Equity, diversity & inclusion in affiliate governance

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At Wikimania 2022, Wikimedia UK was honored through the Wikimedia Affiliate Spotlight Wikimedian of the Year awards for outstanding work to diversify their board of directors; ensuring knowledge equity was not just a focus across programming but within their leadership.

In the wake of that award, in December 2022 Wikimedia UK was invited to lead a Learning Clinic through Let’s Connect, the peer learning space in which Wikimedia affiliates and organized groups can share expertise and explore questions about their work in the movement. The purpose of the Learning Clinic was for the chapter to share their learning journey in relation to bringing an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) lens to their board and staff leadership development. This blog post summarizes some of the key highlights from the resulting interview with Lucy Crompton-Reid, Chief Executive of Wikimedia UK.

The Learning Clinic and this summary blog post are intended to invite additional learning and sharing on this topic from other affiliates and organized groups in the Wikimedia movement. The discussion is organized around key questions posed to Wikimedia UK by the Wikimedia Foundation’s Community Resources and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion teams.

What has been Wikimedia UK’s approach to developing the board with respect to EDI goals?

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has been at the heart of Wikimedia UK’s social purpose and strategy since the start of 2016. Initially, the focus was on program delivery, but in 2020 – prompted internally by a routine policy review cycle and externally by the global reckoning with racism following the murder of George Floyd – they realized they needed to go much further in their commitment to equity, taking a more holistic view of EDI across the organization.

This commitment led to a number of board and staff discussions across the autumn of 2020. They agreed to a budget line for the work and were able to appoint an external EDI consultant to work with them and facilitate further conversations in 2021. 

According to Lucy, one of their central approaches was and is that: 

You just have to talk about this stuff. It really is about a process rather than a set of documents. The discussions that we had were really crucial in starting to develop a shared language for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion… It enabled us to identify what the immediate actions and priorities were but also some longer term ambitions for change. It surfaced some challenges and some issues that we needed to address within our work and within our activities.

Following these discussions, Lucy led on the creation of a framework and action plan for EDI which brought together the legislative, policy, strategic and external context, and an analysis of the current situation at Wikimedia UK. In addition to addressing governance and leadership, the plans also encompass staff, volunteers, partners, suppliers, programs and communications. They seek to position the work within the specific context of the UK’s colonial and imperial past, as well as being the open knowledge chapter for the United Kingdom. 

How did WMUK reflect on and make decisions about what diverse representation would look like for its leadership?

Wikimedia UK decided against setting specific targets and instead, compared the demographics of the staff and board against the demographics of the UK as a whole, while identifying and reflecting on any gaps. Their 2020 staff and trustee surveys revealed that in some areas, like LGBT+ identity and gender, their representation was already more diverse than in the general population of the UK, and that race and ethnicity needed to be at the forefront for engagement, recruitment and retention. They were also influenced by other data, such as the Wikimedia Foundation’s Community Insights Survey in 2020, which showed that Black and Asian editors were woefully underrepresented in the UK (as well as the US). In response, they made it a priority to introduce positive action with a focus on people of color. 

As per the last trustee survey, the Wikimedia UK board has increased in diversity across every area, with 20% identifying as having a disability or chronic illness, 30% identifying as LGBT+ and 50% identifying as Black, brown or a person of color, or an ethnic minority. The proportion of people with protected characteristics on the staff team – as defined within the UK Equality Act – is also higher than national averages against every characteristic. Lucy noted with some amusement that there is still a slight issue in terms of gender representation – at one point the board was 80% female, but a few more men have recently joined!

Wikimedia UK was mindful from the start of the process that diversity is only one part of an equity, diversity and inclusion journey. In Lucy’s words: 

Perhaps even more important is that the people you bring around the table – whether that’s a literal table or or a virtual one – have to feel a sense of belonging and shared purpose. People have to feel welcomed. We have to recognize and value different backgrounds and experiences and perspectives. Everybody needs to feel a real sense that the organization is actively trying to overcome – or help people to overcome – any barriers to participation. If you set yourself up as having quite a diverse organization, but the practice of the organization is not one of deep respect and collaboration and inclusivity, then actually that can be counterproductive.”

What approach did WMUK take to building an inclusive culture that would result in a sense of belonging for diverse leadership? 

Lucy acknowledged that organizational culture is quite hard to define and can be hard to change. However she explained that even before Wikimedia UK started on this process of developing an EDI framework and action plan, they already had a supportive and inclusive culture, as borne out by the organizational review conducted by the external EDI consultant.

Still, there were certainly areas where they could make improvements. The organizational values were collectively reviewed as part of Board and staff Away Days in 2021, to ensure that they would drive them towards achieving an equitable, diverse and inclusive organization. As part of this review, they have committed to an annual staff survey that monitors how staff experience the culture and values of the organization; intentionally establishing feedback avenues that allow them to gather information from all staff, and avoid extrapolating from partial data. One positive signal has been the 100% response rate to surveys, reflecting the strong sense of belonging the staff team feels in the organization. The results of the first survey on Culture and Values were almost universally positive, with one staff member responding, for example, “I think Wikimedia UK is heavily focused on equity and inclusion and I think this comes across strongly in the work that we do and how we operate as a team. WMUK holds itself to a higher standard in this regard compared to any other place that I have worked.” 

The consultant challenged Wikimedia UK to codify the practices that contributed to a supportive, inclusive culture into formal policies and processes, so that they are not solely driven by existing leaders but will continue past any particular person’s tenure. Whilst this work has begun, there is still more to do. In the meantime, they have changed some of their recruitment practices, including signing up for the UK’s Disability Confident scheme, adopting anonymised recruitment practices to reduce unconscious bias, and sharing interview questions in advance where possible.

What principles do you think are important for affiliates to keep in mind to diversify their leadership?

Lucy emphasized the importance of each affiliate working within their own context to define key principles. Wikimedia UK board and staff worked together to develop their principles as part of their framework. Lucy talked through these principles within the interview, and acknowledged how these had evolved through conversations with trustees. Lucy invited and encouraged anyone thinking about their EDI journey to spend time collaboratively developing the principles that will help to underpin and drive this work. 

How can affiliates, organized groups and individual volunteers get involved with helping to improve diversity on the Wikimedia projects and in the information ecosystem as a whole?

Lucy pointed out that there are many individuals, affiliates and other organizations within the Wikimedia movement focused on this work. She referenced Art+Feminism, AfroCrowd and Black Lunch Table as examples of affiliates dedicated to diversifying Wikimedia’s content and community. There are many existing initiatives in which all of us can work and support each other, as well as areas that still need more attention. The cross fertilization of ideas and practice is something that we could get better at as a movement generally, but especially in this area.

In Lucy’s own closing words: 

It’s about jumping in. Sometimes it is easy to overthink this stuff…When we’re thinking about underrepresentation, we’re thinking about people who have been left out by systems of power and privilege. This is part of people’s identities that can come with a lot of hurt and a lot of pain. We have to act really sensitively and work in ways that are not extractive, that are sensitive and that are meaningful. But all of that can act as a barrier to actually doing stuff. (So I’d say) Just do something.”

The full video of Lucy Crompton-Reid’s talk is available to view on YouTube at this link: Let’s Connect Thinking about diversity, equity & inclusion in affiliate governance and leadership.

You can find the videos in Spanish, Portuguese and French here.

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