In 2021 our CEO, Charly, wrote a blog about our plans to challenge the ways we work. We made this choice because we must - each of us - play a key role in ensuring equity, diversity and inclusion in the spaces that we work. 

What was true then is true now - ‘social justice organisations are perfectly capable of reproducing the kinds of oppressive practices inside their organisations that they purport to transform outside of them’. 

We are challenging ourselves to do things differently and while we don’t pretend to have all the answers, we are clear on our responsibility in taking action to weave equity, diversity and inclusion into every aspect of our work.  

Our aim is to remove negative biases and inequalities in our current systems and thinking, so that the girls we support are represented, and their voices are heard and included at every layer of the movement we are building. 

To begin our work, we established an audit year laid out for 2021-22 to help us understand what action we need to take. Our Programme Development Lead, Claire, shares more about our progress as well as the challenges we’ve encountered, below. 

Putting our network at the centre of everything that we do

When I took on this work, I reflected on my own position as a woman and how I am awarded many privileges because of the colour of my skin,  being cis-gendered, where I grew up and the opportunities I had access to.  It's important to highlight that I don’t have lived experience of the oppression or barriers facing the many girls and young women in our network. As a facilitator of this work, I seek to create the space and raise the voices of those whose experiences we must hear. And I can’t do that alone. 

Last year we set up a working group with a mentee, ambassador, trustee, mentor and two staff members to create a space for their experiences, hopes, fears and ideas to guide us. We placed a specific focus on having a group that represented the diversity of our network, specifically the girls. 

We've discussed everything from language; mentor diversity; change the group wants to see within the organisation; how we should utilise working groups going forward; and so much more. To be transparent - because transparency is essential here - and share with you what we’ve learned during this time, below is a snapshot of some  key takeaways from this first year.

  • Using words and language that speaks to and celebrates our stakeholders in their entirety, primarily the girls, is paramount. 
  • We celebrate words like representation and inclusion and we reject acronyms that minimise individual experiences and identities.
  • We need to address the use of ‘girl’ in our work as we move forwards especially within our growing ambassador community of young people. 
  • We need to be clear that the data we collect serves our mission and is inclusive to our network. 
  • In our programme we need to be more transparent about how we match each mentor and mentee so that they feel empowered by that process not confused by it.
  • We need to do better at breaking down what we mean by ‘mentor’ so that we challenge imposter syndrome and other impacts of structural inequality.
  • We need to use our organisational values at every stage so that mentors and mentees know what we stand for and how that informs their mentoring journey.

This group has  helped us to prepare the soil for planting and we thank them all for their time and commitment to each other and this work. Watch this space for further information about the working group from our participants.  We’ve already made changes big and small in response to these conversations and look forward to continuing our work.

Learning more about those we work with 

To better support girls and women across England we need to have a good understanding of the people we work alongside. While this initial year is about auditing we also took action where we could. One area was our data. We recognised early on that the way we collect information, and what we collect,  wasn’t supporting us in learning how to better represent the young people we work with 

In response, we’ve introduced new systems to collect and analyse data which will support our efforts to, for example, increase the diversity of our volunteer mentors.  This isn’t about collecting unnecessary information that we do nothing with, rather asking for information and insight that we can use to shape, and improve our services. And, to use this data alongside learning through conversations and deepening our understanding of the barriers that, for example, a mentor might face in applying to volunteer with us. Now we have this information our goal is to set specific targets to challenge ourselves to be the mirror we said we would be.

While we will be focussing on collecting data that is binary and reductive in its nature, we recognise and value that many intersectionalities of identity exist and that people may experience greater prejudice, discrimination and barriers becuase of this. As Audre Lorde said, ‘There is no single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives’

Accountability moves us forward

To keep us on the right track, ensure we maintain the momentum we have gradually built, and continue to learn from and listen to those who have the experience, we have partnered with Watch this Space who are doing a full and thorough audit into how we work. With them we will create a coherent, accessible strategy and roadmap. We will focus on bringing all of our colleagues and network along with us to embed anti-oppression into everything we do and to celebrate the richness of our network. 

We will continue to share our progress, successes and - because no path is ever linear - missteps. 

A big thank you again to our working group participants and to everyone else who has encouraged, challenged and supported us along the way with this work - you know you are. 

Moving forwards, from March 2022 this work will be managed by our Head of Finance and Operations and HR who sits on our senior leadership team. We feel this will better serve our goals and ambitions as we continue to listen and understand as well as take action and make key decisions. If you have any questions about this work don’t hesitate to reach out to her [email protected].