Editor’s Note: Today’s post is from Nancy Roberts. Nancy is the founder of Business Inclusivity, a social enterprise that provides diversity and inclusion consultancy and executive coaching. She has worked in the publishing industry for over 20 years in a variety of production, operations and consultancy roles.
A few days ago, Phill Jones described how talking about diversity involves personal risk. As a white, public-school educated woman who has had senior level roles in prestigious organizations, I too feel a little self-conscious setting myself up to talk about exclusion and privilege. However, I strongly believe that those with the power in society can wield that power to bring about important change. Asking those without privilege to “lean in” and create solutions to a problem not of their making is not only unfair but is also arguably much less likely to succeed.
That’s the reason I started Business Inclusivity, and the reason I have been so encouraged by the industry’s growing desire to talk about and address these issues. A year ago, when I first started out, it was seen as a non-issue; now I am regularly invited to talk about the subject and advise publishers on how to take action to bring diversity and inclusion into their workplaces and boardrooms. By way of testament to the growing interest in the issue, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself dashing across London to judge a PA International Excellence Diversity Award and then back to the conference to continue our workshops. This marks a real sea change in attitudes towards diversity and inclusion in our community and suggests there is now a positive agenda for change.
During the course of our workshops, we undertook a range of exercises, starting with a look at the career journey of a potential future employee. By exploring some fictional candidates with experiences and backgrounds different to those that have traditionally filled our ranks, we examined how they might become aware of the industry, how we could appeal to them to join it, how we can retain their talents, and how to enable them to advance. Essentially, we looked at the end-to-end process of attraction, recruitment, selection, retention, and development.
Having identified a number of issues that cause us to struggle to develop diverse talent, we then looked at the channels and strategies we could use to reach these communities. Bearing in mind that, according to The Reading Agency, 36% of UK adults don’t read for pleasure, rising to 44% of young people (aged 16 to 24), how then do we expose the industry, make clear what we do, and present ourselves as a realistic and viable career option? How do you reach out to social media when those you wish to reach are highly unlikely to follow any publishers or other influencers in our field?
Following on from this, we explored interviewing and selection, and how a diverse workplace needs to take proactive action to be more inclusive so that everyone has equality of opportunity and the chance to succeed.
Out of all these discussions, a wide range of suggestions and ideas was generated. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Rethink where we advertise – not just using mainstream media and industry publications, but local press, colleges and general recruitment sites such as Indeed, as well as those universities that do not offer publishing degrees
- Think about how we can use media to demonstrate who we are as an industry, for example hosting videos on YouTube showing what we actually do day to day and describing different roles and sectors (Could this be an industry-wide initiative, similar to those for example in teaching?)
- Offer alternative working arrangements for mental-health sufferers
- Arrange more social events that don’t involve alcohol
- Question the physical environment where we work more, for example, are all our meeting rooms named after white male scientists? Could we find some female alternatives or scientists of color?
One of the areas where we faced the biggest challenge was in talking about how to mitigate against bias in the selection process. We all have our inherent biases, and these biases have impacts and will narrow our talent pool, not always in justifiable ways. We talked at length about what can realistically be done to counter this – there is no denying that this is a difficult problem. Most solutions require resources, either by involving more people in interview panels and decisions or by taking more time to define criteria by which applicants will be selected or rejected. It’s fair to say that there is much more work to do in this area to achieve a selection process where everyone has an equal chance and to create an environment where anyone can feel comfortable enough to give their best at interview stage.
Despite the challenges, however, it was amazing to see how many realistic, actionable and practical ideas we came up with in a relatively short timescale. The full outputs of our sessions can be found on the LinkedIn R2R group and on my website. Some of us in the group agreed to take this work further, and work towards a manifesto and a set of best practice guidelines. If you are interested in joining us, please do get in touch.
Diversity matters, but all the evidence suggests that diversity initiatives will fail unless we also work to create more safe, inclusive workplaces in our industry, where people can talk openly about their sexuality, ability and background, without fear or favor. I am therefore calling on all my colleagues in the scholarly communications industry to join me in thinking about where we currently create a sense of elitism or exclusion, and how we might address that.
In the course of my work, I am often asked where we should start in tackling these issues, and how to grapple with such a huge and challenging set of issues. My reply is always the same: it’s not about the ultimate destination, it’s about taking the first steps on the road. We can’t solve all our problems overnight, but if we come together as an industry, we can achieve real change.
In summarizing the workshops during the conference wrap-up, I called on those present to all try to take one small but meaningful step to promote diversity and inclusion in their own organizations. I was so encouraged by the number of people who answered that call and who are looking at ways that they can be an agent of change. I extend that call to those of you reading this. Diversity has business benefits, but more than that, it is a moral imperative. But without action on inclusion, diversity initiatives will not succeed. I invite all of you, then, to join us in creating our manifesto, in making one small change, in coming together as an industry to acknowledge that we have progress to make, and in being part of the solution.