Walking the Talk
When I took the leap to start Stimulus, I set about researching what had already been done to support professionals from ethnic minorities, especially women. I was keen to see what I would find.
I came across a 2017 report by the CIPD called Addressing the barriers to BAME employee career progression to the top. Its interesting recommendations included “Address Unconscious Bias”. I was keen to know what happened next. Did policymakers use the report? Did the CIPD follow up with them? So I wrote to them to find out. Guess what… No response. I don’t blame them, what could they say? Is it their job to follow up on a report that addresses a key social and professional issue?
I then emailed the NHS Leadership Academy to find out how their colleagues from ethnic minorities are signed up to their “Stepping Up” programme. This is aimed at mid-level staff to help progress them to leadership roles. Their reply explained this is user-led, perhaps encouraged by line managers. I asked if they took into consideration the cultural barriers that colleagues from ethnic minorities might face – barriers that might prevent those colleagues from even realising they were leadership material. I was told that this was confidential information – institution-speak for “no comment”.
Now on a roll, I contacted Dods Diversity & Inclusion about their “BAME into Leadership” event. Dods is a private company running events for the public sector. I wanted to know how their panel of speakers is selected. I didn’t get a response to that, but they were happy to accept my request to sign up for the event in Leeds (now due to take place online). At least they are staying true to the stereotype of a private company.
Next I contacted a few Diversity & Inclusion leads from different sectors, opening all my emails with “I am a woman from an ethnic minority…”. I did this to present my recipients with the opportunity to demonstrate that they can practise what they advocate. Do they truly understand what the upbringing of a woman from an ethnic minority does to her self-belief?
I was hoping that these institutions would be brave enough to acknowledge where they are at and welcome the discussion; so that they are not just running events, developing policies and analysing views in the workplace to be “in” with the times, but that their work truly makes a difference.
Is empowering professionals from ethnic minorities to take on leadership roles actually part of these organisations’ DNA? I wonder.
The next step is to review available data that helps us understand what has been the tangible impact of “BAME into leadership” initiatives. I will be knocking on some virtual doors.
This initial response from organisations has only reaffirmed the necessity of what Stimulus aims to achieve: working with individuals and organisations to understand and actually overcome these cultural barriers, and to recognise and address the unconscious bias we all have. Only when unconscious biases become conscious ones can we can see them for what they are. Then we can put mechanisms in place to help us recognise and work with them.