Reflections on our equity, diversity and inclusivity strategy

In March 2021, Nesta launched a nine-goal EDI strategy that spans who we are and what we do. In the 12 months since, we have taken many steps to advance our goals and become a more equitable, diverse and inclusive organisation. Nesta is certainly not perfect, and we don't intend to present ourselves as such – we are truly at the beginning of this journey. Nevertheless, we want to share the progress we have made, to set ourselves up for the future and connect with partners who can support our path to success and understanding.

Setting up for success

Leaders and staff across Nesta were highly involved in developing our EDI strategy and support for advancing our goals has remained high. As a result, we have been able to make foundational changes quickly. Instead of spending time persuading others of the importance of change, we have spent time figuring out the best way to deliver that change. We have established processes to help maintain momentum and accountability, including sharing our progress and priorities in a monthly meeting for all staff, on internal blog posts and by reporting regularly to Nesta’s board of trustees.

To ensure the accuracy of reporting our goals, we took a new approach to self-identification (how staff share their age, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, disability, sexuality and gender) which we designed alongside Flair, Clusivity and other independent experts. We made this change to give us a more accurate picture of lived experience of protected characteristics at Nesta, ensuring our data and measurement against our goals is accurate and meaningful.

We knew that tackling our strategy with piecemeal initiatives would be unlikely to make a big impact and wanted to focus on changes that matter. We therefore developed an ‘equation for inclusion’ to guide our work and help us prioritise. Our inclusion equation is based on literature from the fields of psychology and neuroscience, as well as feedback from staff. It focuses on four key drivers of inclusion:

  • security – I know I can bring my whole self to work and I also know it’s OK to make mistakes and learn
  • certainty – I know my future in the organisation and have appropriate influence over decisions that affect me
  • connectedness – I feel a sense of community in meaningful ways and see people who share my characteristics and background
  • fairness – I believe decisions are made fairly, people are treated equitably and I trust leaders

These aspects are embedded in the organisation from the top (through empathetic leadership) to bottom (through systems, processes and norms). At Nesta, we use this equation to reflect on where we needed to make the most progress, and innovate for inclusion.

For example, to build security and fairness, we first needed to review and update our internal policies to ensure they reflected our values as an organisation and bolstered equity in the workplace. For connectedness we supported the creation of multiple employee resource groups (disability & long term health condition, queer and neurodiversity networks).

We’ve also learned to acknowledge what didn’t work and move on – a mindset of continuous learning has been a key part of enabling success. There is no playbook to achieving equity, diversity and inclusion in an organisation. Some things work and lots don’t. It’s important to be as transparent as possible and create space for people to provide feedback.

Innovation for inclusion

Current ‘best practice’ is marred with pitfalls. What’s seen as the gold standard across recruitment and inclusive culture is not guaranteed to shift the dial in an organisation. It’s important to remain aware that there can be unintended consequences of ‘best practice’ decisions. The below are some key projects that we have run over the last 12 months.

  1. Inclusive language tool. We noticed that specific, outdated terms were repeatedly being used in reports, blogs and emails, so we designed and have just launched an add-on tool to Google Docs which scans documents for specific words we want to avoid and suggests alternatives with an explanation. We hope this will support staff learning and improve the language of our internal and external communications. We collaborated with More Diverse Voices; an inclusive language expert on this evolving list which covers a range of lived experiences.
  2. Next-gen people policies. We have made changes to our people's policies to increase inclusion and support in ways that matter. These include increasing eligibility for paid parental leave (and modifying the language we use to reference parents in this policy) and occupational sick pay, creating a menopause policy, a domestic violence and abuse policy, a hybrid work policy, an informal problem solving policy and anti-harassment and anti discrimination policies.
  3. Diversity in recruitment. We reviewed our job adverts to remove gendered language, posted them on diversity job boards and were early investors in fairer recruitment platforms. Despite these attempts, our workforce remained too homogenous. So we identified and embedded 25 interventions to mitigate bias and improve equity in our hiring process. These interventions include; making it easy and low-stakes for candidates to share reasonable adjustments they might need throughout the assessment process, sharing an applicant’s guide and FAQs for candidates and creating interview guides and questions by level and area of expertise. This led to an increase in diverse finalists and 20% of our new hires now come from a minoritised ethnic background. While that is still not on par with the diversity of London, it is a meaningful step towards ensuring every candidate has a fair chance of employment.

The power of collaboration

Of course, our progress has not happened in isolation. We have had some fantastic external partners as well as brilliant Nesta employees who have helped us look at the organisation with different perspectives. We recognise that we do not have all the answers and need to look beyond our own walls. With this in mind we worked with two external partners; Flair and Diversity VC.

We took on board feedback from our minoritised ethnic talent and decided to bring everyone into the conversation around ethnicity. To do this, we engaged an organisation called Flair. It surveys each person in an organisation to understand attitudes towards race across different levels, genders and teams. This helped us to understand key issues and how best to solve them. Two key themes we are now focusing on are ensuring we have a culture where racism can be confidently discussed and challenged and ensuring more diverse representation at senior levels.

Next we engaged Diversity VC to understand how our internal EDI processes and equitable investment strategy stacked up against the market. We were awarded the Level 2 accreditation from Diversity VC (the highest level). We were measured on both internal EDI processes and our equitable investment strategy and received an average score of 79% for inclusivity against the industry benchmark of 59%. Our goal here was to understand how our investment teams fared against the market and target what we should be doing better.

So, where’s next for us? We have set the wheels in motion for our internal goals and will now turn our attention to the external goals, particularly the ones focused on research and investments.

If you are interested to hear about our equity, diversity and inclusion work in more detail do let us know, we would love to hear from you at [email protected]

Author

Davina Majeethia

Davina Majeethia

Davina Majeethia

Senior Lead for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI).

Davina is the Senior Lead for Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI).

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Moria Sloan

Moria Sloan

Moria Sloan

Chief of Staff

Moria is supporting Nesta's strategy, leadership team and thought leadership agendas.

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Tatham Crawford-Lennox

Tatham Crawford-Lennox

Tatham Crawford-Lennox

Director of People and Organisational Development, People Team

As Director of People and Organisational Development, Tath partners with the Nesta executive and wider leadership team to develop and deliver a people plan that enables our strategy.

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