I had the honour of convening a panel discussion about Women in Fundraising at this year’s IoF Fundraising Convention (#IOFFC). I was both shocked and inspired by the debate. The panel was honest, the audience was forthcoming, and the discussion produced very useful suggestions.
What fascinates me is that I have been discussing inequality in the workplace since the start of my career, when I worked in commercial HR teams. When I did my MA in HR equality was an academic discussion. Something to aim for, and something that was important but not really practical. In HR circles, the conversation always centred on creating equal opportunity and making the business case for diversity. Great stuff! But who was going to make change happen? The responsibility seemed to be in the wrong hands – the ‘victims’ (to speak out), HR (to put in place a policy) and middle managers (squeezed and busy people, often ill-equipped to hold such difficult conversations).
The change needed was not going to come from HR, individuals or line managers. Sadly, after the panel discussion, I have received comments and messages from people telling me horrible stories: from being groped at the pub by senior colleagues, to being sexually propositioned by donors, to receiving sexist remarks from line managers. And what makes it worse for me is that even when these individuals reported what happened, they were shown a policy to assure them it couldn’t happen or to scare them with grievance processes, or worse given the brush off, by HR and managers alike. There appears to be a wall of silence around the issue.
However this silence needs to be broken and it is leaders that need to address inequality. This means creating diverse organisations. Diversity should be embraced, not because it is legally required or even because it is the right thing to do. But because we need different people. Our sector is facing some huge challenges, and I know that the only way organisations are going to thrive is to do things differently, and that means they need to become innovative and to be braver. We cannot solve the world’s problems in one way – and so diversity means embracing difference; and tackling inequality. We need to retain the most talented people we have, and we need a range of talents. With more and more people speaking out, there is a demand to create safer and fairer workplaces – or those same talented people are going to walk out.
But now there finally seems to be some momentum and energy in the discussion – a glimmer of hope. People are speaking out, and some leaders are listening. (Read this write up of the debate.) In our sector, our values shape our work and our decisions. Inequality is not only wrong, but counterintuitive to the great work that many charities and non-profits do. We need to address it and great leaders are not afraid to do so, to challenge themselves to look under the rock and see the problem. And to do something about it. Tackling inequality and sexual harassment means being brave. Creating diverse workplaces means being proactive and holding those who behave badly to account. And some great leaders are doing just that. I suggest you do the same.
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Yvette Gyles, Director