By Sarah Fink
November 11, 2020
The business case for attracting, developing and retaining diversity has been made repeatedly. But diversity is not just about the quality of the work, it’s a reputational issue for the sector as well. A sector lacking in diversity will undermine the importance of the work it produces.
Increasing diversity within any workforce can be daunting. As a task, it’s complex and filled with potential pitfalls. But it doesn’t need to be intimidating. The best way to begin is to find out where you stand now. Think tanks should begin not just by collecting reliable data but also the right data. There are a lot of considerations when collecting diversity data that can feel discouraging or overly bureaucratic but you might start with understanding your staff population. Think about where you want to go and the data you will need to get there. How are you measuring and understanding hiring and promotion decisions? Who are the most “visible” people in your think tank? How do people experience your organisation as a workplace?
It is also important to think about the wider picture. Think tanks are often smaller organisations and at times deriving meaning from your diversity metrics will be challenging. When considering your data, put it in context with the think tank sector as a whole. This can help you understand which challenges are sector-wide, and which might be specific to your organisation. Benchmarking against other organisations isn’t about using other think tanks to explain away your issues, it’s about getting a fuller understanding. If the data shows a diversity problem across the whole sector, then the sector isn’t the bar. Benchmarking with the wider sector is about driving aspirations and understanding progress.
While the data is important it is just the beginning of the process. How do people experience working in your organisation? Having a diverse workforce is of limited value if people feel inhibited in their work. Some of this information can still be captured quantitatively. Consultation with think tank staff can take the form of a workplace culture survey, but more descriptive methods (survey comments, interviews, discussions) can also help give a structured sense of how staff are affected by policies and arrangements in your think tank (or the lack of policies and arrangements).
Be mindful that this should be done sensitively. People should be able to give feedback in a way that won’t impact on their own career progression.
Think tanks should apply the same methodology they (hopefully) do when writing a report or developing a policy idea. Interventions should be driven by evidence. These interventions will take effort, but the burden shouldn’t fall on underrepresented groups. Involving people in the development of policies and practices that will affect them is important, but giving people additional labour in the workplace, without reward or recognition, will only compound the issues you are trying to solve.
Going back to the data, how do you know your interventions are working? You should set yourself some targets based on the quantitative data you collect. This could mean improvements in representation in your staff population or at more senior levels. But there are other important milestones to consider. Track improvements in staff feedback in the consultation mentioned earlier. Evaluate how policies are working. Whatever interventions you decide upon, you need a way to know that they are worth doing and are having the intended outcome.
Think tanks should share good practice with one another. Having opportunities and spaces to reflect on what the challenges and opportunities are lends itself to organisations that have a lot in common. Think tankers are used to analysing issues and some inward reflection would not go amiss here.
As you begin collecting data don’t forget why you are collecting it in the first place. This data can enable think tanks – as individual organisations and as a broader sector – to understand what their challenges and opportunities are when it comes to creating equitable, diverse and inclusive working environments.