How to improve equality at work: Be bold, work together, take action

Over the last few months, Future Learn has been working hard to improve its diversity statistics. Here are a few things they have learnt along the way.

In the summer of 2017, we learned that we have a significant and unacceptable pay gap of 27% at FutureLearn. Since then, we’ve been working hard to take the necessary action to start to address this.

Along the way, we’ve learnt a lot about how to bring about the change we want to see. Here are some of them:

  1. The importance of working closely with other people.

Before any formal research had happened, a small group had already got together to discuss concerns about equality, which swiftly became a formal group – one I’m proud to be part of – working to champion equality, diversity and inclusion.

Although the starting point for the group was the sense that there were issues in women’s representation at FutureLearn, we quickly expanded to include other underrepresented groups.

It is much easier to stay positive and motivated when there’s a group of you, who all care about improving current conditions and appreciate each other’s efforts to do so. I’ve had some difficult and awkward conversations with my peers on the management team as part of our diversity change process, and I’m not sure I’d have stayed motivated without knowing that our ED&I group was there to support me. Of course, having a group is also a good way to keep up momentum – because your fellow members expect you to make progress as they do!

As well as the ED&I group, we’ve invited others across the organisation to offer their support, such as via our Slack channel where people raise, share and discuss related ideas. This has been a good way to learn more about unfamiliar issues, and a good forum for gathering others’ opinions – alongside other face-to-face events.

  1. Be bold and ask questions openly

Before our ED&I group formed, I had asked for the company’s diversity data but I had done it so quietly and privately – and as a result, not much happened. Once the group was formed, it became clear that lots of people had similar questions and concerns, which made me much bolder about insisting it was an important piece of work which had to be done, and made me feel I had a mandate to make sure the research happened, and happened fast.

It’s okay to ask about equality and diversity. Fundamentally, we all deserve to know whether we, and the people we spend our days with, are being treated equally. And if you ask openly you’ll likely find you’re not the only one with questions and ideas. At FutureLearn, it’s becoming an open topic of conversation and change, and people are identifying and rethinking attitudes and expectations they’d never questioned before.

  1. Sometimes, you can take matters into your own hands.

If you are able to, make change happen by taking action yourself – instead of just waiting for the wheels of power to turn around you. I’m lucky that my role gives me the agency, opportunity and support to be able to change things. While not everyone is in this position, if you do feel able and willing to identify specific actions, then try to take them – even if it’s something small. Think about where you can offer to help, or set up new initiatives; tell your manager if there’s a specific thing you think needs to be done, and that you’re happy to do it. Ask for it to be included in your objectives, or your work plan, so that your contribution is recognised. Outside of work, you can go to events and speak to other people to get more ideas… then suggest them to your colleagues so that they can get involved too.

That said, you shouldn’t have to take all the responsibility on yourself. The fundamental issues of inequality, exclusivity and lack of diversity in the workplace aren’t yours alone to solve – it’s the responsibility of the company to respond to your questions, needs and rights.

Here at FutureLearn we believe that being transparent opens us up to external input on these issues, and that sharing lessons along the way can help people in other companies. We’d love to hear from you about the ways in which you are improving your ED&I – please share your experiences in the comment box below.

Kathryn Skelton, Director of Strategy, FutureLearn