13th September 2022
We chat with Doris Ruth Eikhof from the University of Glasgow about her Everyday Diversity app, which helps screen industries practitioners to behave more inclusively every day. This project is part of the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator 2022 Cohort.
Q: What is your academic background and what are you currently working on?
I’m a German Business Studies graduate by training. That means when I did my degree back in the day, we actually had to do business studies, economics, law, human resource management and sociology, so it’s quite broad. I used that background to study what people do at work and what gets done to them at work. I specifically did that in the cultural industries, in theatre initially, but then I came to the UK and it broadened beyond theatre.
From there, I quickly got into the question of who gets to establish a career in the creative industries and who doesn’t. What are the mechanisms of exclusion that prevent some people from being able to make it? That led me to the screen industries, and for the last five years or so, I have mainly focused on working on equality and diversity inclusion in the screen industries.
Q: How did you come up with your venture idea? Why did you decide to focus on this idea?
It’s actually a very theoretical question. When people look at a workforce and notice that there is a lack of diversity, the traditional approach is to say, ‘Oh, let’s help people from currently underrepresented groups get into that workforce!’. If we then see that they don’t have enough training, we provide the training. If we see that they are not part of the networks, we try to introduce them to the networks. However, quite early on, I thought that this is a bit of a remedial perspective – it doesn’t really change the root cause. You are treating the symptom, but you are not actually treating the underlying condition.
I asked a different question and said, let’s ask the question of what it is that we do in those industries that leaves people outside in the first place. If there is something that we can change in the way we do things or in the way we see things, that would actually get more people in and that would remove those barriers. It’s an age-old social sciences question between structure and agency. I think, especially after #MeToo, the idea of structural inequality and structural power imbalance has become quite a common phrase. It’s not only used in academia anymore, it is coming to the main dialogue. The question then becomes, ‘Well, if structures are actually made up of lots of individual actions and perceptions, how do we change all those little individual actions and perceptions that people have and that make up structural barriers?’.
At some point, I said, ‘How about we give people a tool that helps them change their everyday behaviour?’. Whenever they come to a point, where they think that something is a question of equality and diversity and they don’t really know what to do, they can look at that tool and it would help them work out what a better way of behaving would be. That was the original idea. Then we had a large and very experimental research project from the AHRC and to discern at which points those moments happen, where people do something that could be done more inclusively, and what guidance they would need in that moment to do a better and more inclusive job. This is how we started to develop the Everyday Diversity app.
Q: What does your venture aim to achieve and how does it tackle the issue?
The Everyday Diversity app is a tool for screen industries practitioners, – that is film, TV, visual effects, animation and video games – and it helps people in these industries to behave more inclusively every day. Whether they are recruiting, financing a project, organising an event or if they come up against another question about inclusion and diversity, such as how to get a more diverse bunch of people or how to make sure their event doesn’t have any access barriers. They can go into that tool, they can ask the question and they can hopefully make little changes in behaviour that make the screen industries more inclusive.
Q: What stage are you at with your venture right now?
We have got the app developed, it is almost there. We are pretty much at the minimum viable product stage. The key point at the moment is content production, because we need a lot of content to have tips, tricks and ideas in the app. A functioning body is there, it just needs to be filled with life now. The app has got a number of functions, but the key one is a function, where people are going to be asked three different questions:
Firstly, what is it that you’re trying to do? Users can pick between things like recruiting, creating content, making inclusive work cultures, financing, so they can tick the thing that they’re doing. The second question is whether there is a particular diversity characteristic that interests you. Users can tick if they are particularly interested in age, race or religion, for example. Thirdly, is there a particular industry context that you want to know something about? Is this about something in film, TV, animation, video games or are you looking for particular answers pertaining to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England? Or is it something where you need the small business context being taken into account? Once users have answered all these questions, the app gives them all the items that we have produced that are relevant to their circumstances.
Q: How is the ARC Accelerator supporting you in bringing your venture to life?
The ARC Accelerator provides the space to work on really quite concrete questions about how to set up the business. I know the theory of setting up a company, but I have never set up a company. To have a space where I can actually work through these questions with experts, mentors, my TTO, with other people that are pitching into the ARC programme, has been helpful. For example, how do I set up a CIC, what positions do I need, what’s the legal paperwork that needs drawing up? To define all of that, and have not just the resource, but actually this space and other people’s expertise to help me, is the most valuable part. I might start by saying something could work if we had X, but how do we make X happen? At ARC, you get different perspectives pitching in, asking questions and helping you make it happen. For me, that is the most important thing.
Photo credit: Kampus Production via Pexels