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Deborah Bainbridge, UK Commissioner for Adult Support at The Scout Association, talks about the future of diversity ahead of International Women’s Day…

Getting our priorities right

I was a Guide in my youth. I eventually gravitated to Scouts as an adult and volunteered and quickly learnt a lot. I’d never been camping before I became a Scout leader – I was a lady who much preferred a hotel room. I really enjoyed it though, and I got a real buzz out of it.

I’m now heavily involved in Scouts – I have been a Scout leader for 10 years and I’ve just taken over the role of GSL. My national role in Scouts, as UK Commissioner for Adult Support, looks after training, inclusion and diversity – a whole range of things. For my day job, I’m head of HR for a combined number of councils, so normally, I go to work five days a week and do Scouts work at weekends – for probably about 20 weekends or so throughout the year. So I’m pretty busy!

We’re all short of time and that’s always difficult and prioritising is always tricky too. In Scouting, as I’m sure many will agree, you find yourself doing lots of things at once but really it should be about prioritising what’s important.

The really important thing for me throughout the next year is to look at how we become more diverse as an organisation rather than just talking about it.

A male organisation

This diversity doesn’t just mean volunteers; it’s staff, it’s senior members – everyone throughout the whole Association.

There are a lot of Scout leaders who are female, but not a lot of managers who are female. One of the things we want to do sooner rather than later is to orchestrate research on this; find out why women don’t take on the bigger roles. It’s interesting, when I applied for my senior role in Scouts, I applied because the job was advertised in an HR magazine and it simply sounded like a great job. If I’d seen it on the Scout website though, I’m not sure I would have gone for it, as I think, psychologically, I saw it as a senior role in a male world.

To an extent, Scouting is still a male organisation – a lot of the older members are generally male. There are a lot of young females coming into the organisation, which is great; it’s fantastic that we now have Hannah Kentish as the UK Youth Commissioner. But it’s about trying to understand why there aren’t more women involved so we can then look to tackling this issue.

We also need to look externally for help in being more diverse. A lot of organisations have taken steps not to positively discriminate but to simply do something positive about a lack of diversity. It’s about thinking in the right way and putting in the time and energy to doing something about it. It’s easy to say, ‘oh well – that’s the way things are’, but it’s not okay.

Learning from others

In the next 12-18 months we’ll hopefully start learning from others and building an approach. It will take time, but I don’t want it to take forever. Somebody once said that it will take 55 years to change an organisation – I don’t want to wait that long!

As I said, we have a lot of girls in Scouts now, which is amazing – it’s a growing area so that’s a real positive to build on, but it’s now about doing more and looking at how we get more women involved across the entire organisation.

Encouragement is key. Locally, it’s about the more senior volunteers being vocal about wanting these things to happen. There are a lot of old-fashioned opinions in parts of Scouting and this needs to change. Attitudes need to change and promoting better attitudes to managers and the more senior members will help. We need to make it clear that this is what we are doing as an organisation and this is the direction we need to take. Managers need to own the change.

Challenges

The biggest challenges in my work at Scouts was juggling family, work and Scouting as well as feeling like the new girl.  A lot of senior members have been together a long time and sometimes this can feel like a barrier, like I haven’t been involved in the entire journey.

But like any situation where you’re presented with barriers, it’s about being yourself; it’s about being brave and saying, ‘I can do this!’ This is essentially the Scouting ethos of course – stepping up and taking on the challenge.

And this applies to all young people and adults. Everyone should be given the opportunity to have a go and our movement can offer these fantastic opportunities. And of course you can always think differently about how you take on a new role. My role is a flexible job share and there are different ways you can volunteer flexibly.

Women can change the world. We need to make sure that Scouts is a great place for them to start.

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