Zebra’s core value is equality – this is reflected in everything that we do: directly, in our equalities training and consultancy for other organisations and, equally, in the values that underpin every element of our internal working.
Zebra is a worker co-operative based in Devonport, an inner-city district of Plymouth high on all deprivation indicators. We are committed to social change and creating a just and sustainable society through development, research and consultancy. The organisation was founded 11 years ago, but we are continuously learning just what equality is, and working out how to apply the concept to everything that we do.
We chose to be a worker co-operative with a flat structure and equal pay to reflect our thinking on fairness: that all work and workers are valued equally as essential to the outcome, so power and pay should reflect this; and that in sharing power, each of us is required to share responsibility and accountability.
But what does this really mean? We know that in society many people are invisible, marginalised or systematically unrepresented for complicated reasons. And we see every day within our co-op that it is not enough to value equality: caring is a good start, but that alone does not automatically deliver equality.
Power differentials manifest in a myriad of ways, and personal power interfaces with positional power so that inequality is constantly re-emerging. For example, we are not all equally confident in speaking out and challenging; we are not all equally ready to take responsibility – to say “I’ll do it” or “whoops, I got it wrong”. We are not all equally competent in our individual or our collective roles.
We know that we need a combination of high-level self-awareness and reflective ability, up-to-date information and a sophisticated understanding of social justice in terms of power relations, how resources are shared and not shared in society, and how all this links with opportunities, expectations and poverty.
We have learned so far that this application of self-awareness must be actively practised daily, and is the starting point of work to promote equality. We need to be mindful of our duty to challenge discrimination and exclusion, and we need to be honest with ourselves about how difficult we can find it to do so. If not, we carry around a positive prejudice about ourselves as ‘the first to challenge discrimination in all its forms’ – then, when the moment arrives, we may find ourselves ill-equipped, as we have confused caring about the matter (our values) with being personally equipped to act and to challenge.
This point has become pivotal to our training work on challenging discrimination, and is a result of our own action research undertaken over the past decade.
This research has also shown that some of the most profound changes that happen are small – they are missed or cannot be easily quantified. One such example could be an individual, who has been bullied in the past, deciding to attend a meeting in their community because they have been encouraged and supported to go, and then deciding to say something at the next meeting because they have been welcomed and made to feel part of the group.
These changes have big impacts on individual lives and sometimes in the communities they live or the places they work.
To measure our own impact, we decided to undertake an annual social auditing process. It’s a challenging and useful process which has resulted in positive changes in the collective.