Fri 12 Apr 2019

Diversity policy for Platform 6

The individual members of Platform 6 are almost exclusively aging white men and, probably many of the member coops predominantly are too.

This is sort of missing the point of a broad community of co-operative development, welcoming in new co-operators and helping people across society develop co-ops everywhere.

In order to tackle this, we discussed a draft diversity policy for the board of directors, the implementation of which will require us to increase the diversity of the membership.

At the members meeting today, we agreed that we want it to be a discussion for the whole P6 community, although the final proposal would be decided just by the members. I knocked this up very quickly (with some additions from the meeting), so it could do with input from more people.

"I propose that we should have a diversity policy that puts a maximum ratio on any one demographic on the board of directors (there's no set number of directors)- ie, once we have reached that maximum, we don't make anyone else in that category a director. And given that we're currently exceeding some of them, we need to actively recruit folks from the missing demographics.

- Cis-male - max - 60%
Cis-female - min - 40%
- Apparently white - max 80%
- Over45 - max - 75%
- No apparent physical disabilities - 90%
- Not-university educated (by age 30?) - 80%

Clearly, recruiting to correct ratios in one demographic is likely to further unbalance another - i think we can (only) further unbalance the mix of directors if the new director is filling another gap for the next 18 months.

Board diversity should represent the membership, part of how the policy is enacted is that the diversity of membership and board is regularly and openly reported"

Some of my thinking:
- it is meant to be about what the board of directors looks like, we want as many people as possible to think 'i fit in that group', hence 'apparently white' and 'apparent disability'
- gender: 'cis' means born as and still identifying as a particular gender. I have put a max and min for cis men and women, which hopefully creates space for others.
- all the other categories are binaries, because they can be, but i think gender is too complex for a single metric.
- clearly some of my ratios are not terribly ambitious for the long-term


I agree that this is needed, sex (rather than gender) is a binary, but I know this isn't a very fashionable view these days.


Nathan Brown (Co-op Culture) Fri 12 Apr 2019

Thanks Cath. I like where this is going, but I am concerned by a couple of things. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."
1. "apparently white" - the word apparently says to me that someone other than the person being described is deciding this, or Platform6 is solely concerned with skin colour - AKA racialisation. Why not just "White British"?
2. I am also concerned at "No apparent physical disabilities". Why no just "disabled person". Firstly whether or not your disability is hidden or obvious is not the point. Secondly, non-physical disabilities are just as likely to trigger discrimination and under-representation. The social model of Disability recognises that people are disabled by society's response to an impairment not by the impairment itself. Focusing on "apparent physical disability" flies in the face of that IMO.
I don't see a problem with people self identifying their race/ethnicity and whether or no they consider themselves to have a disability.


Graham Sat 13 Apr 2019

Thanks for your response Nathan. In the meeting I got the sense that we are feeling our way forward here in small steps. As @cathcornerstone points out, the rationale behind her initial approach is about someone from the outside looking in and judging whether this is a place for them - hence it is about what we look like and hence the use of 'apparent'. This strikes me as a valid approach, although as you suggest, it is also superficial, and I wouldn't want us to focus too much on this, so rather than talk about this as a policy, I'm thinking of it more as a strategy, a way of acting to move us closer towards being a diverse and inclusive collective.


Nathan Brown (Co-op Culture) Sat 13 Apr 2019

I see it as pragmatic and I understand the rationale about "how we look" but it doesn't make it alright. I think the language is dangerous and clumsy. I explained the descriptions to a third party for their view. Their jaw dropped and the response was along the lines of "You will be crucified if anyone sees that". If it's a strategy for the Board, fine, we can forgive the shorthand but if it is going to be in a more public space (which in the Members space it is now !) it is problematic. Words do matter


bob cannell Sat 13 Apr 2019

This confusion is why most people copy an existing policy and amend it to suit. I've often done that. Especially from organisations run by people who get discriminated against, not universities or other 'well meaning' mainstream bureacracies. Best way avoid pitfalls.These policies often seem awkward. They irritate people. I don't know if they solve the problem in practice. Is there evidence? Or is there a better way to do it that treats people as individuals not categories?



Tomas Remiarz Sat 13 Apr 2019

Great initiative Cath. Regarding race/ethnicity, I think White British is too narrow, if that's the criterion then you'll just end up with a load of Western Europeans making up the mix (speaking as a German). I get the intention of "apparent" and I agre with Graham's view of seeing this as a pragmatic strategy for greater inclusion.


I'm posting the governing document of Platform 6 here for additional context to this important discussion. Also if the policy above were implemented than it would likely require a change in the company articles too.

The board is elected by and from the membership. Those members can be individuals or corporate bodies who use the services of the co-op. Where corporate bodies are in the role of Director, they would nominate a representative to be the actual Director.

There is an existing clause with respect to diversity, although this relates more to the balance between the different categories of member, at the moment just corporate and individuals:

"The Board of Directors shall endeavour to ensure that its composition reflects the number of Members in each category, to maintain a representative balance. This shall be reviewed by the Directors from time to time"

There is an additional power to appoint two external Directors for their skills:

"In addition the Board of Directors may co-opt up to two external independent Directors who need not be Members and are selected for their particular skills and/orexperience. Such external independent Directors shall serve a fixed period determined by the Board of Directors at the time of the co-option, subject to a review at least every 12 months. External independent Directors may be removed from office at any time by a resolution of the Board of Directors."

At the moment, the Board is comprised of the founders Me, Graham Mitchell and Austen Cordasco and Cath Muller who was co-opted. Leo Sammallhati is also to attend our next meetings with a view to possible co-option. All Directors will stand down at the first AGM when they can stand for re-election.

As a consortium (or user) co-operative, the Board is currently representative of its membership, which as Cath says is dominated by ageing white males or organisations similarly dominated. I would also agree that it is representative of the professional co-operative development (CD) sector.

Whatever we implement needs to (in my opinion) address directly the underlying problem, which is the lack of diversity in the CD sector and the wider co-op movement. The pool of people we might attract into membership and onto the Board to improve the diversity of the Board is currently small. The separate Barefoot Co-op Development initiative may be one way to address this within the class of people delivering co-op development. The diversity of the group who have currently engaged is certainly much more balanced.

One other way to think about this is how would we address this if we ran as a collective? - all members were Directors. We would still be concerned with how we appear to others and the language we use and the diversity of our members, but we wouldn't implement quotas , indeed such quotas would likely run contrary to the principle of open membership. We should be actively creating initiatives that identify and address the barriers to involvement in CD and co-operation. Is this just a UK phenomenon for example?

I've also started looking at model board diversity policies and I'll consult the UK Co-operative Governance Expert Reference Panel to see if there is any guidance on best practice in this area.


Emma Laycock from Co-operatives UK has signposted to some resources around Board Diversity from a corporate perspective:
ICAEW Resources on Board Diversity aimed at accountants
Financial Reporting Council - Board Diversity Report
Nurole blog "Why Board Diversity is important" This last blog is interesting as it states that "We argue that the strong correlation evidenced between diversity and positive board performance should not be confused with causal nexus. Instead, board diversity is the natural outcome of a great search process and a well-run organisation. Diversity should not be a target for its own sake."