Earlier this year, the University of Bath hosted One Young World’s sixth annual caucus; a one-day hybrid conference with inspiring keynotes, panel discussions and workshops with a focus on three United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); No Poverty, Reducing Inequalities and Climate Action. PhD candidate Tina Kimfumu was co-chair of the event, organising it on behalf of the University. Here she recounts her experiences of the day, and what she learned about issues explored in the conference.
We’re living through an especially urgent moment in human history. Faced with major global challenges such as climate change, growing inequality, and poverty - against a backdrop of growing polarisation, isolation, and nationalism - we need innovative shared solutions to tackle these crises. The One Young World Bath Conference aimed to bring together young academics – the changemakers of tomorrow - to share knowledge and develop ideas to improve society.
The caucus consisted of three sessions - Reducing Inequalities; Zero Poverty; and Climate Action - and six workshops - Gender and Race Inequality; Impact Through Innovation; Ocean Protection; Leveraging Technology to Alleviate Poverty in Developing Economies; Food Waste; and Diversity and Inclusion in Education.
“Today was learning about new perspectives and hearing from people that you wouldn’t normally hear about, and that’s really exciting.” Dr David Ellis, Associate Professor of Information Systems, University of Bath.
Here I’ll explain what I took away from the day focusing specifically on the session I facilitated; ‘Reducing Inequalities’.
Be aware of the ways that inequality permeates our political and media discourse
The first session was opened by Nyasha Daley, Director of Varyah Ltd, who gave a keynote speech, a poem she wrote called ‘Tick Box Talk’. Speaking on inequalities relating to gender, race, and sexuality, Nyasha called on the audience to challenge their assumptions by sharing some facts and statistics. She detailed how ethnicity pay gaps continue to exist year after year, before noting that the UK government recently decided that businesses will no longer be required to report this. She also drew attention to the fact that the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities denied that institutional racism exists – a laughable conclusion in face of the evidence shared.
She also reflected on the ways in which inequality permeates all types of spaces, pointing out the examples of non-Black journalists around the globe using prejudicial language when reporting on the Ukraine war. Many journalists explained that the Ukraine conflict was all the more shocking “because it was a civilised country, unlike those in the Near East or Africa, with good, Christian white western people affected, who should be all safe and sound and watching Netflix”. These offensive comments were made as many reporters were also failing to share stories about the Black people being denied safe passage into neighbouring countries, as white Ukrainians were let by.
Inequalities can be found in the products we buy and the work we do
Nyasha referred to a recent study as an example of how system inequality continues to exist today. Caroline Criado-Perez’s book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men showed that young women performing light office work have a significantly lower metabolic rate than the standard values for men doing the same work. This means that current office temperatures are on average five degrees too cold for women. This might sound trivial, but as this type of discomfort can lead to lower productivity, it’s an organisational problem. She also explained how tools and equipment designed for men can cause (sometimes lethal) health and safety issues for women, for example stab vests and PPE that don’t fit women properly and even car airbags which don’t account for women’s size.
“Talk is cheap. And action costs. But inaction costs more.”
Nyasha, concluded her keynote by sharing ways that people can combat these issues and reduce inequality. She explained that we must start to think about how our own individual actions affects everyone else.
“That means when we’re in places of power or privilege, we’ve got to be brave enough to stand up for those who don’t have that agency. And I’ll be honest. It’s really hard work. Outside of protests or social media rants, the hard work is yet to be done. It’s in challenging friends or family members who hold seats of power on why they don’t have diverse teams. And why they don’t have transparent and equal pay.
It’s in being open and honest with your work colleagues about how much you’re paid to do the same job they are doing and standing by them when they try to make change. It’s in boycotting brands when you realise their adverts with every colour of the rainbow, simply does not reflect their Boardroom or senior management. It’s in realising that when we talk about institutional racism or sexism, we’re really talking about other human beings making and taking bad decisions, every single day.”
This was a memorable and powerful end to her keynote, leaving delegates to think about ways they can execute tangible choices in their everyday life to alleviate systemic issues.
The stark facts shared by Nyasha made me reflect on how difficult these issues seem to be to address. Mckinsey reports diverse companies being more likely to outperform non-diverse companies. Their 2019 analysis finds that companies with the greatest gender diversity on executive teams were more likely to increase their profitability in comparison to peer companies with the least gender diversity. If this is the case, why is it taking such a long time for systems and structures to change? With such a strong, bottom line imperative, why are we still facing the same issues?
Companies can take some simple steps to improve diversity and inclusion
After the keynote I facilitated a panel discussion, with speakers Nyasha Daley (Varyah Ltd), Oyinkansola Adebayo (Niyo Enterprise), Emily Helsby (Amnesty International) and Horatio Georgestone (HM Treasury / YDWC).
During our panel discussion, we considered ways in which organisations and individuals could improve their company culture, diversity, inclusion and equity, and challenge micro aggressions and bias. Panellists spoke on their experiences and gave concrete examples of ways they were able to address some of these issues, including projects they created to support people from underrepresented backgrounds. Importantly, panellists stressed that diversity doesn’t just mean gender and race but also needs to consider disabilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, education, diversity of thought.
Organisational diversity starts with good recruitment practices
Many large companies rely on recruitment agencies to source talent. So, organisations trying to improve their diversity should consider what the organisational structures of the recruitment agency itself look like in terms of diversity, to understand what might be influencing candidate selection. Panellists also stressed that organisations need to start to analyse their recruitment partnerships, and ensure they are working with organisations that include a diverse pool of talent. This will be evident through reviewing their current workforce.
It is the organisation’s responsibility to choose who they conduct business with wisely, and for recruitment agencies to up their game and look for quality candidates, not based on the sound of their name or what they look like in their LinkedIn profile picture.
Representation matters. In fact, it’s one of the key reasons I applied for a job at KPMG some years ago, and the reason why some of my mentees did the same. It’s the reason why some students at the conference were inspired to enact positive change, because they saw people like them - academics, possibly from underrepresented backgrounds, in positions they may have never once envisioned themselves in - in positions of power, proving the impossible possible. It also fuels a sense of motivation, to strive for excellence and apply for positions they never once thought could be achievable.
Strong leadership is essential and will affect how all employees experience their job
For diversity and inclusion strategies to succeed, the people at the top must truly understand the value of these approaches and embed it into the organisational culture. Treating diversity metrics like a tick box exercise will only create more problems for organisations - for example, it can damage company culture and well-being, which ultimately affects productivity, profit, and cause retention problems.
Being receptive to new information is key
Most importantly, people in positions of leadership must be willing to listen to their employees. If we do not have open honest conversations in the workplace, how will we be educated on people’s differences, experiences, and challenges?
After George Floyds killing, there was an uproar - not only in the streets of London and America crying over injustices of Black Lives Matter - but also in the workplace. We saw many examples of corporations sending out statements against racial injustice and their pledges to support Black colleagues at work. Simultaneously we had Black workers talking about their struggles to advance within their organisations (despite being more qualified than their white counterparts) and exposing personal experiences of racial abuse. This was a shock to many non-Black people who didn’t have a clue what Black people were facing at work on a regular basis. Many people wondered whether the Black people affected were ‘coming out’ because, finally, they had a platform or safe space to speak? Or because, finally, they were exhausted of such injustices? A lot of people asked why they didn’t mention this before.
There are many reasons why people don’t speak out, like fear of being victimised, losing promotional opportunities, or even being dismissed. These fears are especially understandable in organisations where diversity and inclusion hasn’t been well managed – many Black people feared that drawing attention to issues of injustice would lead to complaints of favouritism or rigged recruitment practices by non-Black colleagues who were cynical about their organisation’s promises to increase representation.
So, what is the point of me explaining all of this? After this uproar, many non-Black colleagues participated in conversations to educate themselves about the experiences of their Black colleagues. The outcome of this was that many people came together to devise solutions to tackle systemic challenges and biases in the workplace. They became conscious of their biases and learned to think before speaking in case they offended someone. They undertook training, read books, and became allies.
Without open conversation and empathetic listeners, leadership would not know or understand issues employees face. Colleagues would not understand what it is like to walk in their shoes or be reassured that recruitment processes are not being rigged. Without this, systems stay broken and diversity and inclusion practices remain unchanged. By showing employees that they matter and making tangible changes - not just talking the talk, but walking the walk - companies should start to find employee turnover reducing, as people feel like they can bring themselves to work, without fear of discrimination or bias.
While this seems like a tough issue to tackle, I’m optimistic about the future. Especially as events like One Young World Bath 2022, educates the next generation of leaders on current world issues and trends, also leaving them empowered, with tangible tools and solutions to act, to create a better tomorrow.
This year's event is sponsored by: