Fearless Futures: Our approach and method

Fearless Futures uniquely works within organisations to engage people in critical thinking to understand and challenge the root causes of inequalities and to grow powerful new leadership and design for transformative change. Our work serves both people and product.

Our programmes provide participants with powerful learning that:

  • Facilitates participants’ critical thinking & learning;
  • Builds a community that is deeply cognisant of inequities and commonalities among their lived experiences;
  • Develops the tools to re-imagine power relations, build up collective power and grow leadership for transformation; and
  • Designs inclusion into all dimensions of our internal cultures, as well as for the strategies, solutions and products that we develop.
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed, until it is faced.” — James Baldwin

The context

When most people use the term diversity & inclusion there is a general assumption that everyone means the same thing. To our organisation diversity and inclusion is shorthand and common code for:

Communities where there is equity and belonging for all people. Where people can show up as their full selves.

Building such communities therefore means doing away with all the behaviours, attitudes, structures and practices that prevent that from occurring.

The ‘systems’ that prevent diversity and inclusion from being the status quo, can broadly be listed as:

  • Racism (within which we can include, islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-semitism)
  • (Hetero)sexism (within which we can include sexism, homophobia, biphobia and cis-sexism in their widest senses)
  • Classism
  • Ableism

The way in which these systems (racism, heterosexism etc.) play out is so normal we mostly don’t know it. For those of us who don’t experience an injustice first hand, the inequalities around us are like water to a fish. We don’t know we are in it. These systems are therefore the norm, rather than the exception. If we are to challenge this, we need to have this as our starting point so that we engage with the problem with the right tools. We at Fearless Futures do not believe the world has to be this way, indeed it is why we, in particular, have a commitment through our work to unlearning inequality. And why in doing so, we do believe that we can, in fact, transform the world.

Three aspects that make our approach powerful and unique

ONE: We are intersectional

For too long, most diversity and inclusion work has separated out issues into silos, prioritising one issue over another. While in theory this may sound sensible and even on the surface appear ‘practical’, it is in our view, extremely flawed. And, why so many initiatives for inclusion do not make the change they intend. The problem with the siloed approach (gender, then race, then sexuality etc) is that when we focus on one issue of inequality in isolation, we ignore the ways our ‘target identity group’ may have other aspects of their identity that may in fact be advantaged by the status quo. As an example: most organisations have embarked on a “gender diversity” programme with positive intentions to improve the number of women in leadership. However, because of the nuanced dynamics of the social systems we touch upon in our opening “context” section, the outcome of the initiative is often positive for only a narrow group: white, middle class, cis-gender, heterosexual, able-bodied women. This happens because we ignore all the ways this group of women actually also benefits from the advantages of the status quo. Without actively attending to the interconnected nature of inequalities, our policies implicitly exclude women who experience marginalisation across multiple aspects of their identity. This renders our solutions ineffective. It also means we are asking some people to wait a very long time until they will be included.

We believe that we must ground our policies and practices in our social realities, and not just what makes us feel good as leaders or practitioners of D&I. As such, our programmes explore the ways our identities connect in accessible ways for participants. The experiences of a white woman will be different to a woman of colour. The experiences of a disabled person, and the perspectives of LGBTQIA+ folks cannot be viewed or understood in isolation to the other identities that make a person who they are. Indeed, we each exist as a complex mix of power and privileges and experiences of inequities.

Exploring these connections is fundamental to our educational approach and necessary we believe in creating policies, practices and cultures where people can show up as their whole selves every day.

TWO: We are experiential

Our pedagogical approach involves experience, exploration and extrapolation.

All learning episodes begin with participants actively experiencing — through a carefully planned activity — a crucial dimension of the issue the session aims to explore. For example, when exploring privilege, the participants will engage in an activity that involves a physical and mental experience that brings to the fore our own privilege, the relationship we have to others within our society and in our teams, as well as the emotions and assumptions connected to this differential privilege.

This experiential element of our learning episodes is imperative. To truly and deeply understand a phenomenon (indeed, that might not be your everyday lived reality), we must embody it — see it, feel it, get under its skin.

From this standpoint, participants are then encouraged to critically explore the experience they have had, with the support of our facilitators. Through engaging and listening to others in ways that are uncommon in the workplace, and with supportive challenge from the facilitator, new insights are gleaned. And then, we move on to extrapolation — to draw overarching learnings from the experiential and analytical activities they have engaged in, to relate them to wider occurrences outside of the classroom, in order to craft new ways of being and doing.

THREE: We are fearless

We don’t lecture, nor do we censor or police behaviours and attitudes. We’re not here to enforce a “PC culture” or help tick diversity boxes. Instead, we are explicit about power and privilege because effective social change entails honesty and clarity about the root causes of inequities. We encourage participants to dig deep with their thinking through challenging their viewpoints and assumptions. This challenge, and overt focus on power and privilege, is often uncomfortable for participants. The very way that privilege functions is to make it invisible to those who inhabit it. When we come face to face with the privilege we have (be that across gender, race, ability, sexuality, class, faith) we have often been expertly taught through years of conditioning to shut the conversation down, dismiss what others are sharing with us, often because of the guilt and shame that emerges. After all, we have also been taught that the world is fair, that we have earned everything we have through our own individual hard work. Indeed, just talking about issues of class, race, sexuality etc can be a space of discomfort for those who are not normally faced with these issues and their daily implications.

We don’t now who to credit for this image, but if you do please let us know. Thank you to the cartoonist!

We don’t baulk from this discomfort, and are very much at the “unpleasant truths” stand.

Though we do know that fear of discomfort and emotion is why so many D&I initiatives fail. By avoiding expertly engaging discomfort head on with staff, too many organisations end up also avoiding meaningful and transformative change. For transformative change to occur, we cannot side step around discomfort, we need to do the work, and move through it. Pedagogically, we also understand moments of cognitive discomfort to be some of the richest learning experiences.

Further, in a world where none of us will likely ever be perfect and where mistakes will happen, it is necessary that we are equipped with the tools to navigate the emotions that emerge from confronting and acknowledging our privilege so we can be accountable for our mistakes. This is why we work with people on developing the skills to have courageous conversations that really listen to others’ experiences of injustice and that work towards an active commitment to do better. It is what we know is essential for cultures and environments where everyone is given the space to really be their full selves.

How do we work in-house with organisations?

Ultimately, we tailor how we support organisations to their context. These are some of the ways we are working with our partners:

Design for Inclusion (3.5 days + half day follow up)

  • Deployed in organisations where there is either an existing Diversity & Inclusion Council, a new council being developed, or some other group of people (an entire People team for example) who have a strategic responsibility for effecting inclusion across the organisation.
  • This is also a programme highly relevant for creative/product/tech teams who are committed to embedded inclusion into their outputs for customers whether it’s across new apps, adverts, tech services. For example, those on the frontline of new technology such as machine learning to enrich them to figure out how to remove algorithmic bias from their services. Or creative teams who want to increase market share by authentically increasing representation across their internal teams as well as in their creative output.

The programme unites human-centred design with much needed critical approaches to inequities, power and privilege for leaders who want to and must:

  • Problem-solve in paradigm-shifting ways that explore the ways inequalities connect so that they can promote inclusion in all that they do
  • Develop a practice for inclusion that interrupts the status quo during the why, what, who and how of what we design and create
  • Grow their tools to ask the right and different questions and thereby re-frame a problem — in order to generate more powerful and sustainable solutions for inclusion in their team, organisation and sector
  • Learn what is required of their leadership intellectually and emotionally to mobilise and lead others for real change

Inclusive Leadership (3.5 days + half day follow up)

This programme supports leaders in organisations to grow their capabilities to lead inclusively and in a way that is anti-racist and anti-sexist and anti- all other inequities, using our unique principles and method.

It focuses on the behaviours, actions, ideas and ways in which leaders can both tackle the micro and macro issues that prevent inclusion in their teams and organisations as well as giving them the personal tools to build a clear path to an alternative future.

Participative consulting through Design for Inclusion (dependent on client context)

Instead of traditional consulting where external people advise a client on what to do, we have a deep commitment to capability building in organisations to make ourselves redundant. We deploy “participative consulting” for projects where an organisation has an overarching and major question for an idea that currently has no answer. For example, “how do we create a diversity and inclusion learning programme for 20,000 staff members across the globe that actually makes a difference?” Instead of bringing in a team of people to work in isolation and then present an answer, Fearless Futures deploys our unique design for inclusion approach of human-centred design enriched with critical approaches to power, privilege and inequities to the process itself. This is for both the diagnostic and co-design stages of work.

It takes the leaders of the project internally through the DFI method, up-skilling and building their capabilities through the process of co-design and co-creation.

What’s powerful about this?

  • It means that solutions/creations are embedded with deep equities and inclusivity thinking and doing
  • Provides the tools to those in the organisation to ask the right questions and thereby re-frame a problem — in order to generate more powerful and sustainable solutions relevant to their context
  • Allows for truly intersectional problem-solving — so no one is left out. This means the allocation of resources is significantly more efficient
  • Creates an innovative, unique and ambitious framework for what is possible, (otherwise answers are often created in a vortex of “don’t know that we don’t know”)
  • Thorough, methodical and built out of best practice design and inclusion thinking and doing
  • We model inclusive practice throughout the design process itself

All the above programmes can be adapted, while keeping total time in tact, to fit our partners’ context.