Hello folks! Welcome to another Coworking Values Podcast where every week we provide you with topics that makes the coworking world better.
For this episode, our guest is Tash Thomas an Inclusion and Diversity advocate and speaker who is also the director of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion of the European Coworking Assembly.
Tash will talk about how inclusion, equality and diversity makes a coworking space and the coworking community a safe space for everyone. And she will also delve on what is called the “founder bias” and how it affects the demographic of a coworking space. She will also be talking about the Inclusion, Equality and Diversity workbook for the coworking space owners to use to make their spaces fully inclusive.
How does “Founder Bias” affect a coworking space?
Bernie J Mitchel 0:03
Hello Ladies, gentlemen, boys and girls, cats, and dogs. It is another European Coworking Assembly podcast, which we call the Coworking Values podcast. Zeljko, my friend, how are you today?
Zeljko Crnjaković 0:12
I’m very good Bernie, how are you?
Bernie J Mitchel 0:15
I’m well exercised. I cycled into the coworking space I’m part of and I cycled back. I was touching my stomach and that lockdown paunch. I’m not sure whether it’s middle aged or?
Zeljko Crnjaković 1:02
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Bernie J Mitchel 1:38
I’m really excited today because we have Tash, who is another one of those amazing people I found in a coworking space in London doing some writing, and we’re going to talk about, what do we what do we call it nowadays? Tasha, what’s the exact terminology diversity…
Equality and inclusion.
Bernie J Mitchel 1:56
So, we’ve had a chat about diversity.
Still diversity, but diversity, equality, and inclusion. Three now.
Bernie J Mitchel 2:08
Okay. And it’s going to change in a few months’ time as we evolve. So, we’ve had lots going on about diversity, equality, and inclusion for a long time in the Coworking Assembly family, through various projects. I was podcasting with Tasha for another project and said, Oh, my goodness, she knows so much about this. And it just so happens that the role she was looking for in life at the moment was to be like, Senior Vice President, Director of diversity, equality, and inclusion in a major influential organization. And here we are. Introduce yourself before I hack even more.
I am Tasha and I am a diversity, equality, and inclusion specialist. You say I’m the director, whatever it shortener, but I guess I’m just somebody who’s very passionate about this particular topic. Because, firstly, I just hate injustice and inequality of any kind, but also, it’s very, very relevant to my own life. And that’s kind of how I found the passion in that. I am, first of all a woman and I’m also queer, as well as being biracial in an interracial queer relationship. So, I tick a lot of different things in the equality boxes there and diversity boxes. I feel very passionately about this topic as a result.
Bernie J Mitchel 4:29
Why does it fire you up? Because when I first met you, you were just only dancing and traveling the world and then you really got into it in the last few years. I follow Breaking the Distance. I was probably one of the first five followers, Tash. When did this really become a thing you have to like, run around and shout about all the time because I can’t remember when this became big for me, but it’s here, isn’t it?
Yeah, absolutely. And, as you mentioned, Breaking the Distance which is an LGBT blog that I run with my fiancé. And that initially started again as a fun thing of us traveling around the world. And then we realized how important it was for our existing audience on social media to have LGBTQ visibility. So, what started out specifically as LGBTQ visibility and diversity was sort of my original passion. I then thought, well, actually, it doesn’t really stop there. It’s diversity of all kinds. And so yeah, and it kind of just built up from then. And then I think the real push forward was earlier this year, obviously, during the month of June, which was not only Pride Month, but also coincided with the murder of George Floyd. And everything that I experienced in such a raw form during that month was definitely a catalyst, a major catalyst for it to become at the forefront of my attention, and then sort of became part of my every waking hour, as it were. So, it’s kind of a combination of things. But I think there are a lot of things throughout my life that have sort of built me towards where I am now. I started advocating for the LGBTQ community, I then sort of couldn’t stop with just that. And see I kind of built from that as well.
Bernie J Mitchel 6:27
Before I start going off on another tangent, one of the things that you’re going to help us with or make happen is we’ve been looking for a long time for someone to edit, publish and own the Coworking Assembly’s handbook on diversity, equality, and inclusion. So, tell us about the handbook.
So, the handbook comes from a recognized problem, in that a lot of coworking spaces tend to have a very specific audience. And the audience that we tend to see is a white middle-aged man. They tend to be very male dominated, or very white across the board. But coworking in its very core and its very definition is about collaboration and diversity. But for some reason, for whatever reason, that doesn’t seem to be happening in terms of the audience in the demographic, they’re actually using coworking spaces. And also, now there’s definitely this push towards local coworking versus the corporate coworking spaces. So, we are all aware of big corporations where they have maybe 15/20 of the same coworking space up and down the country. And it’s a paid membership and blah, blah, blah, that’s definitely one section of it. But actually, you guys know better than anyone that coworking is built around this kind of local community collaboration spirit. However, we have a lot of these communities that for instance, a coworking space that’s based in a predominantly black population, in terms of its area. However, when you walk into a coworking space, everyone in there is white. So, you’re like, where’s this discrepancy coming from. And quite often, we use the time of founder bias, where we tend to have coworking spaces where everybody that uses it are a replica of the founder themselves, because obviously that’s the easiest person for them to attract. But there’s so much research that shows within companies, and with any kind of space, the more diverse your spaces, the more successful it can be. And that can be on a financial kind of success, but it’s also on an idea’s success. So actually, the true essence of collaboration being people from all walks of life and with all different experiences is what brings true collaboration and true diversity in terms of ideas and businesses, because you’re getting just a different perspective than your own.
Bernie J Mitchel 9:27
And Tash, can I just stop you there and ask you, so just for the sake of the listeners, so based on what you just said, founder bias. Did that happen in most coworking spaces? And I’m guessing in most coworking spaces, it didn’t happen intentionally, but did that happen because of the way that coworking spaces are communicating to their audience or because the audience or the prospective audience doesn’t see themselves as people who actually go to coworking spaces because they don’t see coworking spaces filled with their demographic?
I think it’s a combination of the two. With anything that you set up view or media people that you connect with, and you tell about your new business, whatever that is, is your immediate circle, right? It’s your immediate influencer circle, your LinkedIn connections. And quite often, we tend to have a circle that looks like us. And we were guilty of this. And we realized it when we started Breaking Distance. And we would look at our audience, and as a feminine presenting LGBT couple, majority of our audience was also feminine presenting lesbians, and you actually have to take a step outside and actively seek to find somebody different. So, in terms of coworking spaces, and founder bias, I think that’s where it starts.
You naturally are going to go to your immediate network. So, you’re going to post that on the Facebook groups that you’re already a part of, on the LinkedIn groups that you’re already connected to, and anybody that’s in your immediate circle, which generally tend to look or be within your own demographic already. And obviously then it builds up. Say for instance somebody new approaches it, they happen to catch wind of it by coincidence, and then they enter that space. Well, if I am a 19 year old black woman coming in wanting to use a coworking space, I walk in, and everybody in there is a 70-year-old white male, odds are I’m going to feel like; oh, is this really a coworking space for me? And I know I’m using extremes of this, but that tends to be what happens, is people walking in it and don’t feel like this is their space.
Bernie J Mitchell 11:48
So, to connect to that topic, what would the perspective result or reaction be for a coworking space that you already have a certain demographic of people that are coming in, or some users, and you’re not against attracting anybody new, but that somebody new, as you just said, when he or she comes to the space, he doesn’t feel that he fits in even though everybody’s welcoming. So, what is the proper course of action in that sort of sense?
Well, I think a key one which coworking spaces are generally some of the best at doing, are hosting events. Hosting events not specifically for the people you already have in the room. It’s actually about hosting events outside of that immediate circle and going into other parts of the community and saying, by the way, we have a space here, if you want to run this in our space, or we are specifically hosting an event that we’ve realized this challenge of this part of the community, whatever it is, and actually outreaching it takes some work, it takes some effort, and this is where diversity, equality and inclusion often gets put to the backburner. Because if you have a successful coworking space, it’s making you money, and everything’s working, and you have a loyal audience there and a loyal membership. And most people have, well, why do I now need to go out and bother to find new people from somewhere else? It’s an effort. But at the same time, this is why it has to be something that you also feel passionately about and want to invest in. Because ultimately, yes, you could just keep it exactly the same. However, at some point, it’s going to become old news. I also believe that you’re not giving the current members of your coworking space the best experience that they could have, because they are not getting the opportunity to collaborate with diverse people. And as a coworking space, that should be your number one priority to help people to cowork and collaborate together.
Bernie J Mitchell 14:04
So, if you look at the coworking conferences around the world, like in the States and in Europe, they are usually white male dominated things. If our friend Alex didn’t come to Coworking Europe, there would have been no black people there, which is terrible for a European Coworking Conference. And this has been talked about for ages. It’s not like we’re doing a big reveal here. And in London it has got a lot better in the last few years, but most coworking spaces are full of slightly affluent white men, white males doing white male stuff, whatever that is. And, as we’ve researched this more, I never really noticed it until it was pointed out to me. Because when you wander through London as a white male, it is a very different experience to either being female or being another colour. And one of the themes, and you can talk about it with more accuracy, Tash, is like you said, you have to go out of your way to find people not like you. We had a conversation earlier on in this podcast with Alex from Indy Hall about the difference between an invitation and an announcement. Saying we have an event, and everyone can come is one thing, but going and saying, oh, would you like Sangeeta? Would you like to come to this event? Oh I would love to come to that event, I thought it was just for white men drinking coffee with Apple laptops, I didn’t realize that South Asian women were allowed to just because very few people are actually racist about this stuff. They just don’t realize there’s something outside themselves. Can you build on that?
I think you’re right. And that’s the thing. It’s not that people like actively excluding people, it’s not that at all. However, that is also not actively including people. So, there’s this area of just inaction in the middle, which has this just going through the same status quo. And I think that in terms of inviting new people in the same way that any kind of business at some point, if you’re wanting to shake it up a bit, you all get together, and you come up with new ideas, you know, this isn’t working that well, or we need to do this or we’re going to do a price restructure, everybody does it at some point, but no one necessarily always considers this specific topic. And we saw lots of it, I will say we saw a lot of it after the murder of George Floyd, where there were so many companies, their social media was scrambling around to find any black person to put on their social media because they had just realized that all their social media is very whitewashed. It’s not that that company feels that way, but nobody has been key acknowledging that this entire time, except probably the people who worked for that company, who are people of colour, will acknowledge it. And that they’re now doing it not because it’s a trend, not because other people are looking at you, but actually because you see the value in it. I think there are certain communities that aren’t even aware of coworking as an option. But the idea of a coworking space going to the local university, or the local secondary school and saying, hey, guys, just so you know, we have a space here, and actually, every Wednesday, we’re going to have it free for students to come in and utilize it and hold events here. There’s a next generation, especially in a space like London where the majority of schools are filled with the most diverse population of young adults going, you’re already putting it on their radar for when they go into the working world, whether that’s within a paying job or freelance job, it doesn’t matter. The fact is you’ve now put it in front of them. And they know that that is an option as a space,
Bernie J Mitchel 18:33
Before lockdown and COVID hit, with Kofi and some other coworking spaces in East London, from Stratford to Whitechapel, we planned this program where we started meeting with about eight or nine coworking spaces in there, and we were starting to get others together. And we had the University of East London and Queen Mary and Westfield. And for both those universities that are in the East end of London as people know it, 70% of the people that go to those universities grew up and still live in East London, and very few of those people know what are coworking spaces. So, with people from those universities, a key thing was having a tour of coworking spaces with students, which is a bit tricky now, at the time of recording, but it was make people aware. A lot of those young people will be working in cafes, or working in their bedrooms, and Kofi knows people turning over thousands of pounds, running a business on a laptop, in a car in Hackney. And they just don’t know coworking around. There’s a lot of serviced office space here and there’s a Regus on the edge of it. But at some point, someone’s going to open a coworking space here, and it will be tragic if it was full of affluent white people beating their head against, falling in love with Richard Branson books when the ethnic diversity of this bar is amazing.
Zeljko Crnjaković 20:10
Bernie, I’m going put the question out there for both of you because I come from a community where we don’t have like ethnic diversity too much here, we have other kinds of diversity. But speaking of diversity, there are a lot of different types of diverse. I mean, diversity is diversity, but you can target a lot of different groups, and to be actually fully inclusive, we’re talking about coworking spaces taking an active role in targeting different demographics. But in order to do so, sometimes it may be overwhelming to say, I’m doing ethnic diversity, or I’m targeting deaf people, or I’m targeting people with disability or for whatever other type of demographics, what is the right course of action?
I think you’re you brought up a key point in that, yes, you’re right, that diversity isn’t just about ethnicity. It’s about religion. It’s about age. It’s about genders, sexual orientation, its ability, like all those different things. Absolutely. But in terms of making your space more diverse, and it shouldn’t be that – okay, Monday morning we’re now going to attack all nine protected characteristics, every single one this week, let’s go. It’s a big ask. However, there are small things that can be done and that I think that don’t necessarily mean that you have to create a big initiative, it can be as simple as having a separate space in your coworking space that is available for people to pray in the relevant times of day for them. It can be having a small LGBT flag in the top corner, on the front door, or on the noticeboard as you walk in, so that people know that this is an LGBTQ space. Instead of having male and female toilets, you can maybe have male and female, but then you also have a unisex toilet if your space allows you to do that. It’s all these tiny little moments that are very actual simple changes, or just actively putting up these kind of little initiatives in place that can actually make it very clear to have somebody coming in and approaching the space, first off, that actually the space is trying and it has diversity and inclusion on its mind. Yeah, it’s at the forefront.
Zeljko Crnjaković 22:55
Okay. And going back to what we started off with, so the handbook. So, let’s finish off the podcast by talking a bit about what it will be and what it’s supposed to be, and what people can expect from it?
So, the handbook itself is going to be a guideline. And actually, came out of two years of research, specifically around Hackney and Hackney coworking spaces, and just looking at what those coworking spaces were offering and who was using them. We all know, when we think of Hackney, we know the imagery that comes to our head as it being very diverse part of London, especially. However, 95% of the users of Hackney coworking spaces were white male. And so, it wasn’t really getting a true representation of the local area. It gave the need of; how do we fix this. And I think what comes out of it is that there are so many people who want to do something about it, but they have no clue where to start. And they worry about being offensive. They worry about correct terminology. So, in the end it’s very head in the sand and don’t deal with it. So, we felt like creating a handbook for, first of all, coworking owners, the space owners themselves as a guideline of how to start thinking about how to make their own space more inclusive. And this can be starting with very simple things like I mentioned earlier of having a separate press space, having a flag, those kind of things right through to actual initiatives, things that take a bit more time, a bit more planning, but that they have a point of contact and a guideline on how to achieve this. That’s kind of where the handbook is heading towards to begin with. And that’s not where we see it ending at all. We see that it becomes potentially training material and that actually someone could go into a space and it becomes a blueprint for hosting events and things like that related specifically to diversity, quality and inclusion. And so, it has a very big plan. But I think what’s also very key is that a lot of the material out there right now, whilst it is relevant in certain aspects, it tends to be created for more of a corporate space. So, it’s basing its information on the idea of a corporation who have a set number of employees and a team that work together every single day. And these people know each other. How do we make this space more inclusive, whereas coworking is a very different arena. And you are finding how to make your space diverse and equal with these mixtures of individuals. And they are very much individual freelancer business owners. And it’s how to teach them what your space is about and have them respect it in the same way that you want it respected.
Zeljko Crnjaković 25:51
Fantastic. I think that is a wonderful wrap up of what we are going to see in the near future. Bernie, do you have anything to add before we leave?
Bernie J Mitchel 26:03
I’m really excited about this, because five years ago at Coworking Europe, I went to the first diversity and inclusion roundtable, which was like four people, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. And then back in Amsterdam, we got a record turnout, when we called it the business case for diversity and inclusion. And then suddenly, everyone thought there wasn’t a price tag attached to it. And then when we got to war, so everyone’s chilled out a bit and got a lot more movement. But this is a really important topic, particularly in London. Whereas there’s been a great density of coworking spaces in zone one and zone two in London. And as people have started to boot the commute and stayed in the outskirts in zones six, five and four, neighbourhoods are going to pop up and those neighbourhoods are very diverse and much more interesting. And there’s the opportunity for the coworking space to become that 15-minute City we talk about a lot, to become a community and workplace like Zeljko’s place in Subotica. And it’s not that they want to do the wrong thing. They just need a path to follow. Where can we find you online, Tasha?
You can find me on Instagram at Tasht.uk and it’s Tashtuk on Twitter. Those are my main two and I’m obviously on LinkedIn and all that jazz as well.
Bernie J Mitchel 28:04
And Breaking the Distance?
We have the Instagram as Breaking the Distance. The blog is breakingdistance.com. The podcast is breaking the distance. So yeah, type it into Google and you should head it straight away.
Bernie J Mitchel 28:21
One of the most human and informative love stories available on the internet today. Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, go to coworkingassembly.eu and count to 10 and there will l be a little annoying pop up and you can put your email address in there. And every week we’ll send you stories of local coworking spaces, real human beings doing coworking around Europe. And best of all, a copy of this podcast. I thank you very much take care of each other and stay safe.