Diversity and inclusion, where are we now?

Our curatorial impulse should compel us to be as inclusive as possible. But what does ‘as possible’ mean when we think about diversity and inclusion? Is it just people or environments too? Absolutely.

Diversity as behaviour

For me, diversity is as far away from categories and single-labelling as is possible to be. In many ways the reason diversity is regularly and openly criticised and hated in the press and social media is because of the sense of alienation single-identity ‘outsider’ labelling has fostered for both the objectified and the objectifier–they dehumanise.

Diversity is about behaviour and outcomes. It’s about how relationships are enacted. It’s about how we perform in everyday situations, based on how we think — and how we think about how we think. In other words, diversity is a process, not a structure.

Binna Kandola, The Value of Difference (2009), p. 3.

If diversity is a process of changing behaviour and outcomes, inclusion or inclusivity must be about changing the mindset around decision-making (who decides?) and methods (how can we change them and what is stopping us?).

I recently assisted The National Archives with consultation about how best to go about diversity and inclusion monitoring. Initiated by Rachael Minott, Inclusion and Change Manager, it was refreshing to be invited to consult on a genuine and emerging process equally with several others with expertise and experience (personal and professional) and for those, yes, diverse, experiences to be part of a feedback loop.

Where is the equity in monitoring?

Even though the Inclusive Arts Roundtable consultation was about reviewing how we can improve the monitoring of diversity and inclusion with surveys and forms–tickboxes, open questions, invitations to describe–it raised more fundamental issues that go to the core or how we relate to one another in society. My main headlines were:

  • Find out what is stopping people from engaging and start there
  • Revisiting my old adage, permission, trust and control, who decides?
  • Applying human-centred design concepts to monitoring will help make it a more meaningful process
  • Most organisations undertaking monitoring because they have to, not because they want to, this leads to misreporting as a form of genuine protest
  • We need to make whole-human intersectionality much more easy to understand before it too gets consigned to the dustbin of wagons we tried to pull and failed
  • Self-awareness (individual and organisational) remains the essential but least used starting point in diversity training and practice, leading to the ‘othering’ of diversity and inclusion

I noted those reflections from others in the roundtable that resonated with me:

  • Are we trustworthy? Why do we (culture and arts) think we are the good guys
  • How do we make space between standard categories that have arisen?
  • There is structural violence in most equality, diversity and inclusion monitoring–this is the effect of being made to conform to other people’s (outsider) labels
  • Need to acknowledge the intimidation that can be caused by this exercise
  • How might we make the spaces, literal and metaphorical, of our institutions more comfortable?
  • Pressure to perform your diversity is stressful
  • Feeling responsible for those outsider labels is stressful
  • Who uses the data and why? What decisions are actually made based on this data?
  • Institutions need to be more generous towards the emotional labour of giving away personal data
  • Institutions do not declare their own diversity, or lack, first.

Self vs societal identity

We were invited to think about how we can create space on a spectrum of identifying with different characteristics, identities or needs. Research on the two versions of the survey we were asked to assess and test suggested on several occasions that respondents wanted to reply with an -ish e.g. heterosexual-ish. Other responses suggested that respondents, being well aware of the purpose of such data, were saying, ‘are these responses any good?’

The topic of wellbeing came up, as it is wont to do in almost all cultural conversations right now. With a link to inclusion in particular, should institutions even be attempting to define someone else’s wellbeing needs? There was a general discomfort about this.

Much of the above comes down to how we relate to one another as individuals and as institution to individual. Who has the right to define us? What attitudes must be adopted by those who need to monitor our diversity and inclusion? When can we say, no? What will happen if we do?

Compassionate monitoring

We are only beginning to come out with some alternatives to the usual forms of diversity monitoring but some of these principles may be useful to you if you are responsible for EDI (equality, diversity, inclusion) in your organisation or project.

  • Permit multiple responses
  • Always include an invitation to describe from the respondent’s point of view
  • Emphasise your interest in the respondent’s self-identity and perhaps share something of your own (or that of your organisation) so purpose is clear
  • Share why you are collecting this data, and what you will do with it
  • Be transparent. If practicable, share this data back with your constituent
  • Go beyond protected characteristics or those with legal dimensions e.g. social and family background, finance, class
  • Avoid conflating categories, this is especially problematic with understanding disability vs neurodivergency vs access needs vs mental ill health — these are not the same thing and not everyone identifies them as a barrier.

I’d like to thank fellow colleagues in the roundtable for sharing:

Rachael Minott
Robyn Kasozi
Jon Sleigh
Danny Reid
Claire Mead
Mark Barrett