GI x TCS: Advocating for diversity & inclusion in the charity sector
We ‘slacked’ down with Michelle Clark, Executive Director of Diversity & Talent from The Children’s Society to have an open and honest conversation about racial diversity and what actions have been taken within her organisation and the wider charity sector.
In our last post, we promised to keep the conversation about racial diversity and we really wanted others from within the sector to join in the dialogue with us. So we got in touch with Michelle to discuss racial diversity from an internal HR and people perspective so we could ask some questions and learn from her experience.
What have we learned?
- We need to think, then act. It’s easy to want to take action quickly, but we first need to understand the context and the problem.
- Tackling racial diversity feels overwhelming and as such, we need to take small incremental steps to make changes and show progress to others.
- Diversity and inclusion is about the entire employment journey, not just recruitment and hiring, it’s about the rest of the journey and making everyone feel valued and respected in the workplace.
- There is a need for collaboration across the sector to share learnings and experiences and create change together.
Having learned so much from one conversation with Michelle, we wondered about how others in the sector are approaching diversity in their work and organisations.
If you are interested in keeping this conversation going with Good Innovation about diversity in your organisation or how the sector provides services to and liaises with people of colour, feel free to get in touch with any of us via LinkedIn!
Nish 2:07 PM
Hi Michelle, thank you for taking the time to chat to us. We’re really excited to talk to you about racial diversity and the charity sector.
Mary Wong 2:07 PM
We’ve spoken about the topic amongst ourselves, but from the beginning, it’s been important to us to include people in the sector to share their perspective and experience, especially as we continue the conversation in this area.
Michelle 2:08 PM
Hi Nish and Mary, thanks very much for inviting me to do so
Nish 2:08 PM
To start off, it would be great to learn more about you and your background.
Michelle 2:09 PM
I've worked in various generalist and specialist roles within HR for quite a few years now. More recently, I have specialised in the rail sector, but I have worked across different sectors and industries in the past as well.
I joined TCS at the start of lockdown so this was a completely new way of working, let alone a new organisation and sector. However, I am absolutely thrilled to take up the post of Executive Director of Diversity and Talent. What is exciting about this role is that I am leading the people agenda, but with a very clear signal that we need to put the Diversity and Talent lens at the forefront.
Mary Wong 2:11 PM
Wow - congratulations on your new role! It’s really exciting TCS making diversity a priority when it comes to HR.
Michelle 2:12 PM
Definitely, it massively attracted me as I thought this was brave, but so refreshing. I hadn't seen any other role like this. The Children's Society was boldly stepping out and signalling to their organisation and outside the sector that diversity is important for their people agenda!
Mary Wong 2:13 PM
I’m starting to see similar roles opening up across the sector and hope that it does spark change in the sector.
Michelle 2:14 PM
Thank you Mary! I totally agree, that it feels like a step change and importance is being placed on having people and roles who have a clear focus on this really important agenda.
Nish 2:14 PM
You’ve been at TCS now for a couple of months, what have been your priorities?
Michelle 2:15 PM
It's been quite a journey so far, joining at a time where we have had a worldwide health pandemic as well as a worldwide movement really shining a light on racism and a need to look closely at everything you say and do as an organisation.
I've taken the approach to not just react. It's important we really understand our current context and take time to know what this means for people who work and volunteer for us. It's also about asking external specialist organisations to shine a spotlight and help us understand our practices and approach to then help inform what our next steps should be.
Nish 2:19 PM
That's really interesting to hear you echo the conversations we've been having at GI. As much as it's a time for taking action, it's also a time to take a step back and educate ourselves. It feels like that it’s a really important first step - we have to think before we act.
Michelle 2:19 PM
Nish, you are so right. We all have a role to play and it starts with ourselves.
At TCS, we have taken time to understand the experiences of our people through short burst surveys as well as focus groups, to give everyone a chance to have a voice. We've also created time and space for people to take time out of their working day to learn. Understand what we mean by being anti-racist and how we may have got here and then share their learnings.
We've also role modeled the importance of this, with our CEO standing out front and committing to learning more, and also having some reverse mentoring.
Mary Wong 2:21 PM
Those are great initiatives and how incredible that you have the CEO at the forefront who is helping lead this in the organisation as well.
At GI, we’ve similarly set up these read & debate sessions to give us time to learn and reflect as a team. Everyone is involved including the partners.
Michelle 2:23 PM
Absolutely! I do think it is important to note that we are still at very early days in our journey. What I have learnt so far is that keeping the conversation going is so important. Finding ways and mechanisms to help support this is going to be important, so that the focus doesn't just stop as quickly as it started.
I think there is also something about helping the organisation to understand this is a journey and we will need to make small but constant steps of change to ensure that change we do make is sustainable for the long term.
Nish 2:24 PM
Racism is a massive, systemic issue and can seem like a big and scary problem to tackle, especially on your own. By thinking about the smaller, incremental steps to achieve big change makes it much more approachable and manageable.
Mary Wong 2:25 PM
And it helps to demonstrate successes and progress so people across the organisation will buy-in to it too.
Michelle 2:26 PM
Yes Mary! I have learnt that everyone needs to see the results of their efforts. Small successes that you can see and feel keep the motivation and momentum going, and keep the energy where it needs to be too.
As you say @Nish, this can feel overwhelming, and there is much to focus on and change with the diversity and inclusion agenda. Something I have learnt over time is that you have to focus on a few important steps and keep building, then you will see the results of your efforts and see change happening, but change that sticks.
Mary Wong 2:28 PM
We’ve spoken about the actions you have taken to help the organisation to learn as well as to share their experiences. Is there an area of focus you have where you want to create change first?
Michelle 2:29 PM
We want to look at things holistically. It's not just about focusing on the first steps of the employment or volunteer journey. It's about the rest of your experience and how inclusive our work practices really are. And that we need to keep the focus on, which is why these new roles we are seeing emerge have such an important part to play.
Nish 2:29 PM
Focusing on the full employment journey seems so important - many of us jump to focusing on hiring practices but we do need to look at how we can help people of colour feel empowered and thrive within their existing roles at their organisation.
Michelle 2:31 PM
I think this is probably what unites organisations across sectors, focusing on the attraction and recruitment part of the employment journey and thinking that will create diversity in the workplace. Of course it does and can do if you focus on where you are advertising and work hard to ensure your recruitment processes remove bias where possible this will be an important start. However, these processes won't change how included people will feel in an organisation.
We need to understand what practices are currently in place to support people from diverse backgrounds and what needs to change so that they feel continually supported and included throughout their employment journey. Also, that they feel valued and respected, that they have a voice and can thrive and be happy at work.
Mary Wong 2:35 PM
We’ve talked about the actions that have taken place at TCS and it sounds like there is great momentum in moving the D&I agenda forward. But are there any risks or worries?
Michelle 2:37 PM
I think this is a good question and something that I have to keep challenging myself to remember. There is a lot of focus on this topic right now and the time is right to act, but the risk is, as I have mentioned before, that we are forced to act ahead of ensuring that what we are acting on is right.
I also worry that people will get frustrated for not seeing action quick enough. However, this is where keeping the conversation going and demonstrating progress needs to also come to the fore.
Nish 2:38 PM
Do you think there are other things that can be done to reassure people that progress is being made? Or, do you think it could be about softer measures to show progress?
Michelle 2:38 PM
I think it is as simple as keeping the conversation going (this is so powerful and really struck me in the focus group conversations I have had so far) and that we continually talk about the progress we are making. I think leaders also have an important part to play in showing their humility and continued learning.
Another concern I have is that organisations need to be mindful that this is also placing the human aspect of the employment relationship first, which means a change for a lot of HR teams as well. Therefore this is a learning journey needed with our specialists too because a lot of the time we are facing challenges of institutionalised ways of working and system structures that have governed how we work for a very long time.
Mary Wong 2:40 PM
You’re right that this is a learning journey, both for HR and the wider organisation. For us, we’ve talked a lot about how we can make this journey feel more comfortable and make it easier for us to have conversations with no judgement. We’ve contracted as a group that it is a safe space for everyone, top to bottom, to learn, converse and debate.
Nish 2:41 PM
It's also been really important and valuable at GI to see everyone at all levels get involved in the conversations that we are having.
Michelle 2:42 PM
And that's lovely. I wonder if we sometimes overthink network groups? Often they come together with a shared purpose or experience, but very quickly also seem to create a pressure or sense of urgency about acting on things again. I think there is much beauty and value in, above everything else, coming together with colleagues and peers to share experiences in a safe and non-judgmental way, and ask questions, be inquisitive and reflective.
Nish 2:43 PM
From what you've seen so far, do you think there are specific things that need to be addressed as a priority within the charity sector?
Michelle 2:44 PM
It's important for me to highlight that it is still very early days for me in this sector, and I am very aware I have a lot to learn. I do think the people agenda overall is so important, and I wonder if the sector is a little behind other sector's with really focusing on the value and importance people bring to what it is you are here to do. This for me, means thinking about the employment relationship and the volunteer relationship as an experience and recognising we are all human, which means we are different so one size will not fit all.
Nish 2:46 PM
Like a lot of sectors, we’ve got a long way to go when focusing on racial diversity from a people perspective - for both an employee and a user.
So, what do you think the charity sector needs help with to move forward in taking action faster, whilst ensuring we're focusing on the right actions like you said earlier?
Michelle 2:48 PM
I would love to see a coming together of minds, sharing our organisational learnings and experiences and educating each other. I think this would also help add weight to the level of change that is needed . There is much to do especially with racial diversity, but also the broader diversity and inclusion agenda. If we all shared our collective learnings, think how much more quickly we could move things on!
Mary Wong 2:49 PM
I do think there is value for bringing people together too so they don’t feel like they’re tackling this massive topic on their own.
By collaborating, as you said, you can share different perspectives, challenges and experiences and in turn work together to generate new ideas or actions to take back to your respective organisations.
Michelle 2:50 PM
Collaboration is exactly the word that I had in mind then Mary!
Nish 2:50 PM
And this isn’t limited to HR teams - I would love to hear the perspectives and ideas of more people in various functions across the sector.
Michelle 2:51 PM
We should definitely be collaborating more. This is for the greater good of what we do, but also in the world of work.
Mary Wong 2:52 PM
And back to what we said about demonstrating small successes, those stories can be shared across the sector to create more momentum! And hopefully inspire others to join in and implement similar actions to create change in their own organisations too.
Michelle 2:53 PM
Exactly, when you think about what we could learn across organisations, it generates such a positive energy for me. I'd be really keen to work with my sector peers.
Nish 2:53 PM
You read my mind. We're really keen to bring together different people and perspectives from across the sector and we'd love to work with you on this!
Michelle 2:53 PM
This feels like some positive action happening already!
Mary Wong 2:54 PM
I’m getting excited already!
This has been a great conversation. @Michelle, thank you so much for your insight and perspective. It’s given us a lot of food for thought. Is there anything else you want to add before we sign off (we’re getting to the end of the hour)?
Michelle 2:55 PM
Thank you both for prompting this conversation, and for providing an opportunity for us to keep the conversation going. I have really enjoyed this chat, and I think there's definitely something in coming together with others to continue this positive change. I really am optimistic that we can start to shift things for the better and ensure all people feel valued and respected and included.
Nish 2:58 PM
Thank you so much for chatting to us! Really interesting to hear about what you're doing and get your perspective. You've definitely brought some stuff to the fore that I hadn't considered and I'm sure it will get more of us thinking, talking and taking action.
Mary Wong 2:59 PM
Thank you so much again! Looking forward to keeping the conversation going with you and others in the sector.
(perhaps face to face next time!)
Michelle 3:09 PM
Yes definitely. Thank you both.