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The IDEA Working Group and our Language Series

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A young musician sat down playing a guitar with some trees behind them
musinc: the Teesside musical inclusion partnership by Middlesbrough Council.

What is the IDEA Working Group?

An all-staff working group with a staff-nominated Chair, Co-Chair and sponsor from our Senior Leadership Team. Its aim is to stimulate, inform and platform good IDEA practice and policies (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility) at Youth Music.

We meet every quarter as a forum to discuss IDEA topics and principles, and how they’re applied internally. Some examples of what we’ve discussed are language, terminology and data collection processes. We also review our workforce diversity data after each recruitment round and annually as a staff team review progress against our KPIs, and to discuss and explore trends. You can find the Terms of Reference for the IDEA Working Group at the bottom of this page.

Fundamentally the group aims to provide an action-oriented forum within a safe, non-judgmental environment. It’s important to us that we continually learn and evolve, and that we benefit from our teams of diverse lived experience. We are all passionate about IDEA and are proud that this commitment sits across all the strands of our work.

We’re also delighted to announce that Jessica Richards has been recently nominated as our Co-Chair!

The Language Series

The Language Series is a collection of introductory all-staff discussions we have as a whole staff team. We engage in a range of resources related to the topics discussed and take part in interactive exercises to support the sharing of our perspectives. The conversations centre on language in modern society and through discussion, enable us to reflect best practice within our own working environment.

We expect and embrace that language will change as time goes on. As explored in this blog post, language evolves for many reasons, including to become more accurate, inclusive and representative. It is essential to be led by the choice/s of the groups the terminology represents.

These sessions are by no means a tick-box exercise. Their ambition is to continually build awareness of where our languages are not inclusive, so that we can continue to champion an inclusive and accessible approach in our workplace and beyond.

Gendered Language

We began our Language Series with a discussion on Gendered Language. We explored the definition of gendered language: put simply, it’s language that holds a bias towards a particular sex or gender. It can often reinforce traditional gender stereotypes and roles.

We brainstormed where you can find gendered language; in job titles (e.g. chairman, policeman, air hostess), common sayings (e.g. boys will be boys, you scream like a girl) and even in adjectives and descriptors.

Then we explored a script that contained lots of overt and covert examples of gendered language. This enabled us to reflect on the many obvious and subtle ways that gendered language exists in our day to day lives.

We used breakout groups to reflect on some resources that can be found at the end of this blog. When we returned as a group, we explored themes including:

  • How the shift to an inclusive environment isn’t just language adoption; there must be a culture change commitment to back it up and an ongoing acknowledgement of accountability
  • The weaponisation of gendered language and saturation of ‘freedom of speech’ arguments, which are often amplified by media to further detract from the core issue
  • Increasing polarisation in the current discourse, mainly played out in the media/social media, often leaves little room for nuance and much room for shutting down respectful discussion

Our takeaways from the session

  • Always be led by the individual’s choice.
  • If you’re unsure, use gender-neutral terms.
  • As an organisational practice staff can choose to share their preferred pronouns in their email signature and on our online staff page.
  • We will continue to provide space to self-identify in data collection.
  • Oftentimes conversations don’t include the views of children and young people, who will shape our culture for the future. We endeavour to actively listen and platform their views.
  • Our Code of Conduct is underpinned by our organisational values (be bold, inclusive, responsive, enterprising and trusting) and supports us in maintaining an inclusive environment. With the help of our Values Committee – a voluntary group of employees – we ensure these principles always guide our decisions and nurture our workplace culture.

The next IDEA Working Group meeting is on 4 October, where we’ll be discussing Decolonising Language and continuing the momentum to collectively build our awareness as individuals and a team.

Closing thoughts

From my perspective, it's a privilege to be able to facilitate and participate in these discussions in the workplace. This is largely because, like many of us, I have previously experienced environments were I didn't feel comfortable enough to bring my whole self to work. It's then completely out of the question to discuss these important and sensitive subjects with colleagues, particularly if they feel close to home.

And then, where do we start? It can be easy to lose sight of how we can collectively progress in both the online and offline worlds that can be toxic and at times, simply hateful. We have all heard of relatively new terms that tend to exacerbate the often divisive nature of these conversations: virtue signalling, snowflake, identity politics and woke (which originally meant awareness of structural inequality, racial and social injustice… before it got co-opted and weaponised). 

Navigating these discussions in the workplace is an ongoing learning process and we expect to experience some challenges. Having clear organisational values support us to keep the momentum and inclusivity at the forefront of our minds as we hold these conversations.

Ultimately, these sessions aim to provide us with opportunities to share and learn. They also require vulnerability and empathy. I believe it's important to have some fundamental shared principles that underpin safe, productive discussions and safeguard staff. I also believe in an individual's choice to engage to a level they feel comfortable with; participation starts with turning up. We don’t finger-point and disagreement doesn’t have to lead to disharmony. Nobody's an expert on everything but we are the experts of our own lives. 

Parity of voice is crucial in these spaces. Our job titles don't define our identities. We are all multifaceted, talented individuals with a wealth of knowledge and lived experience to draw upon. These sessions are designed to be solution and action-focussed, and we remain committed to open dialogue as an indicator of a learning organisation.

Remi Fairweather Stride

Chair for IDEA Working Group