That’s ARG as in ‘Anti-Racism Group’ — not exactly a backronym, but we definitely didn’t object to having this internal mySociety committee named after a cry of exasperation and frustration. The subject matter certainly warrants it.
Like many other organisations, we were inspired to make changes in response to the Black Lives Matter movement’s call for action this summer, sparked by the death of George Floyd. In mid-July we stated mySociety’s commitment to anti-racism and formed a working group, open to all employees to attend.
In many respects this has operated in the same way as our less snappily-titled Climate Action Group: fortnightly meetings in which members discuss and prioritise issues, educating ourselves and formulating policy to share with the organisation as a whole.
There’s plenty to tackle, from staff culture to HR and employment practices, the demographics who use our services and the research that still needs to be done. In all of these the question is the same: how can we do better to support other lives and experiences, especially Black experiences?
It’s a long journey and we’re not pretending that an hour a month is going to bring down systemic racism. But in the spirit that small actions add up to make a difference over time, here’s what we’ve done thus far:
- We’ve added a ‘Supporting diversity’ section to the Culture page of our website. People visit this page when they’re thinking about applying for a job here, so this small change could punch above its weight in the area of recruitment.
- Since we’ve had job vacancies recently, we’ve been able to put in practice plans to place job adverts strategically so that a wider diversity of candidates will see them.
- All line managers will have taken ACAS training on Equality and Diversity by the end of the year.
- New methods in our product development, like ‘consequence scanning‘, should help us to foresee any biases or unforeseen results of service features before we launch them.
- We’ve created a staff ‘anti racism and diversity’ reading list, purchased digital copies that any staff member can access, and suggested which books people might like to begin with.
- We ran a workshop on power and privilege at our last team meeting.
- We have plans to amend the terms and conditions on WriteToThem and other mySociety services to better prevent their use for hate speech and other abuse.
- We’ve researched best practice in terms of style and vocabulary, and added them to our inhouse style guide.
Over the next few months, we’ll be kicking off a research programme to dig more deeply into the question: what types of services are useful to marginalised groups? This will inform us in future development, and we’ll also be able to share the findings so that others can learn from them too.
This may be the trigger for an annual piece of research in which we examine who’s using our services, what for, and the impact they’re having.
We also want to understand how we can best provide support to groups who want to use our services to campaign around race, racism and structural inequalities in the UK.
That’s how far we’ve come in the first three months. To some extent, we’re feeling our way, as we’re not experts in this field.
This work involves many difficult conversations, but they are the conversations that need to be had, and we know that they will slowly result in a better organisation for everyone. We appreciate that, for some, this work is coming late and seems like little. And to you we want to say, we’re trying to do better, and we will keep on trying.
Image: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona
When Mark, mySociety’s CEO, put out our recent request for new board members, he mentioned a specific goal:
There’s no getting past the fact that our current boards are entirely male. So for both roles we’d like to use this as an opportunity to redress the balance on each board, as well as add more diversity to better reflect the users of our services both in the UK and internationally.
You’ll have seen from his follow-up blog post announcing the appointments exactly how well we did in this aim.
But I wanted to explore this subject more deeply. When you explicitly state that you would welcome applications from women, what effect does it have on the gender split of those who come forward?
What difference does it make to the range of backgrounds that applicants come from, when you say that you’re hoping for more diversity?
And just what are mySociety actively doing about this aim, beyond sticking what could look very much like a token sentence into a job advert?
Well, it started off as a short blog post crunching the numbers. And then it got long.
When posts are too big for a quick skim, we put them on our Medium blog, so that’s where it ended up. Do go and have a look.
We know we haven’t cracked this one yet — indeed, we know that we barely even have the right vocabulary to talk about it — so comments are welcome.
Image: Dustin Oliver (cc-by-2.0)