What do you imagine a Speakers Club is like and is your preconception accurate?
I’ll be honest. When I first heard of Speakers Clubs, I had a certain image in my mind. Smoking jackets, pipes, and an old boys’ network is what I thought I would find. So, with low expectations (I was young(ish) and female), I parked up my reservations and walked through the door.
In fact, what I was met with couldn’t have been more different. The club I joined was truly diverse, supportive, encouraging, and accessible. There were members from all walks of life, with a diverse range of talents and abilities. And as a result, I’ve never looked back.
As an organisation, we know the importance and value of diversity, but we also know we haven’t always got it right. And that’s something we’re working hard to correct.
Of course, improved diversity isn’t something you can achieve with the flick of a switch overnight. It may involve changes in culture and beliefs, as well as changes to practices and processes. When you’re dealing with a national organisation, there may be geographical challenges and communication channels that need work. And of course, there’s the tricky issue of awareness, both within an organisation and how both the corporate being and its members view itself, and the external perception of an organisation and how we’re viewed by others.
With all this in mind, we wanted to explore the issue of diversity at the ASC to get a better understanding of how we’re doing, why it matters so much and any of the particular challenges our clubs may face. So we spoke to three members of our organisation from across the country and with varied backgrounds and experiences to find out more:
Sarah Wadsworth, Head of People Operations at Fujitsu
Sarah’s a longstanding ASC member as well as an expert in her field and we asked her to expand on the role of diversity and inclusivity in any organisation:
What it means
“Diversity recognises difference, acknowledging the richness of conversations, quality of output and increased impact when a diverse set of individuals come together. Of course, we often think about gender, age, race and disability in this context but truly diverse organisations will also recognise difference in religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender identity as well as difference in social background, approach, style and learning preferences. But it is inclusivity that brings diversity to life and where individuals can be themselves and start to perform at their best.
Inclusivity sees difference as a benefit. Members should not all want to be the same, or be judged the same, but their differences and uniqueness should be celebrated so we are not conforming but belonging.
Miller and Katz defined inclusion as, ‘A sense of belonging, feeling respected, valued for who you are, feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best.’
Being different is to be celebrated but being made to feel different will not feel inclusive. Struggling to enter buildings, highlighting accents, references to stature, choice of topics are small but significant ways that difference can feel excluding and all being aware of this will start to move us to a truly inclusive organisation.”
Verity Eunson-Hickey, Specialist Family Solicitor
Verity’s another long-standing member of the ASC, and soon to be the ASC National Education Director. She’s worked closely with the outgoing Education Director, Tom Scott, so we asked her why she sees this topic as so important and what the ASC is doing to address it.
Why it matters
“Diversity is a much-used word but at the ASC we want to ensure we have diversity in our organisation in the widest possible sense of the term, a mixture of ages, genders, sexual orientations, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds, different physical abilities and neurodiversity all coming together.
Why? Well, not just because it is the right thing to do and we want everyone, regardless of their background or circumstances, to feel welcome at the ASC. More diverse organisations are more successful organisations, diversity brings a fresh outlook, perspective and experience. Studies have shown that diverse groups are more likely to be more creative.
We are passionate about public speaking and how much change the spoken word can bring about and we want to give everyone the tools to feel confident speaking in public. Now more than ever we need the voice, stories and experiences of the marginalised and we want to help them find their voice.”
What we’re doing
“So how are we doing that? Well, our leadership team is already pretty diverse and we want that to percolate down throughout the whole organisation, we want to encourage and support diversity in all our clubs and committees across the UK.
Historically, we had single gender clubs, those no longer exist and we are working hard to ensure that everyone will receive a warm welcome at whichever Speakers Club they choose to attend. We are looking at our processes, procedures and events to make sure that they are all as open as possible to the widest possible spectrum of people. We are also in the process of undertaking a review of how accessible our clubs are to those less abled generally.
The ASC is fantastic value so we are confident that no one should feel unable to access our offering on financial grounds. We are also partnering with other organisations to help ensure everyone has access, for example our fantastic new Speakers Guide has also been produced as a spoken word version in conjunction with the RNIB.”
Stephen Tuthill, District President
Stephen is also a longstanding member of the ASC who has held a variety of roles including club president, area and district president and therefore seen the impact of diversity and inclusivity (or lack of it) first hand. We wanted to know how it feels at a grassroots level and what he thinks we could do now to improve.
“Since becoming elected to the position of South East District President, I have had the pleasure and privilege of attending various ASC Speakers Clubs around the country. Each club is different, in composition as in location, and each has its challenges.
In my experience, no club is perfect, and there are always things that can be done to improve how the working of the club is carried out. That said, new members change the dynamics of your club, which can be unsettling to some of the established members. However, this change of dynamism needs to be encouraged, and used, to help clubs grow. If your club’s dynamics have remained constant for several years, ask yourself honestly, would your club benefit from new members.
There is a saying, “in life change is the only constant”, meaning that to be successful we all need to become comfortable with there being changes in our lives and clubs; to stand still, for any person or organisation, either means standing still, or worse, going backwards.
It’s always going to be important to keep asking ourselves if we’re missing new members that will help lead the new growth that we need to maintain and grow our clubs and national organisation. And if we are, what can we do to make everyone, from all walks of life feel welcome, supported and nurtured the minute they walk through the door (if not before).”
At the ASC, we’re committed to ensuring we are a diverse and inclusive organisation. Those of our clubs that can boast a truly diverse membership have a depth and richness to their activities that provides great educational and moral value and experience.
We know we’re not perfect and we know we can’t achieve all that we want to overnight. But that said, the ASC has come a long way and continues to embrace a more inclusive future, and we’re enormously proud of what we’ve become and everyone who has played a part of that.