FEATURE15 March 2024

Celebrating the industry’s changemakers

Annual Conference 2024 Features Inclusion

Celebrating and hearing the stories of the MRS’s 2023 Changemaker Award winner and finalists was a session at the MRS annual conference earlier this week. But there were exasperated voices and raised eyebrows at the small numbers attending this stream session – and a call to sector leaders to be at the table, says Helen Oldfield.

Ripple effect change_crop

The most recent winner of the MRS Equality, Diversity & Inclusion (ED&I) Changemaker award, Shivonne Gates, along with finalists Katya Des-Etages, Christina Lai and Tom Richer, shared their insights on championing change, in the session chaired by Truth’s Mark Thorpe.

The changemakers concurred it is about creating space for others to exist and influencing those in power.

Richer felt that one of the challenges of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is about getting the right people in the room, as you need a network to get around the issues.   

Des-Etages said that being a changemaker in your organisation can be exposing and people challenging the status quo take a risk by putting a challenge out there in their organisations.

The panel agreed that EDI can be put on the backburner when more pressing things come along. Or, that there is a sense that “we have reached the quotas so we’re done with EDI”. While the panellists felt that the drive for EDI has fallen off, they agreed that some progresses have been made and that EDI won’t ever go away – it needs to be at the forefront of discussions and decisions in the organisations in the sector.

This was also reflected in recent advertising trends, where there had previously been a big push on featuring different ethnic groups and it’s fallen away. It’s a sense of ‘two steps forward and then one back’, with tokenism still present, the group concurred.

Recruitment is key to changing the sector and the voices within it. The panel discussed challenges in how the sector recruits people and talked about the research apprenticeship as a potential pathway for inclusion. One of the biggest future risks is from AI – it could prevent people being hired as biases get amplified.

There was a call to delegates in the room to amplify the passion for inclusion back in the workplace to become changemakers too.

The panel shared the following advice:

  • Share your own networks, agency or groups. You don’t need buy in from everyone, but it is important to start and keep going.
  • Ask your organisation to sign the MRS Inclusion Pledge and if they have, ask what they are doing on the back of the pledge and to track against this. 
  • Create space for individuals and share your own networks with folk from others from marginalised backgrounds. Share knowledge and networks to make a big difference – the panel discussed groups such as Colour of Research (CoRe), for example, as a means of being connected
  • Look for the opportunity to be inclusive both internally at work and outside of work such as community engagement
  • Stop talking the talk, start walking the walk. There needs to be more listening and more connections. Listen and amplify voices.
  • Psychological safety is key – you can’t create change that lasts without reflecting on this. Change needs safe organisations, including being honest on where we’re getting things wrong.
  • Presume harm and look beyond your immediate stakeholders and users to broader society.
  • On the hiring side, there are easy things to implement, such as reasonable adjustments, more time, questions in advance – all things that can make a difference to hiring.

Lastly, the group called for the need to benchmark what is inclusive and what is not, and – most importantly – the need for the senior people in the room to lead culture and change.

Helen Oldfield is marketing and membership director at MRS