Race equality: great progress comes from great discomfort pt2

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Written by Tracie Joliffe on 1 August 2017

What the Academy is doing

The Academy is pioneering new approaches to inclusive leadership that involve the heart as well as the head, supporting complex ways of understanding the issues relating to equality, diversity and inclusion in health.

On our leadership development programmes, we support learning by creating a safe space where people have these uncomfortable conversations. This requires really skilled facilitation, which features particularly strongly on our senior Nye Bevan, Director and Aspiring chief executive programmes.

The Ready Now programme supports BAME colleagues at band 8A and above to realise their potential with a view to securing a more senior role or a place on the board.

The Academy is also planning a wide-ranging programme of work - Building Leadership for Inclusion (BLFI) which aims to bring thinking and approaches to equality, diversity and inclusion up to date in order to develop inclusive leadership across health and care, and to bring about transformational system-wide change.

If we don’t create safe spaces for people to talk about how they feel, we’ll never engage with the work in a way that will change people’s perceptions, thinking and world views to really change the culture around race.

We’ll be working in partnership with Higher Education Institutions to carry out academic field work which will result in:

  • A range of new leadership development interventions
  • The accelerated pace of change towards inclusion and ensuring that the changes made are sustainable
  • The harnessing of more diverse talent from across the NHS by promoting and implementing inclusive talent management approaches
  • Reduced levels of reported harassment, bullying and discrimination
  • Better engagement with people with lived experiences from BAME and LGBT communities, people with disabilities and women

BLFI will be aligned with the WRES to ensure work is strategic and joined up across the system. We will ensure that BLFI will work to tackle the inclusion across protected

A difficult nut to crack

As mentioned before, some of these issues generate discomfort. If we give people the time and confidence to really say how they’re feeling, they’d tell us things like ‘I feel
uncomfortable because I don’t want people to feel left out’ or ‘I feel like emphasising differences in the room is wrong’.

But the fact is that some differences were there and clearly noticeable before any ‘emphasis’ was given to them!

These uncomfortable conversations are where a enormous amount of progress is made. If we don’t create safe spaces for people to talk about how they feel - to get it out in the open - we’ll never engage with the work in a way that will change people’s perceptions, thinking and world views to really change the culture around race.

This type of work is unpicking years of operating in a completely different way. For example people generally don’t discuss the importance of strong feelings in the workplace; they’re encouraged to think about processes instead; counting, data, targets.

This can lead to catastrophic failures such as the demise of compassionate care in the Francis Report. We need to raise standards in ways which support humanity to re-enter the room with compassion and inclusion.

There’s a growing body of knowledge that tells us race is a difficult nut to crack; its complexity is compounded by things such as class, disability, sexual orientation.

We can grow the skills to understand and work with this complexity, as we cannot adequately understand race, without considering power, class, politics and privilege in the same way that we can’t scrutinise disability without considering all of the above, empowerment, access and so on.

Strategies to address the problems associated with discrimination and inequality must be based on a sound understanding of what the problem is and how it manifests itself on many levels across the system.

Being nice to each other whilst eating a samosa once a year (a real example from one team about how they address racial discrimination) isn’t going to scratch the surface.
The more senior people become, the more the system tends to assume they’re expected to know intuitively how to eliminate discrimination.

This is completely wrong – it often means that senior people don’t ask for help or advice when they need it. They have usually not been adequately equipped through development interventions with the capabilities to effectively address discrimination.

Historically leadership development programmes have superficially addressed inclusion, if at all.

That’s why raising issues of discrimination tends represent a high risk to those who are most negatively affected by it. Creating inclusive cultures should be the responsibility of all leaders who should be held accountable in multiple ways for making sure this happens.

What you can do

If you’re reading this, I’d urge you to consider how you develop your people so that increasing and sustainable levels of inclusion result. Some questions you might want to think about are:

  • Where and how does inclusion show up in your organisation?
  • Are you taking the bold, courageous step to ask questions about the quality of your facilitation in leadership development spaces?
  • What is the depth and quality of learning towards inclusion that takes place within your organisation on a daily basis?
  • Does your organisation challenge colour blind approaches or approaches which say that everyone’s the same?
  • Are you brave enough to consider what cultural transformation really looks like and how power needs to be addressed in order to achieve it?
  • How does male privilege and white privilege show up in the teams that you are part of?

In the NHS, BLFI will delve into these very questions. Are you asking them in your own networks?

The NHS Leadership Academy is happy to share its approach to inclusion for organisations who want to adopt best practice. For more information, contact Jane Hundley.


About the author

Tracie Jolliff is head of inclusion and systems leadership at the NHS Leadership Academy


Read part one from Tracie here

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