How do you achieve real diversity?

On 27 September, Future of London’s All-Network Meet Up at City Hall brought nearly 100 cross-sector urban professionals together to share answers to this question.

Speakers leading equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives were invited to share examples of good practice in HR and recruitment, campaigning and advocacy, career progression and speaker diversity. 

Audience members were challenged to draw upon their collective experience of equality and diversity challenges, and more importantly, approaches and ideas to overcome those barriers. To get the ball rolling, we heard from speakers leading the way:

Leading the change

Clockwise from top left: Jamie Ratcliff, Danna Walker, Ricky Scipio & Yohanna Weber

The evening kicked off with event host and Assistant Director for GLA Housing & Land, Jamie Ratcliff. Ratcliff put the scale of the challenge into context then highlighted initiatives making a change: from HouseProud’s No Place Like Home to the NFL’s Rooney Rule.

Lisa Taylor, Chief Executive, Future of London, outlined FoL’s own work bringing fresh voices to the urban debate, supporting the professional development of under-represented groups and by championing speaker diversity at industry events.

Three speakers leading their own EDI initiatives were then invited to share perspectives on achieving real diversity.

First, Danna Walker, Founder/Director of Built by Us – a social enterprise connecting diverse talent to construction businesses – discussed barriers to entry in the sector, and the importance of challenging perceptions and stereotypes. Danna introduced the FLUID mentoring programme – an innovative scheme designed to address the retention and development of talented practitioners from diverse backgrounds for management and leadership roles in the built environment.

Next, Ricky Scipio, Chief Executive of Westway Housing Association highlighted the lack of diversity at the very top of the sector – just 4% of senior leadership roles are held by individuals from BME backgrounds. The talent is in the sector, it just needs help progressing.

Ricky is part of the Leadership2025 steering group –  a pioneering leadership development programme exclusively for senior leaders from BME backgrounds that seeks to “positively disrupt the housing sector by challenging current perceptions and promoting the fact that diversity is not just something that ticks boxes but is actually good for business.” [1]

Finally, Yohanna Weber, Partner at law firm Fieldfisher spoke about the importance of commitment and persistence in campaigning and advocacy in order to achieve change. Yohanna is Co-Chair of PlanningOUT – a growing LGBT+ network for planning professionals that provides opportunities to develop connections, learn best practice and share ideas from colleagues across the industry. To ultimately foster an environment where people can be themselves and fulfil their potential in the workplace.

Greater than the sum of our parts

Initiatives like these are inspiring and essential to the sector. Often though, they are fragmented and could achieve more if they were recognised as part of a landscape of EDI interventions.

Bringing these examples to the same stage is part of that shift, but the event was also an opportunity to identify commonalities, discuss potential gaps and spark new ideas from the audience.

In the final part of the evening, guests were challenged to muster their collective EDI experience and aspirations. Stations, aligned with speaker’s presentation themes, were set up around the room to collect examples and suggestions of initiatives that could contribute to achieving real diversity. Dozens of ideas, big and small, were posted at each station and these are summarised below.

Speaker diversity

  • Panels and speakers should reflect the ethnic mix of the local area.
  • Speakers should be themselves – it’s ok to show vulnerability and to talk about failure.
  • Chairs should take questions from a diverse mix of the audience.
  • GLA should host London-wide BAME and women networks to demonstrate their importance.
  • Target under-represented groups for public speaking training.

HR and recruitment/engagement

  • Promote the business benefits of diversity and examples where it has led to success.
  • Showcase the outliers: highlight non-linear career paths such as women in ‘male’ roles and execs who didn’t go to university.
  • Target groups from disadvantaged backgrounds so they can identify pathways into the sector.
  • Adopt the Rooney Rule for interview panels.
  • Remove details on age, sex, gender, ethnicity and ability from CVs and application forms.
  • Create intergenerational workplaces – mixed ages deliver multiples benefits.
  • Promote shared parental leave and provide the opportunity to reassess priorities and needs when returning.

Career progression

  • Introduce mentoring and reverse mentoring schemes for junior-senior levels.
  • Adapt procurement strategies to prioritise diversity when contracting suppliers and partners.
  • Adopt more flexible working to recognise people’s diverse needs.
  • Improve the number and accessibility of shorter-term secondments.
  • Set board targets for BME and women representation.
  • Openly discuss career aspirations in appraisals.
  • Train leaders in EDI as standard.

Campaigning and advocacy

  • Challenge firms to publish regular EDI reports and develop policies that improve this.
  • Lobby for change to hiring practices. Be persistent, you can’t do it once and go away.
  • Engage with more young people to accelerate change and utilise social media to gain momentum.
  • Call out discrimination whenever you see it.
  • Be aware of context – approaches in London may not work in other places.
  • Recruit a more diverse mix of board members to inject fresh perspectives, e.g. different sectors, more junior or with no prior board-level experience.

A sector call to action

It is time to move forward. Both the will and initiatives are already in place. We need to connect them up and get going. There is enough material in the list above to make a difference to every person’s experience of the sector, be it engaging, entering, progressing or speaking on behalf of it.

We call upon our cross-sector network to integrate equality, diversity and inclusion measures into their public events, engagement, recruitment and HR practices, career progression opportunities and become advocates for change. Where have you got room to grow? What could you be doing?