to-face conversation, but be careful not to pressure them into talking about it, if they’re not up to it. Avoid any nosy questions, as it isn’t your business to know if someone has relatives in the region. Make no assumptions about political views.
  • If people come to you to say they are struggling, consider whether you can reduce their workload or give them a personal day or two off.
  • Ensure you know what your workplace’s mental health policies are like and if there are any helplines or healthcare professionals that your colleagues can contact if necessary.
  • Consider whether your workplace can make a charitable donation to an organisation that is actively working towards peace in the Middle East. It can help people to know that a small, proactive step is being taken.
  • Try not to get into political discussions, especially in the workplace. You don’t want to sow any discord among colleagues. Make work a friendly, safe space. Set up guidelines for conversation, if you feel that would be helpful.
  • Take care of yourself too. Even if you’re not Jewish or Muslim and even if you don’t fully understand the situation, it can still be painful to keep up with the news. It’s okay, and often necessary, to take a break from reading or watching the latest updates.
  • If you are asked to facilitate a conversation on the topic and you don’t feel able to, it’s okay to say no.
  • Remind everyone that a little kindness goes a long way; the world is hard, and your workplace doesn’t need to make it any harder.

Life goes on, even amidst such depressing conflicts. People need to keep working, and sometimes even find it helpful to keep their heads busy. At the same time, though, we’re humans with feelings, so show awareness of what’s going on, and how it might be affecting people.

 

The Team at PILAA

What’s the Diverse in Diversity?

Consciously Doing EDI

We have been seeing a growing trend of organisations and institutions doing work in the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) arena. In fact there have been many iterations of this three letter triptych, to reflect this current movement happening within the workplace. From Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I), Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) or in the reverse Inclusion and Diversity (I&D), to Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DI&A) or as it is used in the US, (Diversity, Equity, Accessibility and Inclusion (DEAI), no matter the iteration or wordplay, each are implicated in and through the other, working towards inclusivity or as we suggest, a better understanding and acknowledgment of the operations of difference.

To illustrate the impact of this critical moment, on last weekend’s Match of the Day aired on the BBC, (1) we hear the commentator informing us, that the reason behind football players taking the knee over the weekend, after the customary weekly act had been relegated to key matches, was to highlight the Premierships campaign “no to racism.” Further in his announcement, he then says it is to highlight “the ongoing commitment to tackling discrimination and promoting equality, diversity and inclusion.” (2) Similarly, we also saw in the international friendly between England’s Lionesses and the US team, players on both sides taking the knee in solidarity with women in the US National Women’s Soccer game, after a damning report exposed abuse and misconduct in the league. Players on both sides not only held a banner which wrote “Protect the Players”, but in addition wore teal armbands to support the victims of abuse.

Whilst both acts of solidarity stand in their own merit, both instances however illustrate how our understandings of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI), the version we use within this article, can become conflated with other agendas or lost in translation. In these instances, the sign of taking the knee has not only been removed from its original meaning as an anti-racist statement, but now been used as a general descriptor of EDI work and to tackle sexism, respectively. One of the dangers we highlight in this article then, is that EDI becomes synonymous with only addressing racial inequality or rather becomes reduced to describing race.

A good example of EDI in action was illustrated in 2018 conference to accompany the book launch of Inclusion and Intersectionality in Visual Arts Education (3) held at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), where a disabled audience member spoke up about the lack of diversity and awareness of intersectionality, when talking about diversity issues. For her, when speaking about diversity, gender and race were talked about to death, however she felt that as a society we were a long way away from getting that same kind of urgency in regards to disability. As one of the contributors to the book and speaker at the event, I was in agreement with her because people tend to speak and see the world from their positions first, from their positionality, so that until we get more diversity, a range of values and bodies of difference in key positions and spaces, we will keep on replicating the same old diversity debates and continuously be perplexed as to why there is slow progress towards inclusivity. Inclusion agendas, as arts advisor and consultant Kate Hatton addresses in Towards an Inclusive Arts Education, ‘are always measurable in terms of what can be delivered to those who are excluded.’ (4). Remember, equality of opportunity is about giving people the same access to opportunities, whereas equity is about being fair in every situation, where the context must be acknowledged.

Diverse vs the non-diverse

So what’s the diverse in diversity?

Back in 2019 the cultural and film critic Clive Nwonka wrote in the Guardian, The arts were supposed to champion diversity. What went wrong? In it he reflects on Arts Council England’s (ACE) annual report on diversity, which revealed “a sector despite the rhetoric, still steeped in inequality.” (5) At the time the report was written, it showed that there was little to no improvement when it came to Art’s organisations in England improving the diversity of their leaders and workers in their workforce. In particular it highlighted that there was slow progress in the representation of black and minority ethnic employees in these positions and similarly, if not slightly worse, there was barely any progress for those with disabilities, which reiterates the earlier point made by the audience member with a disability.

Two key points, Nwonka raises which are important to this article, the first is that when people or organisations are seen to do diversity work, often, it seems like tick boxing exercises. He highlights organisations working towards the business case, however one of the ideas that the article is suggesting, is that you can’t use a business case to deal with people, to deal with staff well-being and engagement. People are not just data, although collecting data and being able to interpret data ethically and correctly are important.

Secondly, he then points out to organisations or people following suit, not because they think it’s the right thing to do, but because they have to do it, in order to hit targets for the business case for example. “Diversity policy has always seemed to be driven by semi-coercion rather than social commitment.” The old adage perhaps rings true here used by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the famous British writer and feminist, and the author of Frankenstein (1818) when she writes in the notes of Chapter 5 of her 1792 treatise, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, “convince a man against his will, he’s of the same opinion still.” (6) In other words trying to convert the unconverted is futile, they may appear to agree on the surface but underneath, they are still of an opposing opinion and the more and more you try and get them to see from your perspective, unless they genuinely can do so, it will only push them further and further away. An example of this playing out in the workplace is where an employee will do what needs to be done, and speak to being inclusive, yet their actions will be incongruent. Therefore, learning how to reach the unreachable’s is as important as preaching to those already converted. How do you bring everyone on board?

Another interesting point to raise, which is not necessarily the focus of Nwonka’s article, is how the word “diverse” of late, seems to be used in a reductive way. In a linked article (7), English arts bodies slow to become more diverse, report shows (2019), the term is being used when describing the types of leaders that organisations had either recruited or wanted to see, in lead positions. They are referred to as “diverse leaders”, but who is classed as such or rather, how are we contextualising the word diverse? Are we talking about diverse by proxy of identity and if so, which identities fall into the bracket of being diverse? Within the article the reference to diverse leaders was being made after speaking about the rising number of Black and minority ethnic people being appointed to leadership positions, although the article does speak to the lack of representation in relation to disability? More often than not however, we are seeing what appears to be Freudian slippages where diverse or diversity equates to simply speaking about racial difference and even within that, it appears to be very binary.

Therefore, if there is a common misconception over what is classed as diverse, then what constitutes the non-diverse? These conversations hark back to the universalising of whiteness as the norm, that which goes as the unsaid. According to the cultural studies thinker John Storey, by not being seen as raced, white people become the human race:

As such, whiteness is an incredibly powerful cultural construct (not, as we have noted, biologically determined). It is against this norm that all others are invited to define themselves. We might note that white people are seldom articulated as ‘white’, they are just ‘are’. In news stories, if somebody is white they are invariably not identified as such in text. Model. Writer. Director. As opposed to Black model. Black writer. Black director. White people eat food. Theirs is not ‘ethnic food’. They wear clothes. Theirs is not ethnic fashion…. By not being “raced”, they become the human race.’ (Storey, 2009) (8)

And here lies the connection with using the term diverse, where Black and ethnic minorities and all marginalised under-represented groups are to diverse, as whiteness and hetero-normative culture is to the non-diverse.

Or from another perspective, perhaps the diverse which is being spoken about, refers to those who think in alternative ways, or as with most of these discussions, what they fail to speak more of, is on the impact of and performative nature of class in the workplace. Perhaps the diverse leaders reference the class dynamics and inequalities that we see, when we look at the current class backgrounds of those who govern the country.

Take for example the study carried out by LSE back in 2021 on meritocracy, Deflecting Privilege: Class Identity and the Intergenerational Self (9). According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, 47% of Britons in middle-class professional and managerial jobs identify as working class. Even more curiously, a quarter of people in such jobs who come from middle-class backgrounds, in the sense that their parents did professional work, also identified as working class. The study showed that people were too frightened or didn’t want to talk about their upbringing and their privilege and therefore illustrated the performative nature of the workplace:

“In our report, we argue that these intergenerational understandings of class origin should be read as having a performative dimension; they deflect attention away from the structural privileges these individuals enjoy, both in their own eyes but also among those they communicate their origin stories to in everyday life. At the same time, by framing their lives as an upward struggle against the odds, these interviewees misrepresent their subsequent life outcomes as more worthy, more deserving and more meritorious”.

When we talk about inclusivity then, are we taking into consideration these ideas of class and how it is implicated within these discussions. Whilst not listed as a protected characteristic, the impact of such inequalities related to class, can be felt, experienced and amplified within the workplace, depending on which side of the divide one sits on. As we see with the study, one cannot assume that one is from a particular class or not, however the workplace in itself, perpetuates a certain way of being, a code of conduct that caters to what is classed as “professional” and thereby what is classed as “proper”, or in other words, as this article suggests, the non-diverse.

4 Things to ask yourself

1. What is the context of the area you are looking into. What is the gap? If you have a cohort where all of its members are those with disabilities, those that make that group diverse? The question should then be, how do you bring difference into that team?

2. Learn to reach the unreachable’s – Are you speaking to key stakeholders and if so, how have you come to identify them as such? What of those who are not ready or don’t want to be at the table? How do you bring everyone not just onboard but along?

3. The pipeline – This is a long game, not a short game. For sustainable impact, we need to engage with the grassroots and plant the seeds, whilst simultaneously wait for the harvest. Work not just within our organisations but collaborate and partner with others in the life cycle of your EDI journey. For example, in our work with Trustee’s and governance boards, in demystifying their role, we learnt that more often than not, those in governance roles were given votes of confidence to do such roles by others. If this didn’t happen, like that of accumulative advantage, many of us, would not dare to progress into such positions. Therefore, plant the seeds and encourage those around you, especially if you are in positions of power where you can make a difference and give opportunities to others.

4. We often speak about increasing the visibility of representation of minority groups, but could we also ask to increase the representation of the non-visible? By this we mean, what about recruiting on the premise of the ability to touch one another, not in a physical sense, but rather connecting on an emotional deeper level. Connecting through character, kind rather than kin? As Martin Luther King Jnr best put it, “how often are our lives characterized by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds.” (10) Further he says, we must go beyond physical differences, those of racial difference, and rather enlist consciences, character. How then would the landscape of EDI change and our workforces when we work from a place of deeper awareness?

 

Footnotes

1) Match of the Day, BBC One [Aired 2022/23: 08/10/2022]
2) Ibid
3) Hatton, K Inclusion and Intersectionality in Visual Arts Education. Trentham Books: UCL IOE Press.
4) Hatton, K. (ed.) (2015) Towards an Inclusive Arts Education. London: Institute of Education Press; Trentham Books.
5) Clive, N (2019) The arts were supposed to champion diversity. What went wrong? Guardian Online. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/15/arts-diversity-arts-council-england-inequality
6) Shelley, M (1818) A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
7) Brown, M (2019) English arts bodies slow to become more diverse, report shows. Guardian Online. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2019/feb/12/english-arts-bodies-slow-to-become-more-diverse-report-shows
8) Storey, J (2009) Cultural Theory and Popular Culture (5th Edition). Essex: Pearson Education
9) Friedman, S, O’Brien, D & McDonald, I (2021) “Deflecting Privilege: Class Identity and the Intergenerational Self”. Volume 55 Issue 4, British Sociological Association.
10) King, M (2010) Strength to Love. (Gift Edition) 1517 Media; Fortress Press Gift edition

 

Spotlight – The Connection at St Martin’s

For this month’s spotlight, we feature The Connection at St Martin’s (CSTM), a long-standing homelessness charity in the heart of London, who work with people who are rough sleeping to move away and stay off the streets in the capital. The charity probably needs no introduction given its rich history and impact over the years in this area. This feature is to highlight the work which has been taking place and is yet to come, in their Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) journey.

Over the last couple of years, many organisations have been questioning their work culture, as a result of key events happening within the social and public arena. These have included: the tragic murder of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in 2020. The murders of sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry in 2020, Sarah Everard in 2021 and Sabina Nessa some months later, all by male perpetrators in each case. These unrelated incidences and the most recent murder of Zara Aleena by a stranger in June 2022, remind us of the continued fight in addressing acts of violence against women and girls, and their subsequent safety on the streets. Finally, since 2019, the world has participated in the fight against Covid-19 and the ensuing pandemic, which has magnified social and economic inequalities across various communities, including our health, social care, and education systems to name a few.

CSTM has engaged with the themes emerging from these incidences. At the end of last year, 2021, members of the team from various departments and at different levels, who were eager for the organisation to be proactive in understanding how inclusive it was, put out a tender to carry out a 3-month EDI review. This took place between January to April of this year. They recruited Dr Ope Lori as a consultant from PILAA to carry out the assessment, which would culminate in a set of recommendations being outlined that the organisation could implement.

As part of the assessment, they wanted to know how they could best improve their approach in 3 key areas:

1. Recruiting and managing our workforce and volunteers

2. Developing anti-discriminatory practice in everything we do

3. Working towards excellence in being a diverse and inclusive charity

The review saw a qualitative approach being taken, through 1-1 informal interviews being conducted between Dr Ope Lori and roughly 75% of their workforce. In addition, there were 1-1’s with Trustees, a Volunteer and as important, a group of clients, whom the charity serves. The project was a collaborative endeavour, built on trust, mutual respect and a shared desire to improve on EDI.

An executive summary about the report and the ensuing recommendations will be made public by the CEO Pam Orchard in the coming months and will be published on the organisation’s website. Here we briefly outline 3 key themes which emerged from the review, but which are part of a larger conversation across the sector and other workplaces at large.

Actors discussing challenges in the workplace from past experiences (2021) PILAA

Lived Experience

The first was around the notion of ‘lived experience’. It became a key phrase throughout the review and from an EDI perspective, we learnt that it was more complex than meets the eye. Having ‘lived experience’ is a criterion which is being used more frequently within the landscape of recruitment, however within the context of the organisation, what is being referred to is, ‘the lived experience of homelessness.’ Multiple users spoke to this, not only as a criterion to be included on job descriptions or within the criteria for trustee selection, but more crucially, within the lens of what it meant for the services to be delivered in an authentic way. A lot therefore could be learnt from tapping into this element of experience, which the organisation will be building on. 

Facilitating Difficult Conversations - On Race

A major theme we have seen across a range of industries, especially after the social injustices outlined earlier, is that many organisations are asking, to what extent are they an anti-racist organisation? To what extent are they equipped as an organisation on an institutional and individual level, to challenge discriminatory behaviours against race, but also any of the other protected characteristics? To what extent are frontline staff, in particular black colleagues and those from minority ethnic groups protected and supported from racial abuse, specifically made by clients and what policies are in place? These were by no means easy questions to answer at CSTM, especially when trying to get the right balance between the needs of employees and those whom they serve. CSTM, as with other organisations seeking to be an anti-discriminatory, anti-racist organisation, will have to recect on past wounds, in order to achieve a better future. As Randall Robinson, the African American lawyer, author and activist urges us to do, we must “know and embrace our past in all its fullness, for therein lies our only hope for a healthy, self- agrming present – and future.” (1)

Diversifying Recruitment

Good work was already happening in this area, especially at Board level of the organisation, where a recent recruitment of Trustees at the end of 2021, had brought more diversity into the group. How to diversify teams and truly understanding what diversity means beyond difference, was a challenge that multiple departments were conscious of tackling. There were simple effective measures that could be taken, such as re-working governance pages and making them more “user-friendly”, in the sense of adding personality to trustee bios, in order to appeal to a wider and future set of applicants. Longer measures, related to unpacking the root issues that could cause an ongoing perpetuation in a lack of diversity. To this end, a recent study by Rathbones, stated that up to “90% of charities recruit most of their trustees through word-of- mouth and existing networks.” (2) If trustee members are therefore recruiting who they know, unless their pool is mixed on multiple levels, then who they recruit, will continue to be predominantly, white, male, from a higher economic background and from similar work industries, as seemed to be the general case across the landscape of governance. Therefore, challenging old ways of doing things in order to eradicate room for unconscious biases to manifest, is critical in changing the narrative and the landscape of diversity within the context of recruitment.

To find out more information on The Connection at St Martin’s and their work on EDI, and to read about the review in the coming months, please visit here.

 

Footnotes:

(1) DeGruy, J (2017) Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing, Joy Degruy Publications Inc; Illustrated edition

(2) https://www.rathbones.com/knowledge-and-insight/how-recruit-trustees-your-charity- practical-guide

A Message From Our CEO

Welcome to the launch of our new website which marks a turning point for our organisation. Pre-image Learning and Action (PILAA) was conceived as an idea back in 2015. Our hope was that we would be a company that could tie in making a difference to organisations and the people we work with, by using the visual arts to unlock the bigger picture. We never imagined the impact that a combination of these two factors would have upon people’s everyday lives. 

From working with our earliest clients, we could see that there was a need for employers to support their staff and navigate through difficult conversations around common equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) themes, as well as those not typically talked about. Our clients knew what they wanted to do but didn’t know how to do it. They were nervous in getting it wrong, yet just needed that little bit of expert support to help them lead the way. By having  an open and honest friendly conversation with them, we managed to understand their challenges and the context in which they operated in. Fast-forward to today, these relationships have helped to build on who we are and what we do. PILAA prides itself as an organisation that genuinely wants to make a difference to everyone we work with, hence why most of the people that we serve have found us organically, through word-of-mouth recommendations. 

Joining us on our mission to make a difference to the EDI community, we are excited to announce that we have expanded our team of experts. In addition, we also wanted to take this opportunity, to let you know of our PILAA Friend Memberships, which we launched in May 2022. 

From us, you can expect everything we do to follow our five key values, which are embodied through the acronym FOCUS: Fun, Open-Mindedness, Creativity, Understanding and Sincerity. If you are reading this and have signed up to our newsletter, then this is your first step to being part of the PILAA ecosystem.

Dr Ope Lori