Reflecting the communities we serve

Arvinda Gohil explains how to achieve authentic engagement with the people we support

Why is it important to mirror the communities we support in the workplace? Our new CEO, Arvinda Gohil, has years of experience working with diverse people groups. Arvinda shares her thoughts on how organisations like the YMCA can truly be inclusive and diverse…

This article was first published on Shift.

I have worked in several place based organisations around the country. My observations over the years (not statistically validated), but none the less worth noting is that these organisations on the whole tend to reflect the community they work with. I would go as far as to say that these organisations have given opportunity for the local community to engage economically through the employment opportunities provided. Some of this is of course by design as leaders in those organisations care deeply and pay attention to the importance of community engagement not only in service delivery but also in its governance structures.

So what is this special ingredient that enables this mirroring to work so strongly and why is it

It is only when we are able to demonstrate empathy, a true desire to support and a genuine
commitment to assist people regardless of how they present, and the complexity of their lives that we
are able to work with and show empathy for people in need of support.

  1. People from these communities for a myriad of reasons, have on the whole failed to secure roles in the main stream. These communities are generally poorer with lower attainment levels and lacking role models could be some of the reasons.
  2. The ‘mainstream’ does however present a mode of operation and a way of conducting oneself, which is often alien to people in communities.
  3. People from these communities, myself included, have actively chosen to work in these organisations. It has been a particular personal driver for me.

What is so special about this mirroring and why it works in some organisations and not others, is the question I have pondered for many years. I do not assume I have the answer but I do believe one of the key ingredients is the ability to relate, show humility, care and attention that mirrors culturally, socially, economically and ethnically.

Only when we stop treating people who come through our doors as ‘other’, as ‘disadvantaged’, as ‘needy’, ‘in need’, requiring ‘help and support’, can we truly begin to be organisations that genuinely reflect communities we aspire to work with. Yes, it is us that aspire to work with them and we recognise that we are all in some way or another, at some points in our lives, users of support and services. We are all at some time likely to use the NHS at some time in our lives, the Chemist, social services, etc.

We are all the community and we are all equal members and participants in this community, however you may define that community. If we do not in organisations look and feel like the community we live and work in, we will never succeed. We will always remain the ‘other’.

This special cocktail of ingredients is often overlooked and undervalued and yet in community based organisations, it is what sets them apart. The ability to mirror a person’s ethnicity, gender, experience and similar life chances makes the quality of engagement and dialogue something special and precious. It helps us create empathy and understanding that goes beyond the need to talk the same language.

In building a team that is able to achieve this special cocktail, employing an excellent skilled youth worker is as important as their ethnicity, gender, socio economic group and many other such traits. We have failed to recognise that these traits are as important as the technical experience of working with young people, older people, women, and so on. It is this approach that creates authenticity, a sense of belonging and brings about its own magic. It not only demonstrates to the community that we are of and from them, but also demonstrates to society at large that these places are what makes our country such a unique and special place.