JCI Europe aims to be a leader in Equality and Diversity

JCI Europe aims to be a leader in Equality and Diversity

Equality and diversity are two important values that especially European countries are known to strive for. JCI Europe doesn’t fall short of that as it has its own Equality and Diversity Taskforce that aims to ensure that there’s a fair share of opportunities between genders and a balance in all future leadership opportunities. Taskforce Chairperson - Svava Arnardóttir, tells us more about the reason behind the Taskforce and the work they have been doing.

By Nicole Borg

“We want to make sure that our organization is welcoming, inclusive and safe for everyone.” This is what Svava Arnardóttir said when asked why the Equality and Diversity Taskforce is such an important Taskforce for JCI Europe. She explained that JCI Europe wants to be a leading organization when it comes to equality and diversity. They want to correct structural inequalities and change the culture so that we see the organization's membership and the composition of leadership reflect the diversity of our communities. “This is important because it results in more potential members, more involvement of the current members and realignment of JCI with young people‘s values and identity. It is important because it is right, fair and just. Everyone should have the possibility to be an active member of society and to create positive impact,” explained Arnardóttir. The Taskforce came about as the result of the members' requests and part of the implementation of 2019's JCI Europe Strategic Plan, which was created in alignment with JCI's Strategic Plan on an international level. Arnardóttir said that establishing an Equality and Diversity Taskforce within JCI Europe was one of the action points of the plan under the category "connect". The initial steps 2019 JCI Executive Vice President assigned to Europe - Viktor Ómarsson, entrusted her with establishing such a Taskforce for JCI Europe as part of her duties as the Executive Assistant to the EVP assigned to Europe in 2019. She then started by working on a common vision, connecting with like-minded members and testing out some actions related to safe spaces and sexual harassment at the EPM in February 2019. Later, in May 2019, the team had a couple of trainings on sexual harassment, safe spaces and female leadership at the European Conference in Lyon, France. They also made it possible for members to denote their pronouns on the conference lanyards by collaborating with JCI HQ.

Gendered statistics of who moved motions, presented or spoke up during the conference assembly were also produced along with workshops on behalf of JCI Europe. Arnardóttir explained how at the 2019 World Congress in Tallinn, Estonia the Taskforce launched their year-long empowerment program with monthly webinars open for anyone interested in equality and diversity, starting with an event with a distinguished Estonian politician - Kaja Kallas. Working on new guidelines Asked about the roles of those involved in the Taskforce, Arnardóttir went on to say that there are 12 members on the Taskforce from 8 National Organizations and the group has been divided into smaller teams with specific focuses.

Together they work on producing suggestions, ideas, tools and opening up discussions on the topic of equality and diversity in JCI in Europe. Local and National Organizations are invited to then utilize those tools and implement them in their communities.

The Taskforce is currently working on a policy and guidelines for JCI Europe with regards to sexual harassment, suggestions to implement safe spaces at JCI events in Europe and continuing with the Empowerment program with monthly webinars on topics such as LGBTQIA+, (dis)ability, championing diversity and anti-racism. Arnardóttir let us in on some of the challenges that the Taskforce has faced so far. She explained how one of the main challenges is that there are still a lot of people that are not aware that this Taskforce exists. She said that this is to be expected when the Taskforce was only established in 2019. She explained that another challenge can also be “that we as individuals are sometimes afraid to act on matters relating to equality and diversity because we don't want to do the wrong thing, say something stupid or show that we are not perfect. It's important to foster a growth mindset where we acknowledge that we are learning, developing and doing our best.” Safe for everyone Asked about the work of the Taskforce in order to reduce sexual harassment, Arnardóttir admitted that the Taskforce will not single-handedly reduce sexual harassment in JCI. “There is no simple training, procedure or a nice poster that will fix such an issue. We need a cultural, systematic change where JCI members feel the shared responsibility to speak up when they see something that doesn't look right and that we act on those instances. The responsibility does not fall on the person experiencing the harassment but on bystanders and the harasser. There should never be a case of a harassment report where we do not investigate in a timely manner and find a solution,” insisted Arnardóttir. She went on to say that we all need to be united in making sure that our organization is safe for everyone. Arnardóttir admitted that this, in itself, is a challenge, seeing as JCI members are from many different countries and cultures with varied ideas of harassment and acceptable communication. She explained that the Taskforce believes that the idea of "unwantedness" can serve as a guide in knowing when some boundaries are overstepped. It does not matter what the intent of an interaction is, if it is unwanted and experienced as uncomfortable by one of the individuals in question. In light of this, how can we make our Local Organizations more diverse and provide equality in opportunities? Arnardóttir said that “one needs to consider whether the composition of the membership of the Local Organization reflects the community. “In most instances it does not, but instead favours people with university education, expendable income, without disability, generally heterosexual and cis gendered. If that is the case in your Local Organization - there is a lot that we can do to fix it,” explained Arnardóttir.

Basic Tips

Make your organization more respectful of diversity and a leader in equality with some of Arnardóttir’s basic tips:

  • Use gender-neutral language wherever possible.
  • Make sure to provide an accessibility description (sound quality, wheelchair accessible, sight, language and non-gendered bathrooms for example) when advertising an event or training.
  • Use inclusive stock imagery to reflect different genders, race, body shapes, etc. as you can either be further establishing social norms with your pictures or choose to challenge the norm.
  • Make JCI membership forms more inclusive with non-binary gender options and consider having pronouns as part of our introductions and name badges.
  • Have a balance of male/female/non binary people, and white/people of colour speakers at your events or on a panel.
  • Hold events at different times to allow parents to attend, or have childcare services available.
  • Consider differing cost/registration fees.
  • Set a minimum cost for attending and offer the option of paying extra so that the ticket can be subsidised for people with lesser means.
  • Use subtitles for online sessions.