Inclusion isn't free: make 2021 the year of accountability

We need to make long-term change, call out empty gestures and do the real work that is needed.

I am calling 2021 the year of accountability. For those firming up their plans for the year to remember that inclusion does not come for free.

Throughout last year, my phone didn’t stop ringing. Consultants, thought leaders and freelancers all called to share another tired tale of potential gigs, wanting free (or ridiculously low-paid) work. 

Most often these calls are from black women, who, for no reason other than racism, are being required to prove their worth. Many of these unpaid gigs are specifically for diversity campaigns, "multicultural" occasions and tent-pole events such as Black History Month. Employees are also sharing horror stories of overworking to support inclusion councils and events.

This can’t continue. Do we need to create a universal rate card for services, including pitches, with clear contracts and scopes for all employees and freelancers? Make exceptions be leadership-approved? There is no space for compromise on the road to inclusion.

It’s not a “fun project” to run multicultural accountability for any company or lead a diversity council “on the side”. These are important aspects of work and they deserve proper payment and respect like any work that improves the overall business bottom line. (So it's good to see WPP hiring a new global racial equity programme director.)

The quest to be inclusive has been diminished to the point of becoming a buzzword. Agencies are becoming prey to a “make it happen” system that lacks understanding and nuance in its urgency to tick a box. 

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, this attitude is unacceptable. The year of accountability requires all of us to set ourselves up for long-term and permanent change, so when it comes to empty gestures, we need to call these out and do the real work that is needed.

As the Allyship & Action’s manifesto states: “Language is not enough for the radical shift necessary for a truly equitable industry. Leading by example requires action: sacrificing ego, trusting the diverse voices around us, and not wavering from our position for financial gain.” We know dismantling systemic racism, sexism and bias will cost ego, budget and hierarchy. Let’s get to it.

In June, Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and Mr Serena Williams, got to it. He stepped down from his Reddit board seat in protest. Ohanian called for Reddit to fill his seat with a black candidate and to do better with content policies on the platform. The company went ahead and did both.

Linkit.Black is also making a real change. It was created a few months ago by a group of industry friends who called on creatives to use their most valuable real estate – online portfolios and social profiles – to promote the hiring of diverse talent. Putting self-interest aside in support of diversity and inclusion as the endgame. 

Leverage your privilege, be it whiteness, heterosexuality, seniority or wealth. If you have it, use it. Instead of putting yourself first (like the system already has), put someone else there. The action here may be to hire, promote or quit – whatever can be done to ensure all perspectives are at the table.

The Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, the University of Oxford, found that jobseekers from ethnic-minority backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a white person of British origin. That’s something we can all keep in mind for the next hiring round.

Yes, we’re in one of the worst unemployment periods in our history and I’m referencing actions that mean you may lose your job. The question is: which work is more important and will have the better and longer-lasting impact, no matter where you work?

Allyship is cultivated through actions. An ally is not a self-appointed good soul; they’re someone who consistently works to support others, someone who works to benefit other groups and people, whatever the price.

Inclusion will not come for free. Just using tags on a social media post is not enough. #PayHer, #HireBlack, #HireBAME and #EndSystemicRacism raise awareness. Real actions make the difference and consumers are always watching, ready to hold us all to account.

Mordecai is principal at Mordecai Inc

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