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Working towards a more inclusive UK co-operative sector

Blog post

Rose Marley
Written by
Rose Marley
16th February 2021
Co-operatives UK
Work in progress

As I come to end of my first month in post at Co-operatives UK, I’ve been looking closely at our work on diversity, equity and inclusion. There is a long way to go - both to ‘put our own house in order’ to become a more inclusive employer and to help drive and encourage more diversity within the UK co-operative sector.

As the trade body which represents our co-operative members we can listen, facilitate conversations and collate information to help guide a plan of action. Ultimately though we need to connect more effectively with the diverse communities that are already co-operating together to achieve a common goal. That is what a co-operative ultimately is and this ‘co-operation’ has been happening all over the UK throughout the pandemic in the most diverse of communities.

In addition, we also need to make it easier for people from diverse backgrounds to engage with the sector. The use of language, imagery, perceptions, sector profiles all contribute to people ‘ruling themselves out’ and thinking that’s not for me – even though at their heart they are committed to the values of co-operation, social responsibility and caring for others.

In November we published this blog outlining our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and I wanted to give you an update on progress.  There’s a long way to go but we are taking action and we need your help to make those connections so that we can further support and empower those communities.

Here’s a summary of actions taken so far – we’d love to hear what your co-op is doing.

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We need to make it easier for people from diverse backgrounds to engage with the sector. The use of language, imagery, perceptions, sector profiles all contribute to people ‘ruling themselves out’ and thinking that’s not for me.
– Rose Marley, CEO, Co-operatives UK

Across the co-operative sector

We commissioned a report on the potential for community shares to be recognised as Shariah compliant and supported a pilot project to support BAME-led co-operatives in Preston*. As part of this pilot we’re creating translated resources to reach new audiences, working alongside local community leaders and our delivery partners Stir to Action.

We lead the Community Shares Booster and Empowering Places programmes, which focus on co-op development in areas of high deprivation, and the Ownership Hub which aims to create more worker co-ops and employee owned businesses, has tackling economic inequality baked into its design. 

We’ve run online workshops to stimulate discussion around diversity, equity and inclusivity with our co-op members, staff and board and hosted our first inclusion forum with the large retail consumer co-operatives, who all share this commitment. Steve Murrells, the CEO of The Co-op was the first UK boss to speak out about the tragic death of George Floyd and many of our members have done the same. Further events are planned as part of our Co-op Connections networking events. 

How diverse are co-ops?

We suspect the UK co-operative movement is more diverse than people think, but at the moment data on diversity is not collated or substantiated across our sector. Our Co-op Economy survey, launched last week seeks to address this and includes some questions on the data you hold on diversity within your co-op.

We invite you to submit any information you hold so we can build up an evidence-based picture of the make-up of the sector. We will be asking our members to form a research panel representing a wide range of co-ops to further inform and shape this work. You’ll have the chance to sign up as part of the survey.

The importance of inclusive communications

We’re working on improving our communications to be more inclusive and accessibility was a key factor in the development of our new website. We’re commissioning new photography to ensure a wide range of members are visually represented, with the creation of new case studies to tell the stories of co-op members from different backgrounds.  We’re also planning to create translated resources and as our events remain online for the foreseeable future we’re implementing a Zoom transcribing tool for attendees who are deaf or hard of hearing.

For World Values Day, we invited ChangeOut – who we worked with last year to better understand diversity, equity and inclusion – to contribute some thoughts on one of the co‑operative movement's core values: Equity.

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We need you, our members, to join us on this journey towards a more diverse co-operative movement
– Rose Marley

Getting our own house in order

A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) needs to run through the whole organisation and we’ve created a management indicator to measure whether our staff feel we provide an inclusive work environment where individual differences are valued and respected. We’ll be including DEI content in our annual report to share progress in this area with our members.

We are committing 10% of our learning and development budget in 2021 for diversity, equity and inclusion training and support. We will continue to improve our policies and practices to ensure we embody best practice.

We became a Living Wage employer and now display the Mindful Employer and Disability Confident logo on our website. Recognising that not everyone celebrates Christmas, we’ve changed our annual leave policy, so that taking the whole of Christmas week off is no longer mandatory.

We’ve added a diversity, equity and inclusion statement to our recruitment packs and we’ll continue to improve our recruitment practices so that we are attracting diverse talent.

Join us on our journey

We need you, our members, to join us on this journey towards a more diverse co-operative movement – please take part in the Co-op Economy survey, join our events and workshops, sign up for our research panel, send us your case studies and share your own experiences. And as always – if you have ideas of how we can be more effective please do share your thoughts with us.

How inclusive is your co-op?

Speak to our Head of Culture and Performance, Jenny Holsgrove for advice on creating your own action plan

*We have used the phrase BAME when describing the project in Preston as this is how the group we are working with (Preston Model BAME advisory group) describe themselves.

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