The story behind Cardiff’s bid for equality

It’s easy to say that you want to be a more inclusive, diverse city, but how do you actually put that into practice? Hot on the heels of being voted in for a second term, Cardiff’s BID is aiming to position the Welsh Capital as the UK’s first Equality City. Before she joins us at City Nation Place UK this November, Carolyn Brownell, Head of Marketing and Communications at FOR Cardiff, explains how the city has taken its first steps towards realising this ambitious vision.


To begin with, congratulations on re-confirming your mandate as the BID for Cardiff! Are there more doors opening for you now that you’re in your second term rather than your first?


Thank you! We achieved one of the best ballot results in Welsh history, so the team are all delighted.

I think - much the same as any BID - the first term is about getting the basics right. Most locations have the same problems. Residents and businesses want their town or city to be safer, cleaner, and better promoted, which is why those core elements are at the centre of so many BID business plans. With your second term, you proved yourselves to both your businesses and to key partners such as local authorities so those relationships can be better nurtured to the benefit of the city. You can also be more strategic and look at more place shaping style projects, which is something we’re really excited about for our next term.


We’ve heard that Cardiff are positioning themselves as one of the UK’s first Equality Cities. How did you land on this strategy?


Everyone will have seen over the last few years the increasing headlines and narrative around crucial topics such as Black Lives Matter, the gender pay gap and the LGBTQ+ community. And rather than being a silent but supportive bystander, FOR Cardiff wanted to see what we could proactively do to make Cardiff a better place for both the residents and our members. We began to research, and whilst there was some fantastic examples in Europe, we couldn’t find anywhere else in the UK that had committed to becoming an equality city and we wanted to make this bold, but exciting commitment to the capital of Wales.


It’s an ambitious strategy. What are the most critical elements that you will need to implement to make this vision a reality?


We’re in the very early stages of the project, and the first stage will be engaging with our members around best practice and supporting them with training. But the most important part to me, particularly in these early stages, is that people and companies committing to this aren’t just doing this as a PR exercise. This isn’t ticking a box. They need to truly buy into this or it’s a waste of our and their time. This is something that I and the Board are very passionate about and will need to monitor closely.

The challenge will be, as to measuring what success looks like, as this project will never be “completed.” In the early stages, it will be about the amount of businesses who have signed up and committed to making those essential changes, but longer term, our aspiration is to work with the local authority and Welsh Government to use Cardiff as a pilot location and then roll it out across Wales, and hopefully inspire other locations.


Cities around the world are re-evaluating what ‘success’ looks like. How is Cardiff defining success?

I think at the moment that can change day by day! Your standard measures for any city, such as footfall, have been encouraging in Cardiff with the city bucking the trend quite considerably compared to other cities and we are almost back at 2019 levels. However, we also want to start looking at how wellbeing can be measured in a place. As the pandemic has had such a devastating impact on so many, we want to see what difference ours and the Council’s recovery strategy is having in real terms.


How are you working to engage your key stakeholders in the new strategy?

As FOR Cardiff has just been voted in for our second term, we have just been through an extensive period of consultation, meeting and engaging with the majority of our 700 members. It was during this time we gauged how they felt about the concept of us aspiring towards becoming an Equality City. We had hoped that businesses would embrace the idea but understood that many are cautious as they’re concerned about making a mistake and causing issues for the company and their staff. However, doing nothing is what causes issues and can ultimately impact people’s day-to-day lives in enormous ways, and we were delighted how many of our businesses, large and small, embraced this project and wanted its inclusion in our second term business plan.


What are your top tips for involving private sector businesses who may be cautious about being seen to get diversity and inclusion wrong?

I won’t claim to be an expert but from my own experience most people’s trepidation comes from a good place; they don’t want to publicly state they’re now embracing a diversity and equality policy, only to offend someone by misgendering, using the wrong pronoun or inadvertently use dated cultural language. However, by doing nothing companies are growing the problem. 

Once the decision has been made, it can’t just be a tokenistic effort; it needs to be put at the heart of organisation with buy-in from the Board of Directors down or the inauthenticity will shine through.

Communicate: talking and listening to your staff is so important. Be prepared to have uncomfortable conversations; it’s only by having those conversations that you’ll understand the challenges people go through and be able to put policies, goals, and procedures in place to better support or understand other people’s truths.

We also have to understand and reduce unconscious bias; people may have social stereotypes about certain groups of individuals outside of their conscious awareness. By understanding and acknowledging that, procedures can be put in place to ensure this bias doesn’t unfairly impact individuals.


It’s still early days for the strategy, but what would be your holy grail or your gold standard for success?

There is extensive data that shows that putting equality, diversity, and inclusion at the heart of your company is good for business. We want Cardiff’s businesses to be able to attract, retain, and progress diverse talent and really establish Cardiff as a leader in this area within the UK – perhaps even Europe!

Join us in London on November 3 to dive deeper in Cardiff's ambitious plan, and to learn from other place leaders across the country. Find out more here.

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