Formal and traditional office spaces and business cultures don’t promote inclusion. No matter how many initiatives you try, or quotas of positive discrimination you meet, the very structures can alienate and put off many people from getting involved. They can also prevent those who do make it through the doors from participating and contributing to the fullest extent.
So what’s the solution? Simply enacting diversity and inclusion quotas just won’t do. We need a revolution in approaches to what a workspace and working culture is, as well as how investors perceive businesses run for and by minorities. Workplace formalities are just that, nothing more, nothing less. They no longer evoke professionalism, they just create a mould that only a specific kind of person can fit, and I am sure you can imagine what kind of person I’m referring to…
Anyone outside of this ‘perfect person’ mould in these systems is actively having to change something in themselves or compensate for other parts of themselves to be included, and even then, they’ll face adversity, demeaning questions and assumptions. Just last month at our very own Fairer Funding Now event, our panel talked about some of the kinds of questions asked by VCs to female founders that they have come across: “Are you planning on having children?… “What does your husband think?”(?!)
TIME FOR REVOLUTION
Ok, I know what you’re thinking: the word revolution sounds kind of extreme, but that’s the kind of thing that Millennials are initiating as a generation. For so long, workplaces and institutions have ignored ‘real life’, creating a kind of mini alternate universe from that of people’s lives outside of work, or how they might think and feel outside of work. This results not only in burnout of people within the system, but also missed opportunities. These come either in the form of lack of diversity in business, or exclusion from mainstream structures within businesses and the tech ecosystem, and most importantly: unequal access to funding.
Under these systems, hierarchies, or a culture of a “boys’ club” prevail and prevent any conversations outside of those modes of socialising and professional interaction (think all boys’ boarding school “banter” and corporate golfing “away days”). So when they say, “Of course, all are welcome to join us!”, they’re not changing the way they fundamentally interact to realistically accommodate that.
SO, WHAT DOES REVOLUTION ACTUALLY LOOK LIKE?
First – it literally looks different. Office spaces are becoming more informal and accommodating to the real lives of people, as opposed to some sort of workplace alter ego that people traditionally seemed expected to adopt.
1. No formal dress codes/ uniforms – People are increasingly able to express themselves through personal style, and therefore feel more welcome as themselves at work. Another plus of this is that there’s no status indicator. Anyone could be anyone, welcoming more horizontal collaboration.
2. Flexible desks! Cubicles? A thing of the past! Workspaces are modernising to keep people moving and encouraging new introductions and opportunities for development. Whether this is within an organisation or across a coworking space, this flexibility creates opportunities, opens dialogue and promotes workplace wellbeing.
3. Child (aka real life) friendly: spaces for parents not to feel alienated from work are vital. No one should ever feel as though they must choose between being a successful business person or a present parent. It was a false assumption in the past that this was not possible. The only reason it wasn’t made easily possible was the structure of, and culture within, traditional workplaces and organisations. This is why office spaces are starting to increase the visibility of parenthood and flexibility of parenthood alongside work (see our awesome Kids’ Studio at Huckletree West). Success in your personal life and private life should not be mutually exclusive. Spaces that accommodate parenting allow parents to build their businesses, without being confined to staying at home, helping to get to those vital stages of fundraising with more support and faster.
4. On top of this, hours are becoming more flexible, and remote working is becoming more commonplace, so people aren’t simply sitting at their desks for the sake of it. Not only is this more useful for the person who needs to work remotely but it actually saves time and increases productivity. Instead of time spent commuting so as to ‘keep up appearances’ at the office, employees can get on with the work they need to do, uninterrupted. This allows for parents, especially mothers to make their careers work with their lives and demands that come with being a primary carer, without having to compromise unnecessarily.
WHAT ELSE CAN EXCLUDED MINORITIES DO TO OVERCOME OBSTACLES?
Initiatives such as Future Girl Corp are making moves to change business building culture and inspire future female founders. They campaign for Diversity and Inclusion, so it’s not just one target of many to achieve, but instead, the defining principle behind everything a company does. D&I should underpin all decisions whether that be employment, internal team culture or external activities.
Companies like Colorintech are also campaigning for changes regarding diversity in the tech ecosystem. They advocate for encouragement of diversity in outbound recruitment, as opposed to companies passively saying “anyone is welcome to join us.” This kind of active encouragement and outreaching is a crucial part of D&I in growing companies (or any company hiring), in overcoming the issue of passive “inclusion”, which doesn’t translate into real D&I, only an appearance of it.
Furthermore, online platforms (including crowdfunding companies such as Crowdcube, and social media in general) have also proved to be incredibly useful for exposure for excluded minorities, namely women. Instead of being forced to participate in formal business structures to gain recognition, there is a whole new world in which people are able to gain a following/ audience for a business and run with it, proving to investors and naysayers that this girl, in fact, can.
These kinds of physical and cultural changes are fundamental to changing the future of work, something that we hope that we champion at Huckletree both internally and encourage our members to adopt too. It doesn’t stop there either: constantly challenging these cultures and taking on new tactics is vital too. Whether initiatives like these are something you’re already part of or something you can give us and our members wisdom on, or have an awesome story or perspective on your journey in this field, we’d love to hear from you.