All of the Future Labs are important, but the third of our pilot series felt crucial, is crucial and remains crucial – gathering around the question how do we progress and develop work on diversity and inclusion that was started prior to the pandemic? If we are to utilise the pandemic as an opportunity to unlearn the exclusionary inherited practices that dominate our field we need dialogue, commitment and action more so than in any other area as we rebuild.
However, this question is beyond anything that could be answered in two hours.
This question is rooted in historic societal systems of exclusion that are ever-present in our daily lives. Some of those we wish to ‘include’ in the industry still cannot walk down the street without having their identity debated, some still cannot watch Westminster Government announcements in their language and some are living in a loop of ongoing trauma as some people in the industry use their platform to incite racial hatred.
How can we have this conversation without being overwhelmed? Without ignoring the complexity of the intersections of identity? And, without repeating the violent behaviours that have led to silencing and exclusion?
When people who are discriminated against in the industry bravely enter a space to undertake more emotional labour – because when the personal is so political it will always be a form of emotional labour – it is essential that they are heard and that their contributions are valued. When every word is a tool to unlocking the change so many say they want, it is important that the space is curated in a way that gives time to these contributions.
Yet, we are also living in a world of urgency. There are people being excluded from the industry as we speak. Future Labs were designed to be solution focussed. This Lab certainly was, however as our conversation deeply investigated the nexus of power, the solutions generated – although all possible to address with immediate actions – best serve a future that does not provide benefit to those most vulnerable as they endure the impacts of multiple marginalisation in their working lives over the immediate weeks and months. It is a powerful reminder that different freelancers occupy different spaces within existing power structures, in advocacy rooms and in society.
There is strength in remembering that Future Labs are an experiment. In that, it is important to be able to reflect upon how they can be curated and facilitated in a way that simultaneously reacts to the current crisis whilst investing in an improved long term future.
Our third lab was focussed, filled with provocation, generosity, compassion and humour. It was solution rich and the panelists were acutely articulate. However, this lab perhaps drifted too far into the future and in doing so risked leaving people behind. It is difficult to admit when something so crucial did not fully meet its aim. Missing this target was in no way a reflection on the panelists or the hard work of all involved in the curation. Missing the target does not mean that the lab was not exciting and thought provoking, simply that somehow it did not satisfy all of its aspirations.
It is only in the vulnerability of being honest about the process that we can move towards actions with greater impact and so FMTW must now rigorously work to understand what could support Future Labs vision most effectively as we move forward.
There is work to be done regarding the specificity of the questions we ask: acknowledging that the phrase diversity and inclusion is an umbrella for so many identities, their intersections and different relationships with the sector. We must continue to ask ourselves questions about scheduling, how can we cover so much content whilst working at an accessible and healthy pace? And, there are questions around facilitation – who is observing the subtle cues of the room and who is best placed to shift them given the lived experience of those present in the space?
It would have been easy for Future Labs to work superficially, become agenda driven and action orientated – to request that contributions were time limited, skipping through many subjects at a surface level and clipping contributions to meet the requirements of a schedule set without the consent of those attending. We could have bashed it all out – gender, race, class, disability, mental health, parents and carers, sexuality, ageism – hoping to do so without harm, as many conversations about inclusion have done in the past.
We didn’t. But perhaps in this lab the pace gave too much time and focus to one concern – leadership and power, a conversation that many freelancers already feel distanced from because of the structures we navigate.
What is evident, and one would hope is obvious to everyone in the industry although some behaviours would suggest otherwise, is that diversity and inclusion is not one piece of work but must be woven through every conversation and every solution. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion can only be demonstrated by how we work on a daily basis, the listening we are willing to undertake and a consistent commitment to learning.
Therefore it is now up to everyone involved with Future Labs – including myself as a facilitator – to work to ensure that learning from this experience is taken forward to the next series so that future Future Labs can evolve a stronger process for generating a wide range of possible solutions that could have an immediate and positive long term impact.
Future Lab attendees – Friday 9th October:
Peter McKintosh, Prema Mehta, Rachel Bagshaw, Leo Wan, Chinonyerem Odimba, Harri Marshall, Sonali Bhattacharyya, Indhu Rubasingham, Suba Das, Emma Rees, Jenny Sealey, Charlotte Mountford and Tracey Childs
Host: Emma Jane Park
Producer: Jack Hudson
Full reports will be released from this and other panels this week.