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Our series on equity, diversity and inclusion at NCVO.
Over the last 15 months, NCVO’s equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) cross-organisational working group has been driving a significant piece of work to make NCVO a more inclusive, diverse and equitable organisation. The completion of phase one of our EDI work marks an important milestone and one of which we are proud.
Through constructive critique and challenge, the working group has established a working process that enables us to take individual and collective responsibility for our actions, hold each other to account and work towards behaviour change throughout the organisation.
Thanks to the external facilitation and support from EDI consultant Pari Dhillon, during phase one, we have created a framework for NCVO staff to name and understand the oppression they experience and that which they enact or contribute to.
In collaboration with NCVO’s diversity networks, we have created spaces where safe and uncertain conversations can happen among minoritised groups and allies in a way that recognises and addresses power differentials. The working group are incredibly thankful to all that have contributed to this work.
Throughout phase one, we have built the skills that have enabled us as a group, and NCVO as an organisation, to progress towards a better understanding of what needs to happen to fulfil our longer–term goals of cultural change. By leveraging the lived expertise of our members as well as our wider staff, the working group and the diversity networks have created pockets of knowledge that are currently recognised and are asked to engage in consultation on various issues.
The work done so far has enabled us to create a strong enough space from where we can ‘speak truth to power’. But this has been no easy ride. There have been occasions when ‘speaking truth to power’ has meant facing resistance, fragility and reluctance to question, let go of or redistribute power.
Throughout the process, we have challenged our leaders to share responsibility and involve staff in decision-making wherever possible, even when this didn’t seem instinctively convenient. This has been at times met with curiosity and openness, and a willingness to address issues that have arisen during the work.
At other times we have encountered defensiveness and an unwillingness to take on board suggestions and constructive criticism. Challenge is still often seen as dangerous as opposed to helpful, and behaviours such as interrupting or shutting down others during meetings still persist. It is important to note that these behaviours are most often experienced by junior members of staff and those who are part of minoritised groups.
It is the working group’s aim that such behaviours are corrected and eradicated during the next phase of our work, and that those who still feel like they can’t express their views are empowered to do so in the way and time they feel most appropriate.
The centering of lived expertise has to be at the heart of what we are trying to accomplish as an organisation. People’s experiences have aided us in our own accountability, but this has also meant that the majority of the EDI work has been shouldered by people experiencing oppression and marginalisation themselves.
We know that this process has raised uncomfortable questions for our leadership around how power and privilege operate at NCVO. Working to change oppressive behaviours that we are at the receiving end of has put a disproportionate burden on our shoulders.
To have the best chance to achieve positive progress in phase two, we need to address the disproportionate distribution of practical and emotional labour and the very real pain and exhaustion this has caused to staff within and outside the working group and the diversity networks. We also need everyone at NCVO to engage in this work with a level of candour and cooperation, and an openness to challenge.
As a group, we are encouraged that the process of change has started, but we are determined to go further. We want our senior leadership team and trustees to provide tangible actions that will have a real impact across the organisation, and to provide each staff member with clarity as to what they are prepared to do.
We are also asking our senior leadership and trustees to commit to being increasingly open about NCVO‘s EDI learning process, including its failures. We believe that being transparent about these, and honest about their severity and consequences, is the best way to ensure that NCVO achieves the changes it seeks and needs.
This is part of a series of articles on our equity, diversity and inclusion work:
We are all committed to NCVO becoming a truly inclusive organisation, where challenge and accountability are embedded throughout all of our working structures, processes and, most importantly, relationships.
We hope that by sharing our experiences in this way we can take the first step in rooting out oppression at NCVO and join a more open conversation about the work necessary to create a more inclusive culture across the sector.
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