14th September 2021
Culture is what allows us to make sense of the world and interpret our society.
So wrote Dr Kojo Koram about recent attempts to reduce the richness of our diverse and collective experiences to a binary so-called 'culture war'.
At UnLtd, we have been thinking deeply about how culture enables us to achieve our mission, and how it is only by constantly evolving, reflecting and responding to the needs of those we serve, particularly those who are most marginalised, that we can truly be fit for purpose.
Back in summer 2020 I wrote about UnLtd's commitment to inclusivity and anti-racism. If that blog were to be more than a performative gesture, it was always vital that we followed up and transparently shared how we are moving forward. So just over a year on, I wanted to share what we've learned and what we've done since.
It was clearly important for us to reflect deeply on our history, our norms, and their impact – back to that word culture. Since I began my tenure as Chief Executive, I've often spoken of us becoming a foundation of not for social entrepreneurs, and yet we had not done the work of understanding how to make this happen, including whether we were reaching out to, making space for, and enabling the leaders who are at the heart of our mission.
Over the past six months we have taken part in an in-depth equity audit and reflection, examining the ways and degree to which our organisation is creating belonging, and becoming an organisation that embodies diversity, equity and inclusion.
It was critical that we not only used data, but also reached out to past and present colleagues to hear directly from them about their experience of UnLtd. It was also important for us to understand how far we still had to go, to benefit from guidance on how we get there and to be clear on what to prioritise.
I want to thank everyone who shared their experiences and confirm that we are acting on what you've told us. We will continue to act on this learning and we will continue to listen to colleagues and our community. It's vital that our energy and commitment to this effort is sustained and renewed – because we will bump up against significant inertia and resistance: within ourselves as well as the sector and wider society in which we operate. That is the nature of structural racism and oppression.
Our final report shares the process and findings of the audit, and our plans to respond to it.
It clearly demonstrates that there have been bias and harmful behaviours and that we have made mistakes. We – I – also own the uncomfortable reality that our Black colleagues in particular have experienced microaggressions, racism and feeling that they did not belong, accompanied with a pressure to assimilate to a white normative culture.
We are addressing these issues with urgency, while recognising the long-term and deep-seated nature of the barriers and behaviours we need to tackle. We know we need to fundamentally change our working culture and rebuild a deep level of trust with our people.
Our thinking on how we do this has been informed by Mia Mingus' "Four Parts of Accountability" framework. A fundamental part of our accountability must be to show how we are transforming our mindset, behaviours and systems – work that had already started in 2020 when we recognised the need for the equity audit.
Most of all, I want to make sure we are accountable and ambitious on reparations – it's the area that gets most overlooked in the rush to become a better organisation.
Our initial plans are outlined in the report. It covers recruitment, learning, reward, retention and culture change. It spans each and all of our directorates. It also encompasses the whole organisation. Our board, us as an employer, how we find, fund and support social entrepreneurs – these are all interdependent.
Over the last six months we have begun unlearning. For me this has been about fully getting to grips with the depth of white privilege in my life and all that comes with that. As a team we have been learning about norms, bias, intersectionality and allyship to address the layers of power and privilege within UnLtd.
Our efforts have been accelerated and deepened through our commitment to feedback and continuous improvement. This will strengthen our efforts to be an equitable, inclusive organisation.
If you have any reflections based on these plans, I would welcome the opportunity to speak with you. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If we are successful in our change plan, we believe that we will begin to lead with belonging. In so doing we will be challenging preconceived ideas of what the right approach is, and what success looks like.
This is going to be difficult because we operate in a system – our sector, our funders, our policy makers – where 'not being racist' is still believed to be enough. We know it is not – because if the underlying system is unjust, then not tackling those historic and prevailing injustices is simply perpetuating the bias and hurt of the status quo.
A more ambitious (and equitable) anti-racist commitment is where we should all be starting from.
So, it is a long road ahead. We will be sharing our learning with you regularly, so as to be properly accountable and make reparations for the injustice we have enabled. We anticipate that the next update will be in six months to give us time to embed change and meaningful progress.