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Shirley Yearwood-Jackman's address to the CILIP Employer Forum

29 November 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Gus MacDonald
Shirley Yearwood-Jackman's address to the CILIP Employer Forum


CILIP board member and Chair of the BAME Network Steering Group Shirley Yearwood-Jackman's address (delivered on her behalf) to the CILIP Employer Forum which focused on diversity in the workforce and creating an inclusive workplace:

It is with deep regret that I cannot be with you today. I was really looking forward to sharing my thoughts in person on this important subject for our sector and talking about how the BAME Network is supporting this work. However, in my absence, I hope that this message will provide food for thought as you embark on this important journey of reflection.

The video which you have just watched, pertaining to the challenges which women face obtaining leadership roles, does simply showcase the root outcome of inequality. Some, in this case men, take the easier, less work required route in order to reach the top by being given preferential treatment whilst others, in this case women, have to work harder to get there. In this metaphor, it assumes that all men and all women have equal chances to reach the top of the staircase or the escalator though for the women it is likely to be harder; but the reality of inequality is that other factors do impact on your progress. For example, discrimination based on your disability, your sexual orientation and your race, age and other factors can and do play a part in your progress up the escalator or the stairs irrespective of whether you are a man or a woman. If you are a women and use a wheelchair and the only way to the top is using the staircase you are going nowhere; similarly if you are BAME ,whether you are male or female, whether you have access to the escalator or not, your chances of getting into that leadership position are significantly reduced - in most cases well below that of white women. Furthermore, when we look at specific ethnic groups in the BAME category this experience is exacerbated. In other words, inequality adversely impacts on your workplace outcomes and inequality is complex - being a women and BAME is likely to mean that you are more likely not to attain a leadership position than your white colleague even though you are both making your way up the same staircase. Employees have multiple identities and their experience in the workplace is likely to differ depending on how those identities intersect.

Hopefully, the video has got you thinking about why equality, diversity and inclusion are concepts that need to be recognised as core to the delivery of productive, efficient and successful work environments; the library, information and knowledge sector is no exception. The McGregor report on “Race in the workplace”, and myriad other studies making the case for diversity have indicated that diversity is a financial benefit. However, perhaps more importantly, the CIPD - the professional body for HR and people development, has noted in its 2018 report “Diversity and inclusion at work: facing up to the business case” that in addition to the financial benefits organisations should note the non-financial ones of enhanced well-being for their employees and better opportunities in the workplace, the positive impact on corporate reputation, the contribution which the organisation makes to society and above all the moral reason – the fact that it is just the right thing to do. I wonder how many of us consider the long-term implications for marginalised groups where report after report indicates the disadvantages for them in the workplace -persons with disabilities including mental health problems, members of the LGBTQ community, and of course those from the BAME community – to name just a few. Surely, this must be a having a detrimental productivity impact on the sector. Can we in the sector not grasp the opportunity to dig deep, really deep, and start to finally grapple with the challenges confronting equality, diversity and inclusion in our sector.

In addition, I think that as we explore how to move forward that we need to acknowledge that equality, diversity and inclusion issues are critical because they impact every aspect of a person’s life – they impact how you experience life and those experiences don’t disappear because you come to work. They are part of who you are and part of the society of which you are a part. Equality, diversity and inclusion impacts your life and the likelihood of positive or negatives outcomes. Inequality impacts your life chances, in terms of your health, what you can earn and therefore the lifestyle that you can lead including what money you earn to support your family.

I draw attention to this because all employees, whether a member of the Board, senior management, a line manager or any other employee in your organisation either benefit from inequality or are impacted negatively by it. The inequality which different groups experience is reflected in society and mirrored in different ways in our workplace – sometimes overtly, conscious bias but often unconsciously, unconscious bias. For example, we need to acknowledge that the historical legacy of how we have caricatured and treated various marginalised groups has led to stereotypes which go on to impact how people perceive them. Can managers or employees see those people as leaders, those who they have historically either consciously or unconsciously regarded as intellectually inferior to them? How might this impact either consciously or unconsciously decision-making processes about who is capable of leadership.

As important, is how do those marginalised groups wake up each day and face yet another day. Perhaps before they leave their partner to take their transportation to work they have seen a report where a LGBTQ couple, like them, have been brutally attacked for just being themselves, or a wheelchair user arrives at the station to discover that the lift is out of order at their usual station so they will have to go to another station, or a black father, who watches the never ending number of stories of racist abuse whether on the football field, the street or on public transportation, sees yet another incident and wonders when will it all end. Each one of those persons, those employees, know that today as they leave their home it could be their turn to experience these indignities, or perhaps it will be their partner, their daughter, son, mum or dad. They know that the probability is higher for them than for others that are not marginalised. They know because they have historically been the target, they know because of what is occurring around them every day. All of this has happened before they enter work. These people have lived a lifetime of this and then they come to work. What does that endless grind of fighting through the seemingly relentless injustice, inequality in society, do to a person? This is why these groups seek out support through employee networks where they can share their common experiences and advocate for change in society and in their workplace.

Such employees don’t want pity, but they do expect empathy. They expect that their employer will genuinely seek to understand their lived experience and their experience in the workplace and that they will genuinely seek to understand how society is brought to work through those who are marginalised and those who are not. They want to know that their organisation will take committed action to create change, that they will collect the necessary data so that they can understand where improvement is needed and then implement evidenced based actions that deliver equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Employees who are marginalised want to know that their workplace environment is fair, that they can get a fair chance, that they have a fair chance to progress and be promoted, that their work environment values them - their authentic self, and that it values their voice - not the voice that is one of consensus and fitting in, but their voice, the one that is able to talk about their true lived experience. Those who feel marginalised expect employers to not only listen but to actively engage those marginalised voices in decision making. To be prepared to not only pay lip service to their voices but to actually take them seriously and incorporate what they say in to decision making. Finally, they expect that senior management provides clear commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. An authentic commitment to it, invested commitment to it , not a tick box commitment - and that they ensure that line managers play a key role in implementing their vision, are well trained and are as invested in it because that’s the culture – that’s how we do things around here.

Interestingly, the CIPD has published in September, 2019 a best practice guide to creating an inclusive workplace entitled “Building inclusive workplaces: assessing the evidence” which recommends all of the above actions and more. The expectations of employees who are marginalised are not unreasonable or unattainable. These are the actions which chief executives who put equality and diversity at the top of their agenda are taking. This report by CIPD is a landmark guide to building an inclusive workplace and one which I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in creating an inclusive workplace consider consulting.

Finally, I would like to turn my attention to the BAME experience in the workplace. Today, my message has been a lot about why equality, diversity and inclusion needs to be a priority in the library, information and knowledge services sector. I focussed on this because all marginalised groups need the same kinds of actions for their voices to be heard. I could have focussed on statistic after statistic about BAME inequalities but to be honest, if you understand the impact of equality and diversity on people’s lived experience and in turn on your organisation and that action needs to be taken, then it is easy to find the reams of evidence to guide you about what action you need to take to improve the lot of the BAME community in the workplace. The real challenge is acknowledging that there is a problem around diversity and inclusion and agreeing to take action of the type indicated above in order to create inclusive organisations. Indeed, the key issue for people identified as BAME is that in the workplace there is a reticence to acknowledge the problem or to talk about race and how your ethnicity impacts on opportunities for success at work. Employees find it awkward to talk about race. Organisations rarely, if ever, provide space to acknowledge or talk about the issues and seem to also adopt the persona of feeling awkward whilst being simultaneously interested and disengaged. This does not encourage staff to have confidence to engage in a conversation about a topic they find difficult to talk about in the first place. As a result, often employees who are white and acknowledge the problem are often concerned about speaking about it to their line managers or even colleagues lest it present them in an unfavourable light and BAME employees who are marginalised already, don’t want to express their feelings in case they are perceived as troublemakers. In both cases, they eventually become mute when no action is taken. Let’s face it, no one wants to adversely impact their chances of success in the workplace. The only way we can solve this is by creating a workplace climate where there is authentic support from top to bottom of the organisation to address BAME employment issues like— attracting BAME persons to the career, recruitment, progression and promotion and appointment to leadership roles. To create real change though, we need to acknowledge the existing evidence, read the reports and guidance, conduct our own data analysis in our organisations, link performance reviews of managers to change and develop inclusive organisations that are prepared to address these issues. It needs to be embedded in the culture of the organisation and be a priority. We know by now that our sector clearly has a diversity problem, the number of BAME persons with access to the profession is 3%. However, we currently have no idea about how much work needs to be done on inclusion - although we know it must be significant with diversity at 3%. We need more data about how the BAME workforce in our sector experiences the workplace but in addition we need employers in the sector to seek to understand the situation in their organisation and to acknowledge that BAME employees have been a long neglected marginalised group which require urgent action.

Our sector has started the journey, there is a long way to go but if we embrace the challenge and adopt best practice in building inclusive workplaces we can create real, sustainable change. The BAME Network and I are keen to be part of that journey.

Details about the BAME Network and its objectives including advancing BAME in the library, information and knowledge sector is available from the CILIP website. Delegates are encouraged to join the BAME network if they identify as BAME and the BAME Network Allies Forum if they wish to support our core objectives but do not identify as BAME. WE welcome the continued support of all in the sector and wish to thank you for supporting BAME staff to attend our events and look forward to your continued support.

Banner image: Shirley Yearwood-Jackman photographed by Martyn Hicks at the 2019 CILIP Conference in Manchester.


Published: 29 November 2019

Contributor: Shirley Yearwood-Jackman


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