Getting started with Equality, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility
If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you have at least a passing interest in issues related to equality, diversity, inclusion (EDI). Many of you may have been working on these things for a long time, but if you’re still trying to figure out how to get started this blogpost is for you!
Starting something is often the most daunting part of the process, and this is no different; how do you know where to focus or get up to speed with what you need to know, and what happens if you get it wrong? I know I felt quite overwhelmed by it all until I became involved with TIGERS, so I thought I’d share a few things that helped me get started.
1) Take time to learn
It can be inspiring to see some of the amazing work many people are already involved with in this area, but don’t feel like you have to jump straight in and start *doing* things. As with any subject, it takes time to learn — no-one knows everything or is born with all this knowledge. Spending time learning can help you to work out the areas in which you might make the biggest difference, and can give you confidence when you feel able to get involved more actively. Don’t worry if this doesn’t happen overnight — there’s no ‘right’ way to get involved.
2) Follow a diverse range of people on social media (and really listen)
Twitter has been an amazing source of information for me when it comes to EDI. Look for a range of people or accounts to follow, covering as wide a demographic as possible. Hear what they have to say, follow conversations that take place in the comments of their posts, and read the articles they share. Doing this made me so much more aware of the barriers and difficulties encountered by others, and really helped change my perspective on any number of issues. Re-Tweeting and commenting on these posts is a good way to become more actively involved, until you feel comfortable writing and sharing things in your own words.
It’s worth recognising upfront that some of these things will be difficult to hear — none of us wants to feel like our own behaviour has had a negative impact on other people, but it’s important to take it on-board. Don’t forget that just because something hasn’t happened to you, or you haven’t personally observed it, this doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened to others. You don’t have to agree with everything you read or hear, but it’s important to listen with an open mind.
3) Start small, and start with yourself
It’s easier to convince yourself to change than to convince others, so why not start with things you can do personally? Perhaps you can make some specific promises to yourself about changes you will make to your own behaviour. Seemingly simple things like including alternative text descriptions for images on social media (so a visually-impaired person using a screen-reader knows what you’ve posted) or including your pronouns on your email signature and presentation titles (to help trans and non-binary colleagues and students feel more comfortable expressing their own gender identity) can have a big impact over time. If you’re looking for inspiration, I’ve found the Better Allies (@BetterAllies) newsletter to be a great source of ideas for useful things to try.
As time goes on, think about how you can start to influence and support others. Perhaps you immediately feel comfortable challenging bad behaviour in a meeting, in which case go for it! If not, you can still offer encouragement to the person on the receiving end of that behaviour. A sympathetic email afterwards or an offer to go for coffee and talk through how you could help in the future can still help. As you become more confident try speaking out in meetings, joining committees or networks, or raising EDI issues when you see them. Everyone’s path is different, so don’t feel obliged to keep to a predetermined approach — do what you can, when you can.
4) Be kind to yourself when you get it wrong!
We all make mistakes in pretty much every area of our lives, and this is no different. You will almost certainly get things wrong or recognise that your past behaviour has been hurtful or harmful. Of course this doesn’t mean it’s time to give up — just accept that you got it wrong and try not to make the same mistake again.
If you’ve hurt one or more people with a mistake a genuine apology will go a long way, but make sure you don’t make it all about you and your feelings of guilt. A simple ‘I recognise my behaviour has been hurtful and this is what I’m doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again’ is likely to be well-received.
5) And be kind to others…
The more I’ve learned about EDI, the more I’ve realised I don’t know! I’ve also caught myself forgetting how little I knew when I started, and being too quick to judge others when they make mistakes. It’s easy to focus on negatives and be critical of others who are also trying their best to make a difference.
Recognise that other people will make mistakes too, and that their opinions on some issues will be different from yours (in many cases there’s not a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’). There are subtleties and nuances around certain EDI-related areas and at times we’ll disagree — this doesn’t mean we aren’t all fighting towards the same end goal.
6) Celebrate small victories
We all know the system is slow to change, and it can be frustrating to feel like you’re not seeing a difference. Taking time to recognise the small changes we make can really help to keep our motivation up. Perhaps you notice that someone’s behaviour had changed for the better based on something you said, or you make a suggestion about a policy or procedure that is implemented — whatever it is, it’s at least a small step in the right direction, so remember this when your motivation drops.
My husband expressed it well when we were talking about all this stuff. He said there are some people who will never be convinced of the importance of EDI, and some people who are already convinced. In between are all those people we have the potential to convince — if we can start to influence even some of these people, we can start to change the system from the inside!