Well you do it the same way you eat an elephant: one bite at a time.
I think it is useful to think of inclusion as a process and not a goal; possibly this is because I like process. As a general matter the process starts with looking at what you are already doing, then considering what effect that is having. After that you look at what you could do differently, noticing how that affects things, and then repeating.
For many people the Code of Conduct is a really useful tool for going through this process, and it results in a concrete thing you can put your hands on which people also like. I do think it is important to understand that the CoC is a frame for the process rather than an end in itself: it is not unlike a business plan in this way. The business plan is not what makes you successful or gets you the finding you are seeking with it: the business does that. The business plan requires you to make concrete your vague and half articulated notions of how to go about things and rubs your nose in them; and this is also how a CoC works I think.
At the European Coworkng Assembly we have indeed been holding conversations both offline and online for a bit over a year now as part of the Inclusion Conversation. The most recent one was in March with Tara Everett from Canoe Coworking and Shazia Mustafa from Third Door Coworking. The next one is in May, I will be speaking on Accessibility in coworkng in Amstelveen on Global Accessibility Awareness Day (#GAAD).
We have a grant application out with a large consortium of folks, including the Coworking Library to develop a coworking space for a specific group, and that includes funding to develop a set of best practices for inclusion and study their effect on marginalized populations in the area of the coworking space.
We are working with Cobot and CoUp which are leading in the area of CoC for events and for spaces and we are developing a workbook/toolkit in both written and electronic form for the development of a CoC in both contexts.
We need a workbook and toolkit on representation and inclusion in comms and marketing very badly; ut that’s for the future.
So we are all in, I think it is fair to say.
Not only is coworking a maturing industry, there are a number of larger issues at play here: with the shift to freelance working, the gig economy, and smaller nimble businesses, a number of social issues come into play: discrimination, civil rights, gender equality, accessibility, are all addressed by society in a legal framework within or based on labor law, that is, employment. Freelancers and often employees of small businesses are out here with effectively no protections on these fronts.
It seems to me that coworking as a movement should be getting right out in front on this. Our commitment to the core values of accessibility and openness means something.
To get off of my soapbox and answer the questions:
- What can individual space operators do to build inclusive and diverse communities?
I think this is a process as I say, and there are a lot of ways to start. But I think one of the best ways is to start a conversation around something concrete, like the development of a CoC.
I think representation is important. I think most of us can tell when we walk into a place whether we feel at home. A lot of that is who we see there. Founder bias is real in coworking: most of my coworkers are over 40 and most of them are women. This is not coincidental, it is at least partly a function of the fact that I am both of those things and they see me both in real life and in our comms.
- What can the wider coworking movement do to incorporate diverse voices and perspectives into the movement?
I hate to sound sort of simple about this but: include people. Invite people. Talk to people.
I would like to see coworking events become inclusive: the only one I know to be active in this area is CCCSee2019 in Belgrade. They have committed to majority female representation on their panels and are working on bringing in speakers with disabilities for the mainstage. They have asked the Assembly to help them develop an accessibility statement and are connecting with folks all over Europe on this subject.
I would like to see coworking spaces working on inclusiveness in public, talking about it and working with each other and their coworkers and allying with others in the field to open up the conversation because that’s where it starts.
- What coworking organizations can we bring into this conversation? (e.g. this forum, the leadership slack, GCUC, service providers, regional alliances)
I think most are interested and engaged, in general. Just like coworking spaces, what is needed is focus and some hard work.
We have had events on a more or less regular basis, some of them including folks from outside of coworking (because I do think we spend too much time talking about coworking with people in coworking ) and they are wonderful and energizing but usually do not lead to sustained action. I think if we could develop a CoC for events and for spaces, and have events as a part of that development process, it would be a very good start.