October was Black History Month in the UK — a time to celebrate the impact black voices have on our company, learners, and society at large. It also provided us with the opportunity to reflect on our own diversity and inclusion beliefs and practices, and to move from words to action.
As one of the world’s largest digital learning platforms with over 14 million users, we felt that we had the responsibility to leverage our reach and core skills to help educate the world on inclusion, but not before we got our own house in order.
As an example, we were late to react externally to the BLM events and corrected that based on feedback from across the organization. All hands meetings on BLM were much needed and almost cathartic – for our fantastic black community and for all the allies – and we continue to hold them every other month to update the organization on the progress we are making and to keep learning and getting feedback. While diversity has a wider scope, we made sure that we zoomed in and addressed the specific challenges the black community faces.
Our diversity plan
FutureLearn’s diversity belief was drafted as a result of these sessions. We are now proudly publishing it on our website and job adverts, and have committed to holding each other to account. This is not just some sort of a tick a box statement, instead, it’s being brought to life in 5 strong pillars endorsed by the executive board and embedded in our company-wide objectives and key results.
We value all the great benefits that diversity brings and encourage everyone to bring their whole self at work, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or disability. At FutureLearn, we take care of each other and we have zero tolerance for any kind of exclusion.
Improve the overall representation of minorities and representation in leadership roles
The challenging task for recruitment teams to hire diverse talent is now measured not by a quota, but by an ambition to include at least one candidate from a minority background on every shortlist. By doing this, we have already achieved an 18% minority hires rate year to date. What gets measured, gets improved.
Minimize bias through training and awareness
Although research is not on our side, we thought we would still give it a try and offer a level playing field to everyone, and to line managers in particular. We were fortunate to partner with the wonderful people at Fibre Training who delivered engaging and thought-provoking online sessions unpacking the theory behind the science of the brain and unconscious bias but also focusing on real-life examples, from micro-inequities to full-on exclusion and discrimination.
Embed diversity and inclusion in policies and everyday practices
In other words, we need to practice what we preach. Our policy states that we have zero tolerance to exclusion and we have taken drastic internal measures to enforce it. There are no nuances, zero is zero.
Using the internal speak up channel, our colleagues feel that they can raise issues without the risk of retaliation and that there is due follow up process. We also have appointed a volunteer Diversity and Inclusion champion amongst staff, acting as another impartial route for conversation. This is an expansion on our existing champion programme, which has helped to support colleagues through mental health issues, bereavement, and domestic abuse.
Celebrate diversity and educate/advocate
There are plenty of reasons to be proud of the progress we are making in increasing diversity, our great working environment, and the level of diversity in thought and background that we’ve attracted during this difficult time:
- 58% of our staff are female, in tech that percentage is 43%, way above the tech industry average
- We are completely remote and have remained that way since March
- We have successfully hired over 60 people completely remotely and continue to expand our teams across the business
Champion diversity within the edtech sector
Lastly, as our purpose is to transform access to education, we have committed to transform (online) education at its core and increase significantly the number of diverse educators and courses on the platform. We saw an incredible response from our partners following the announcement of our £50k BLM fund.
The fund enabled us to waive fees for The Black Curriculum who will be developing a course on How to Teach Black History. It also prompted partners to submit over 20 proposals in courses that cover diversity including D&I training from CIPD, Salary Negotiation for Women from Hustle Crew and A History of Slavery in the British Caribbean from The University of the West Indies and The University of Glasgow. We will be continuing to financially support current and new partners who are committed to ensuring diversity throughout education. We want to hold our partners accountable to the same standards as ourselves and we will be looking at how we can engage them in this mission with us. Finally, our courses have the ability to celebrate and amplify diverse voices and this will continue to be our goal as we develop the portfolio.
There is no silver bullet to building an inclusive culture, instead, there are lots of things you need to trial, commit to, measure and communicate about. And some might feel uncomfortable or controversial but, as Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman to be elected in the United States Congress said: “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas”.