George Floyd has become an international symbol of racial injustice. Mr Floyd's murder one year ago reignited a global Black Lives Matter movement for justice that sought not only to hold his killer accountable but also to challenge systemic prejudice and injustice across the world. Today, MAG's thoughts are with the Floyd family and MAG CEO Darren Cormack reflects on the commitment MAG made this time last year to reassess our track record on diversity, inclusion and equality and our promise to do better.
That it took the appalling murder of a black man to force society to confront the systemic racism which infects our lives and our institutions will, I believe, be a source of unrelenting shame. But George Floyd’s death can be so much more than a shameful episode in modern history if it becomes the spark that lights the fire of change — the permanent and systemic change required to diminish racism and prejudice.
For MAG, the death of Mr Floyd was challenging in the most fundamental way. Initially, we were not immediately sure how to react and, internally, there were contradictory views. Would our silence on the issue amount to tacit collusion in racism? Or would we be seen as opportunistic and inauthentic by speaking out when we knew MAG, and the wider sector, had so much work to do on anti-racism, breaking down structural inequalities and inclusion?
More challenging than defining what we wanted to say, however, was facing our failures. Systemic racism (and other forms of prejudice) unquestionably exists in our organisation, as it does throughout society. And Mr Floyd’s murder forced us to shine what quickly became a harsh though illuminating light on the fact that MAG had, for far too long, simply not done enough to address the issue.
Alongside a challenge, though, we quickly realised we had an opportunity too. Such searingly honest and potentially transformative bouts of self-reflection come rarely. When they do, therefore, they must be grasped and used to deliver effective and permanent change.
Thus began a journey which we embarked upon with humility, acknowledging it might be a journey of not just one lifetime but perhaps of many. Today, one year on from the murder of Mr Floyd, we believe we have made some progress but recognise we must travel further and faster.
As an early step, we sought help from external experts and established constructive and reflective conversation channels with staff to explore how MAG can enhance its commitment to diversity and inclusion. These channels created the space for teams to speak and share their perspectives and experiences.
We established two new working groups, with leadership from me, the CEO, to shape a new, long-term, sustainable and effective strategy on equality. We recognised that to effect real and lasting change, the process needed to be thorough, wide-ranging and carried out with careful prioritisation.
We signed up to a diversity charter established by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, signalling our intention to do what we can to address the diversity deficit in charity leadership.
Other concrete steps included introducing active bystander training in safeguarding and initiatives to shift the 'white gaze' by encouraging country programmes to increasingly localise: establishing, expanding and strengthening partnerships with local actors and acknowledging the need for a more inclusive local leadership and redistribution of resources.
In programmes, Black Lives Matter brought home the need to understand and tailor programming to the significant diversity within our staff and communities we serve in order to avoid creating further or different exclusion. There have been a number of initiatives, owned and driven by our staff on the ground, to address training and recruitment inequities. There has also been significant contribution to the disarmament’s sector policy thinking on diversity issues.
As I write this, we are expanding our qualitative research into the lived experience of our staff concerning prejudice, adding significant scale to the internal conversation on these issues. MAG is also about to embark on a systematic quantitative analysis of where we stand in terms of equality as indicated by seniority levels, roles and other measurable factors in the organisation.
We know racial equality is about more than just the numbers of people of colour employed. However, on that measure, 54 per cent of leadership positions in MAG programmes are held by people of colour. Crucially, though, there are very few people of colour at the highest levels of the organisation. We intend to change this.
MAG is currently hiring a new Diversity and Inclusion Manager who will have responsibility for growing our internal diversity and delivering the organisational cultural change which is already underway but requires greater consistency and a more systemic approach. On top of this, we have significantly expanded upon our diversity programming activity. In March 2020, MAG hired a new Gender and Inclusion Adviser who has created and continues to deliver innovative projects to aid inclusivity in communities afflicted by conflict.
As we wrote a year ago, we do not expect to ‘fix’ a problem that has arisen out of centuries of history. But we do expect the highest standards of ourselves as we continue on what we know might be a difficult journey. We also said a year ago that we would be open about our challenges and our progress on these issues. Transparency is self-evidently important. And our stakeholders deserve and expect it, including our donors and our many public supporters.
So, while acknowledging the progress we have made, we must also recognise that we must increase both the pace and scale of change in the years ahead.
We can start by creating an internal organisational culture of openness to critique and ensure it is cognisant of race, gender, age and other factors that might impact someone’s willingness to be open. We will recruit differently, ensuring more diverse representation at the most senior levels of the organisation — the Board, the Leadership Team, directors — and reassess the need for recruiting expatriate staff for positions based overseas.
And we will increasingly invest in indigenous knowledge creation and be systematic about how we value local knowledge and ownership moving away from the implicitly colonial language of 'delivering capacity building'. We will also do what we can to grow change in and with our partners. We encourage donors to reconsider how they provide funding to prioritise creating resources accessible to local actors, innovating the confines of existing project models and timelines.
These are just some of our aspirations: a flavour of the change to which we are committed. And we promise, once again, to be transparent about our achievements and challenges in the months and years ahead.