Creative Workforce for the Future – developing an inclusive workforce

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Creative Workforce for the Future is a one year pilot developing industry employment practices embracing inclusion and diversity as an asset, and nurtures young talent from under-represented groups to gain the experience required to sustain a creative career. A key aspect of the programme is supporting creative SMEs to develop a more inclusive workforce and practices in the region by undertaking an intensive programme of inclusive professional development.

The partnership, led by UWE Bristol and Watershed are working actively with over 30 creative small to medium sized businesses in the West of England on inclusion readiness.

Earlier this year, they began running industry workshops with a range of topics and started a series of  Reflexive Sense-making Space > Leadership Coaching  sessions for leaders who want to delve deeper and transform their learning into practice. The group leadership coaching process was led by Dr Charlotte von Bülow (UWE Bristol), an experienced leadership coach, consultant, social entrepreneur and action researcher.

These sessions offer a safe space where leaders can identify and explore personal and organisational narratives and discover how these might help or hinder the change they want to create, as well as explore their own (inherited) behaviours and practices. Charlotte reflects on some of the realities facing leaders and managers:

“Within the context of the workplace, we are often caught in a difficult and rather binary situation where there is a perceived but unarticulated ‘right and wrong’ that is difficult to get one’s head around. This makes for a very anxiety provoking daily experience of ‘not knowing what the right thing is’ and many are getting stuck in narratives about the issue of diversity and inclusion, rather than looking at each situation in its own right. Ayshat Akanbi’s provocative but inspiring message – that we can move the focus from ‘right/wrong’ to empathy, compassion and respect – is pointing to what may be another way of approaching the issue. Is it possible to explore ways in which we can inspire a culture of respectful situational awareness as a ‘way of being’ rather than get caught in policy writing – and if so, how do we go about that? How do we co-create such new cultures and ensure that we also remain open to the complexity of each emerging situation? These are the kinds of questions that are being explored.”

In addition to Charlotte’s coaching sessions, workshops were offered to SME’s including ‘Fitting in vs Belonging’ and an ‘Unconscious Bias’ workshop run by Elonka Soros. Using a Diversity & Inclusion maturity model, a useful tool for action, businesses ranked themselves as either unaware, compliant, strategic, integrated or disruptive. Interestingly, most business leaders ranked their business in between strategic and integrated when in reality they were hovering at the top end of compliant – fulfilling legal requirements out of duty, rather than purpose, resulting in little action, change of impact. It’s only when businesses move more into the strategic level when diversity and inclusion is recognised as important to the success of the business, and it becomes a strategic objective with KPIs, that are tracked and have active leadership and accountability.

Inclusion is as much a personal development journey as a business journey and is not merely about diversifying a workforce. For that reason, many SMEs chose to interrogate their personal journeys as leaders on a deeper level throughout the programme by attending Dr Charlotte von Bülow’s Reflexive Sense-making sessions . In addition, a group of SMEs have been working with Marissa Ellis from Diversily on a practical approach to inclusive leadership using The Change Canvas, a simple but powerful visual framework for driving change.

Inclusion is a slow journey as it involves cultural change. However, there has already been some great investment pledges and action from leaders to take their workforce on this journey and a noticeable shift from ‘we need to diversify as an industry’ to ‘we need to dismantle the culture that sustains the inequality and lack of inclusion’.

This post was edited from the Creative Workforce for the Future blog, read the full article here. The programme is in its final stages and has ran over 15 industry workshops with 42 of creative SMEs in the West of England with more lined up for January – March 2021.

This is an exploratory new pilot programme funded by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and the European Social Fund (ESF) and led by the Bristol+Bath Creative R+D programme working with Rife at WatershedKnowle West Media CentreCreative Youth NetworkThe Guild co working spaceSpike Island and Bristol Museums.

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