How to make my group more inclusive
There are many ways your community group can evolve into a more inclusive, responsive and representative body.
Here are some steps your organisation can take to reach that goal.
What do we mean by "inclusive"?
Basically, "inclusive" refers to the extent to which an organisation comprises and welcomes a broad range of backgrounds and interests, taking into account issues of language, ethnicity and culture, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, socio-economic status and disability.
There are important reasons for community organisations to aim to become more inclusive. For example:
- People from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds bring important knowledge of different traditions to community organisations, helping services and groups to become relevant to all of the community.
- Women make up 51 per cent of the population - having women in community organisations means that the organisations have more chance of relating to the whole community.
- Young people are the future of communities and organisations; their representation builds succession and renewal for organisations, services and community groups.
- People with disabilities are great for community organisations; they bring knowledge about how to make services, organisations and communities accessible to everyone.
In a perfect world, every organisation would be made up of people from all the different groups and sub-groups of society, but in practice, that's a big ask. The key, then, is to think about:
- what your organisation has been set up to do;
- the area and sector that your organisation operates within; and,
- the individuals and groups it serves.
Why should our organisation become more inclusive?
Increasing the variety of people who participate in your community group can offer the opportunity to tap into a rich pool of talent, bring in new voices, experiences and approaches, and add depth to existing skills and ideas.
People are more likely to join in and contribute if they can see that they will be treated with respect and dignity.
Greater inclusion will also expand the networks available to your group, help you to reach a wider "audience," increase the profile of your group and build support for what you are doing in key constituencies.
By achieving higher levels of inclusion your organisation may also stand a better chance of attracting funding.
How can our organisation become more inclusive?
Step One: Unite behind the decision
You need to build organisation-wide support. Not everyone will be supportive of a plan to change the status quo, but by preparing for a degree of resistance you can help to head off any white-anters. The best way to do this is to work out why the community group will benefit from being more inclusive. Present the arguments to board/committee members, staff and other stakeholders, pointing out that a more diverse organisation will:
- Demonstrate the group's commitment to equality.
- Bring to the table different skills, experiences and perspectives, and new solutions.
- Increase the organisation's access to new knowledge, networks and connections, helping to open doors and increase the community group's public profile.
- Bring unique characteristics to the organisation - for example, young people often help to inject enthusiasm and can also bring with them a better knowledge of new technology.
- Improve communication channels.
- Help to keep the organisation fresh.
Be aware that it is going to take time and resources but the benefits will outweigh the costs.
Step Two: Know why you are doing it
Tokenism is one of the greatest threats to the success and legitimacy of efforts to ensure greater inclusion. No one wants to be invited to join an organisation just to fill a quota.
A person in this position may feel they have to work twice as hard and be twice as successful to achieve the same respect and recognition others might.
A related problem will occur if a person recruited as part of an inclusion strategy is perceived as representing all women/all young people/all people with disabilities, etc. Even within societal sub-groups, attitudes, experiences and outlooks will differ significantly.
The best method of avoiding tokenism is to ensure that all people are welcomed into your community group.
Step Three: Express your commitment
Set your commitment to inclusion in stone by articulating your pledge. Write it down and state it where relevant - in annual reports and during speeches, for example.
Putting the commitment in black and white and making sure everyone knows about it will help build support for the strategy and ensure that your organisation is held to its promise.
Step Four: Examine your organisation
Changing the culture of an organisation through greater inclusion will often require a change in the way things are done. Ask questions like:
- What has your organisation done to encourage inclusion in the past?
- What worked? What wasn't so successful?
- Where does the organisation stand now with regards to inclusion?
- Where would your organisation like to be with regards to inclusion in 12 months time?
- How will you achieve this?
There are many ways you can help to make your group a more comfortable place for new members.
- Does your current meeting structure offer an equal opportunity for all members to contribute? For example, does it take into account people who may have a disability that prevents them from jumping up and speaking quickly?
- Are people from non-English-speaking backgrounds catered for? Are pamphlets and brochures translated and interpreters used? Is time allotted during meetings to allow people to catch up?
- Do your offices, meeting rooms and other buildings have disability access?
- Does your organisation meet at times convenient to young people, taking into account other responsibilities they may have such as work and school?
- Are meetings held at a place close to public transport to take into account non-drivers?
- Does your organisation take into account the needs of members who are parents of young children? For example, they may not be able to attend meetings at short notice, or stay on when a meeting needs to be extended.
- Do you serve a variety of foods at your functions to take account of people's personal, cultural and religious dietary requirements and preferences?
Survey your current members to ask them how your group could serve their needs better, but don't forget that the things you do for one group of people might in fact act as a barrier to others. See if you can find a compromise.
You might also want to think about the option of setting aside a place or places on your organisation's board/committee for representatives of key stakeholder groups. Be aware, however, that this can lead to accusations of tokenism, particularly if stringent guidelines for other qualifications are not put in place at the same time.
Step Five: Take action
- Use plain spoken language and also in any materials you provide to members, supporters and clients - avoid acronyms and jargon that may exclude newcomers or people who speak a different first language.
- Consider alternative resources to aid inclusion: documents in Braille, electronic disks, audio, on the internet, large print. Check for grants to help you offset the costs.
- Plain language and large print can be useful for everyone - not just those with a disability. They are quicker to read and useful for those with basic English skills. Also, easy English is cheaper and simpler if you want it translated.
- Produce fliers, membership forms, regulations etc. in several languages. This improves access and may avoid misunderstandings of conditions of membership etc. later.
(Refer to The Australian Standard 1428 - Design for Access & Mobility for more detail)
- Is the location near public transport?
- Is it within walking distance of the majority of the group? If not, a great idea is to suggest or arrange car-pooling opportunities.
- Does it have clear and accessible pick up and drop off areas?
- Is the parking wheelchair accessible and the building accessible for people with mobility difficulties? Are there steps only or steps and a ramp at the front entrance?
- Does the building have easy to operate doors?
- Do they have sufficient space for independent access by a wheelchair use?
- Are the lift buttons large with tactile identifiers and also at a suitable level for a person in a wheelchair?
- Does the lift have handrails and audible signals when the doors are opening, closing or arriving at a particular floor?
- Is there adequate space to allow independent access by a wheelchair user?
- Is the furniture at a height which allows a wheelchair to fit underneath?
- Can the seating be arranged to assist those with hearing or visual impairments?
- Can the group access the controls for adequate lighting, ventilation and heating/cooling?
- If there are stairs or steps do they have handrails and clearly marked edges?
- Are the floor coverings non slip?
- Are they accessible and easy to locate? (Preferably on the same floor as the meeting.)
- Is the door easy to open with wheel chair accessible cubicles, grab rails at appropriate heights beside and at the rear of the toilet and wheelchair accessible washbasins etc?
- Other facilities
- Is the signage clear (large, non reflective) and set at appropriate heights?
- Are there both auditory and visual fire alarms?
- Is a hearing loop installed in the meeting room(s)?
- Are the videos used in presentations captioned and positioned so that all participants can see them?
- Think about and make allowances in your budget for costs relating to inclusion.
- Plan ahead to make your meetings/events as accessible as possible to encourage participation by a diverse group. If possible involve representatives from all groups when planning an event.
- Think about what issues/barriers to participation could arise and try to prevent them before they occur.
- Treat everyone as an individual - do not assume that any two people's needs are the same. Ask if anyone attending has any special requirements.
- Schedule meeting/event times to meet the needs of the members of the group. Take religious and cultural occasions into consideration when planning. If possible provide an area for prayer.
- Try to keep to time during meetings and functions to help people plan their travel arrangements, childcare and other commitments. Give plenty of notice of meeting/event times.
- Activities should be varied so that all participants are engaged and comfortable. Allow opportunities for people to get up and move around frequently which is beneficial for all, but especially those with a disability. Take breaks - allow extra time if necessary to make sure everyone has ample time for their needs.
- If providing refreshments be aware of personal, cultural and religious dietary requirements and preferences, and ensure that food is accessible to people in wheelchairs.
- Consider matching new members with a mentor or 'buddy' to help welcome them into your group
Step Six: Attract new members
There are many ways you can go about finding new members for your group - and it is not difficult to work an inclusion strategy into an existing promotion strategy.
Ideally start by knowing the demographics of the community your group is aimed at to ensure that the organisation is representative of the whole community.
If you feel that previous efforts to make your organisation more inclusive failed due to 'lack of interest' from the people you were trying to include maybe you need to change your approach.
Be creative and more specific in your inclusion efforts - target specific groups and tailor your approach for them.
Try to avoid stereotyping. Observe, listen to and take cues from the people you are trying to include and take this into consideration in your interaction with them.
Connect with them through the language you use and the references you make.
Ask people where they would like to meet.
Show that your organisation is sincere and enthusiastic about inclusion.
Make it clear 'what's in it for them' if they join your group and that it's not just a membership drive. Show them how they can benefit as well as how their contribution will make a difference to the group. Stress that it is mutually beneficial.
Step Seven: Keep your members happy
Even if you've followed all the advice above there will still be occasions when conflicts arise. It's fine to agree to disagree sometimes, everyone has a right to their opinion. Acceptance of different views and methods is all part of inclusion; it is what makes an organisation strong.
- The Australian Government's Living in Harmony initiative is designed to strengthen community harmony and address issues of racism in Australia. The initiative is primarily a community-based education program, which encourages communities to play a positive role through three elements: a community grants program; a partnerships program; and a Harmony Day, held on March 21 each year.
- A useful calendar of cultural, religious and national days and events provided by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
- The Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators is the professional association for translators and interpreters in Australia.
- The WA Government's Disability Services Commission lists a large range of publications that can help organisations become more inclusive to people with disabilities.
- The Queensland Government has produced Protocols for Consultation and Negotiation with Aboriginal People to aid in communication across cultures.
- The Foundation for Young Australians has produced a handbook that presents a step-by-step guide to involving young people in decision-making.
- The NSW Commission for Children and Young People has information on how to make workplaces safer and friendlier for children and young people.
- Australian Youth Facts and Stats is a website providing facts and statistics about Australia's youth - how many there are, what they do and what they're like.
- VicSport has a range of online resources to help sport and active recreation clubs become welcoming and inclusive environments for all.
- The Victorian Government's 'Access For All Abilities' program is designed to support and develop inclusive sport and recreation opportunities for people with a disability throughout Victoria.