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To consider and become an anti-racist charity you need to first understand what systems of inequality, oppression, disadvantage exist within your own charity.

If I were to say to you that inequalities exist in our society, you very likely would agree. Therefore, your starting point as a charity leader must be to assume those same inequalities persist in the charity you work in. To put your head in the sand and deny that racism exists is to further marginalise your own workforce and beneficiaries.  No one likes to think they are working for a charity with systemic inequalities and failures do they? But that needs to be the starting point for all of us.

My own call to action recently has been to identify where, analyse why and dismantle systems which are unfair or bar access to equal opportunity at POhWER (aka people of here want equal rights). We are working to create an environment where staff, volunteers and beneficiaries of all races, ethnicities and nationalities thrive here at POhWER since taking up the role of Chief Executive two years ago. This “equality detective” role has not been easy and required me to see my own organisation with “clean and kind eyes”, question regularly, unlearn/upskill and listen actively to suggestions put forward by POhWER’s anti-racism staff network group called EMPOhWERace.

I strongly believe that we as an organisation have collectively created a culture of openness, trust, transparency over the last few years. I could not have done it on my own. Role modelling Equality, Diversity and Inclusion cannot sit just with the CEO, People Director and EDI Manager. We cannot be the sole guardians of fairness and equality. What has made the journey worthwhile is to see how many of us here at POhWER share these values and our drive to become a better charity.

Anti-racism leadership means being comfortable with feeling uncomfortable, “doing the work” to educate yourself, not being afraid of looking foolish and standing up for people who don’t hold the same power and privilege as you have. It also means challenging people holding powerful influence over your charity, and making difficult disciplinary decisions to redress and bring justice and balance back.

These systems often start before we enter our working life and our ability to access opportunities as equally as the next person is often compromised by bias and judgment of our race and ethnicity, class, socio-economic position, family history, education, accents and language which can break our confidence and destroy our spirits.

Being silent is unhelpful. When I spoke to a few CEOs in the sector about writing this article, I had the unexpected reaction of people asking me if it made sense for me to “stick my head above the parapet” as this was a “tricky controversial subject”. When I asked my POhWER work colleagues if I should speak up the response was “yes, a resounding yes”. Why is there this unwritten stigma about CEOs speaking up against racial inequality in 2022?

I don’t know the answers. I don’t wish to preach to the converted or come across as a “know it all”. I am a human being doing the best that I can for our workforce and the people we are here to support at POhWER. I sleep very well knowing that I am vocal, able to enter into respectful debate and unapologetic about my views on equality. I am often criticized, trolled and often receive unpleasant letters for speaking up about what is right.  My own colleagues are often concerned about safeguarding me and the impacts of my voice. Silence is not an option for me. Why keep my expectations of inclusive behaviours a secret?

I tell our POhWER story with the hope we as a sector can have more meaningful conversations about racial equality and to take impactful actions which show our own people we collectively give a damn. 

I have been reflecting on the anti-racism journey at POhWER. What were the lessons I learned? What advice can I offer? What mistakes did I make?

 

Perspectives from my POhWER co-workers

Map with a You Are Here pin

To write this article I felt it was important that I asked for the opinions and canvassed the perspectives of my workforce. This POhWER story about our journey needed to be told with the honesty and candour of my work colleagues who have worked in partnership with us to co-create our EDI strategy and plan over the last two years, called out injustices and unfairness along the way and keeping us grounded with their humanity and patience.

Last month, I wrote to our workforce and explained I was writing this article and wanted their opinions. Might they consider answering a few questions for me on where they thought we were on the anti-racism journey?

POhWER colleagues interviewed included:

  • Selina EdwardsSelina Edwards, Community Manager and Chair of POhWER’s Anti-Racism Staff Network Group (EMPOhWERace)

  • Rhyana Ebanks-BabbRhyana Ebanks-Babb, EDI Manager

  • Balli KainthBalli Kainth, Cultural Appropriate Advocate

  • Caroline Caesar CastonCaroline Caesar‑Caston​, Associate Director National Help Hubs

  • Jenny DowellJenny Dowell, Independent Health Complaints Advocate

  • Naomi KarslakeNaomi Karslake, Supervising Advocate

  • Rose HumphriesRose Humphries, Head of Service Central, Northeast & Scotland

  • Maria ScozzariMaria Scozzari, Community Advocate

  • Lyz HawkesLyz Hawkes, Deputy Chief Executive

  • Sandra BlackSandra Black, Head of Safeguarding, Quality & Risk

  • Tania Baldwin-PaskTania Baldwin-Pask, Independent Advocate

 

Do you understand what the wider term anti-racism means? What does it mean to you personally and professionally?

 

Selina: Personally, and professionally this hurts. That we live in a society where because of the colour of my skin by some I will only be tolerated, or not. To me anti-racism means to treat humans with dignity and respect, to be caring and respectful. I understand we cannot always get everything right but we can try to learn and understand difference and embrace it.

Rhyana: To be an active participant in challenging racial abuse, discrimination and actions. It is also amplifying the voices of those with lived experience, it can be asking questions to better understand the customs and practices of different races, learning to be non-judgemental about a different viewpoint ad not being over-reactive but meeting people where they are at.

Sandra: It is incumbent on me to challenge racism in whatever form it takes, in whatever circumstances I find myself in when I encounter it. I believe I have an ally role, so while I do not have direct experience of racism myself, I think it is important to show allyship to friends and colleagues. I am very aware of the very privileged position I find myself in with my ethnicity, background and education and it is important to me to use that privilege to be an ally without falling into a ‘white saviour’ role. To do that I seek to support friends and colleagues who have had the direct experience of racism; to use any knowledge, experience and skills I have to support them in challenging and changing systems and behaviours so that they properly reflect the values of equality and inclusion.

Balli: To stand against racism and take action against racism where you or someone experiences it.  Racism is to treat someone differently and lesser because of their race culture or background. To be anti-racist is to be able to query and question.

Lyz: As a child growing up in the 60’s and 70’s for me personally and professionally it means questioning my own values and assumptions, the way I was brought up and views formed through my upbringing to mindfully and openly listen and learn every day about how I can challenge racism and promote a level playing field both individually and systemically.

Caroline: Active promotion of anti-discriminatory practice, equality, diversity and inclusion, with deliberate emphasis on the active part.  I know first-hand how isolating, frustrating and emotionally exhausting it is to show up for work each day feeling helpless against an unrelenting onslaught of over-scrutiny and having one’s skills, experience and qualification unrecognised, based on ethnicity.

Jenny: My understanding of anti-racism is eradication of racism. I was born in the early sixties grew up in London during the seventies and experienced extreme racism towards myself and my parents and the community.  Covert racism is powerful, often silent and had sadly become acceptable in my personal life and professional life. I am hopeful for the changes that are now presenting.

Naomi: I think it is about proactively addressing racism and discrimination of all sorts. I feel strongly that we must act to ensure justice for colleagues and to ensure POhWER and indeed the wider society has access to the best possible staff, by encouraging everyone to fulfil their potential.

Rose: I understand anti-racism to mean acting in a way that does not allow behaviours to discriminate people of colour. Working to ensure I question and ‘call out’ any evidence of racism I witness or am informed of, not doing so is racism. It is not just about me as an individual not being racist.

 

What do you believe workplace anti-racism is? Specifically anti-racism in the workplace

 

Rhyana: Specific and intentional actions to alleviate racial stress, stereotyping, abuse, discrimination, nuances (like racial toning, microaggressions etc).

Balli: To not feel that you are lesser than someone else because you are from a different race/culture/ethnicity.  For me personally I have felt that I am not as good as my white British counterparts because I am from an Indian background and therefore my skills in writing or speaking are not as good as someone who is white.  I will speak up to support my clients as this is my job and I love doing that for them but I feel so different when it comes to myself. I think this really was a confidence issue for myself but was very much aware of my heritage.

Lyz: Less opportunity for career development due to a system that is or can feel closed due to power and privilege real or assumed.

Caroline: In the workplace it means I will challenge passive aggressive and micro aggressive racism where observed, raise awareness of typical presentations of subtle, unconscious racism, and encourage self-reflection in this aspect so that colleagues can avoid inadvertently interacting in a subtly/unconscious racist manner.  I hope my colleagues will do the same.

Jenny: I would  describe it as care and interest in the cause within the workplace, lack of barriers for diverse workforce a knowledgeable leadership who realise the lack of diversity within the management roles and development of diverse staff

Maria: Promoting a culture of inclusiveness in the workplace , where nobody is excluded from participating fully in professional life due to the colour of their skin, race or origins. 

Naomi: It stops colleagues and clients getting access to the support and opportunities that should be available to all.

 

Do you believe we are acting as a Charity who promotes an anti-racism culture? Why or why not?

 

Selina: Yes we are acting as an anti-racism Charity by working towards an equal diverse inclusive environment where we promote zero tolerance attitudes towards racism. The culture is changing, we are further ahead than others but we have a way to go.

Sandra: Yes, I do and while we are still far from perfect in this regard, there have been huge strides made in this area in the last 18 months or so. The formation of the EMPOhWERace group, the use of culture panels in recruitment exercises, particularly at a senior level, the review of policies with anti-racism as a lens, the focus on safeguarding our staff from harm all suggest to me that we are heading in the right direction.

Rhyana: Yes, POhWER promotes anti-racism internally, more could be done externally to promote our stance on the need to dismantle systemic racism.

Jenny: As like other companies and charities it has taken Floyd’s murder to highlight the inequalities in the workplace.  I have worked here for nearly 15 years and there has been other historical events which were not even mentioned or acknowledged.  Since the change of  CEO and the positive steps of in house culture anti-racism has now made it on to the agenda.  Employees voices are now being heard with the support of some senior management and the CEO.  However, it is clear that it is still an irritation to some managers which is disappointing but not surprising.

The formation of EMPOhWERace has been phenomenal  and has created opportunities and encourage consideration and conversation.  As an Advocate I have experienced direct deplorable racism from clients but had no one to share this with as management failed to understand the impact on the staff .

I hope that this barrier will fall once middle management engage and feel comfortable to discuss this with Advocates I believe if middle management were more involved with anti-racist groups and other groups it will be helpful.

Maria: From the practice and policies that POhWER have in place, I can see that the organisation does provide equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised such as those belonging to black and minority groups. Thus, promoting anti-racist practice internally and on the front line when dealing with our beneficiaries.

Lyz: yes I do but I recognise that I have not had the lived experience to be able assess how it feels as it might do for other colleagues.

Balli: I feel utmost that we are promoting anti-racism and would like to think that action is taken where racism exists.  We have had EDI training in the past but it felt like a tick-box exercise rather than actually embedding it into our environment and thoughts. Since the Black Lives Matter movement there is much more visible action with the initiation of staff network groups, working groups, the creation of an EDI manager role and more integration across POhWER to share stories and to promote anti-racism. 

 

Do you feel you have the tools, skills, language or training to promote an anti-racism culture in your own team? 

 

Balli: I am part of the Culturally Appropriate Advocacy team at POhWER.  I have learnt so much in terms of racism, the bystander and the anti-racist.  We have carried out role play on how to challenge someone who is potentially being racist and someone who is actually being racist.  It is quite challenging to challenge someone who is being racist. It was so interesting as it provokes behaviours and thoughts you think you don’t have. 

I have not had this training previously and with more experience and continued refreshers will start to embed the tools, knowledge and language to promote anti-racism not just in my role as an advocate.  It has definitely given me the tools now to do this but there is still some journey to go.

Rhyana: Yes but we are always learning newer and better ways of supporting people.

Karen: Further (up to date) education about the issues is continuously needed. Correct language would be particularly useful.

Sandra: I am very aware of language and the power it has and while I do believe I have the right skills and language proficiency to promote an anti-racism culture in my team, I would always welcome more opportunities to learn and have more tools at my disposal in this area.

Rose: I have learnt so much from working alongside my colleagues and I do feel I have what is needed to promote an anti-racism culture in my team, I also know where I can reach out for support if issues arise.

Jenny: Yes I do it is for individuals to feel comfortable about speaking about race and diversity and the effects.  We have some way to go 

Maria: Further training would be beneficial including:

  • Elimination of harassment,
  • Encouragement of participation,
  • Promotion of positive attitudes to people of all races and backgrounds valuing their identities and contributions,
  • Promotion of equality of opportunity,
  • Fair treatment of all and promotion of equality and respect for diversity.
  • Challenge discrimination, harassment, prejudice and inappropriate attitudes or behaviours.

 

Does the topic of anti-racism make you feel inspired, driven, confused or worried?

Caroline:  Inspired and driven to continue to effect positive change.

Rhyana: Hopeful for change but also concerned at the attention and rise in racial incidents this has had within society. The lens has narrowed and while more people are becoming aware of the many nuances of racism, discussing this topic from the lens of the ‘experience’ is emotionally tiring and triggering at the best of times.

Balli: Inspired- completely!  Driven to make a change!

Selina: I feel all of these emotions at some point, it depends on the company I am in, how it effects the audience I am addressing, or what topic to do with anti-racism it is I am discussing. No matter what the emotion, I cannot shy away from it, I have to speak up for myself and others when they feel they cannot.

Working in my role for POhWER there is less worry around the topic in the circles I work, but I am mindful this is not a reflection of the Charity. For some this is a really uncomfortable topic.

Jenny: It inspires me I am patience as I have waited for this for over 40 years of working, it’s a work in progress and hope that the conversation continues

Sandra: It makes me feel inspired – my colleagues have generously shared stories of their experiences and the way they have chosen to deal with those experiences: helping others to fight for their rights in so many different areas. It also makes me feel that I personally have to continue to do more to support them in their work and efforts, so that their reach can be expanded and they are able to provide very visible evidence of their own success and example to others – you cannot be what you cannot see.

Rose: Initially I was worried about how I was perceived as a white professional manager in the Charity when I joined EMPOhWERace as a Regional Manager at that time.  Hearing the different experiences of staff was uncomfortable for me as a manager but also important.  I still worry about slipping up, especially with language and terms and also with not recognising behaviours that should be challenged. However, since learning so much and sharing these worries with my colleagues in an open and safe forum I have felt more confident and inspired to talk openly about the topic of anti-racism.

Lyz: I find it inspiring but also slightly uncomfortable still at times  

 

Have you had a situation at POhWER in the last 2 years where you had to stand up to racism? Can you tell me about it

 

Rhyana: presenting to the Board of trustees lived experiences of myself and my colleagues of personal/witnessed racial encounters in the plight of BLM. Holding/creating safe space for colleagues who have experienced racial preference from beneficiaries and managers to name a few.

Selina: I did have a client who was imitating an Indian Doctor in order to ridicule them as they thought I would find it entertaining. I told them politely, but firmly I did not find them funny, they were offensive and if the client was to continue to be disrespectful I would not be able to support them. The client was immediately apologetic and explained they were trying to be comical, I asked them how they thought the doctor would feel and in fact humiliating people is unkind. After an educating conversation the client agreed it was wrong, said they had not really thought about others feelings and apologised. They thanked me and they seemed genuine. 

Jenny: This question limits my response due to time restraints in question.  I have however and still do have clients question my ability recently I was supporting a client who also engaged with my Manager when she spoke to my Manager she implied she wanted her to support her she thought she was more appropriate covert racism is difficult to demonstrate but I have experienced on many levels.  I attended a LRM when the client met me she was surprised I was Black and walked off before doing so she said “surely you’re not Jenny” and never engaged with me throughout the whole meeting.  That was such a demoralising experience for me

Sandra: I am keen to acknowledge the change that has been made in adopting a zero tolerance stance on racism against our staff. For too long we have been a charity which has essentially let any beneficiary ‘get away’ with being racist or abusive to our staff because we are ‘beneficiary lead’. Now we have said ‘no more’ to this and I am proud to support my colleagues in laying down that marker and following it up with withdrawal of service if necessary.

Maria: A beneficiary asked for a Jamaican advocate to be removed from her case due to her not being able to understand the advocate’s accent. The beneficiary was not successful in having the advocate removed from her case for this reason alone, the team manager stated that this would not be possible. The request was not upheld.

Tania: Yes. I have a client lacking capacity whose social worker is from sub-Saharan Africa. When client was told he was going to move to a care home in High Wycombe (where the ethnic makeup of the population is about 3% Pakistani heritage), the client – apologising to the social worker – said he would not be moving to that area because it was “full of foreigners”. I highlighted to the client the inaccuracy of his comment and explained that it was offensive to me that he had said that. He apologised. In another case, the mother (with capacity) of a client (without capacity) made complaints repeatedly about care staff supporting her son in their home. She made a disclosure to me about an incident that had occurred to her as a teenager which made her uncomfortable about having males in her home, and particularly males of colour.  I clarified with the mother that I would not be advocating a position of not having males/males of colour in her home.

Rose: Not in the last two years that I can recall.  I have in my earlier career as an Advocate myself where I regularly witnessed NHS staff not calling people of colour by their own names because they either didn’t know them or they were not sure about pronunciation, I found myself asking people of colour on wards what their name was and how to pronounce it, then I would write this in my notes phonetically next to the correct spelling of their name to help me remember the correct pronunciation next time I visited.  At that time as a young advocate, I hoped that the staff around me would notice me doing this! Now I would call them out by speaking to them directly and sharing my tip with them J  I just wish I’d been more confident earlier in my career.

 

In March 2022, do you believe you are working in a Charity which will stand up to discrimination in the workplace and safeguard you?

 

Balli: I do strongly believe it is a charity that will stand up to discrimination, now. 

Rhyana: Yes, this has been evident on many occasions by the CEO, new safeguarding policies have come into effect, feeling the shift in understanding/opening up minds and hearts. The work has been more internally focused on staff as well as beneficiaries which has been needed for a long time.

Jenny: I do feel that the charity will make efforts to understand my situation as opposed to pre Floyd.  I do hope the process its quicker and more robust when dealing with clients or colleagues when discrimination occurs 

Maria: Since the introduction of the Equality Act 2010 and since working for the Charity, I feel that there is a true commitment to equality of opportunity for all individuals irrespective of race, beliefs, ethnic background and at the core of what we do lies the desire to uphold the core values of respect for diversity and equality.

 

What positive changes have you observed in last few years to support anti-racism culture at POhWER?

 

Selina: The work being done to improve EDI through changes to HR  policies & procedures, recruitment and the appointment of our EDI Manager is instrumental in the drive to improve race relations. We have all worked in an inclusive fashion, taking on board the recommendations from the Network Groups, knowing it is inclusive of people working in different roles, of all the protected characteristics truly is putting what you say into practise, creating a level playing field.

I regularly see you as the CEO address the whole organisation for their input into Policies, and give everyone the opportunity to give feedback just like this. 

The Executive Team have created an environment where you are approachable like colleagues, inviting open honest discussions. I know there are people working in the background too that turn up every day making all this happen, I appreciate you all.

Rhyana: The conception of EMPOhWERace, the work put in by the network group, the input from the CEO, exec team and SDD. The first diversity statement. Buy-in from Board re: changes and recommendations to the charity that directly impact people who experience racial injustice. Training on cultural competency/appropriateness.

Jenny: The formation of EMPOhWERace (anti-racism staff network group) and supporting facilities available.  The employment of an EDI manager and an CEO who cares.

Lyz: Opening of the culture, talking and learning and not being afraid to challenge.

Rose: Recognition that Advocates are not working to be abused by others because they are ‘client/beneficiary led’ this has been a long time coming and is very welcomed.  Recognition by our Board of Trustees of the work and proposals put forward to support change and their honesty/commitment about the need to recognise the issues and support the change of culture in the Charity.

 

What further actions could we be taking to further drive anti-racism at POhWER?

Karen: Using a variety of tools and trying to actively engage staff teams in EDI sessions, with a use of real life journeys and experiences perhaps strikes home the most with advocates.

Jenny: The platforms are available I believe CM and senior management  should be more involved and take an interest in order to support their staff at the moment it sometimes feels quiet tick boxy 

Maria: All employees of POhWER should be educated where necessary to ensure that all responsible conduct is discharged in accordance with the Equality Act 2010 and The Race Relations Acts. These are clear laws that state that everybody working for the organisation has a legal right to be treated fairly and equally. The responsibility to make sure that employees are supported by these laws and regulations should not lie with HR or Service Managers  alone, but  POhWER employees are to also be given the training to ensure they understand and uphold the same.

Tania: I think POhWER is taking important steps towards promoting an anti-racist culture, but I find it interesting that some, possibly many, staff, including people of colour, do not yet feel the journey is theirs. I think there is still a lot to do in terms of being clear about what POhWER can change and what it can’t. More clarity and precision is needed around specific areas of work, e.g., culturally appropriate advocacy – what is defined as being culturally appropriate? And more work to do in regards in combatting multiple discrimination, particularly with a workforce which is overwhelmingly female.

Sandra: The embedding of equality , diversity and inclusion throughout everything we do in the charity is not a quick project. It must be nurtured and refreshed and renewed through time and with changes in workforce. The example we have seen in embedding safeguarding throughout the charity is a clear demonstration of this and a programme which delivers the same results that the safeguarding project has started is vital in the anti-racism work. This needs to be visible so the organisation and its leaders can be held accountable for the progress in this area.

Rhyana: Partner with local organisations that have a community-led approach to supporting racial issues, work around racial humility and empathy with staff/beneficiaries etc. Further review/refine/create policies and address practices around anti-racist behaviours and reduce racial inequalities.

  • Explore the link between class/power and racism and the impact this has on social mobility for marginalised racial groups
  • Involve people from ethnic backgrounds to contribute and collaborate in changes that may significantly impact them.
  • Avoid using acronyms to collectivise ethnic groups such as BAME (black and Asian ethnic minority) /POC (people of colour)/ GME (global majority ethnic) – refer to the specific groups in writings/publishing from POhWER.
  • Gain a better understanding of racial issues being reported by staff and/or on behalf of staff as safeguarding and incidents to be addressed formally.

 

What can I as your CEO do to further drive our level playing field work forward? What about the rest of the executive or wider leadership team?

Selina: Continue to work in the fashion that you do and address issues as and when they arise. Introduce training programmes, teach the work force the skills, language and give them the tools to promote an anti-racism culture.

Use the lives experience panels to further develop the way we work.

Do not let your hard work be blocked by leaders who fail to recognise racism as an issue, or feel responsible for making change, it is absolutely everyone’s responsibility to advocate for these changes – it would be interesting to know what leaders have done personally or contributed to. There is still a lot of ignorance and or lip service.

Caroline: Raise awareness, leading by example, and promote internally and externally that POhWER embraces anti-racism in all aspects of our work and interactions.

Maria: Ensure that any disciplinary process is reflective of harsher penalties for racial discrimination in our workplace, making it a legal offence and not only a breach of internal policy.

Tania:  With regard to anti-racism, there could be  specific areas of advocacy – e.g., around the Traveller community, with regard to refugees – where POhWER could be making a specific pitch. With regard to a level playing field more generally, as above, I think there would be benefit in looking at POhWER in the context of gender – pay, policies – some in place, some not – attitudes to women as expressed by colleagues as well as professionals and clients. There is much to do.

Balli: Previously it felt like there was little representation of people from diverse backgrounds at the top of the ladder in POhWER.  However, in recent times again there is a shift and it was amazing to see someone from black heritage appointed as Associate Director who is also female.  I thought it was brilliant that we had a female CEO from a diverse background appointed as a CEO.  Previously they had all been male from white British backgrounds.  There has been a huge visible change across POhWER for the better.

To see people from various backgrounds, cultures, races is inspiring especially for me as I have always felt that I wasn’t good enough.  But to see women and women of colour gives me inspiration and encouragement to want to achieve more.  And to make changes.

Having workshops to support people to write CV’s and upskill themselves for interviews was a great initiative again this was never previously done.  I think various workshops has been a great idea.  I think valuing people we have in POhWER already is something we need to do to allow them to climb the ladder and use the skills they already have but also offer training and support as they step up in their roles.  I would like to see more diverse people stepping up in POhWER.

Sandra: It is very important that those at the top of the charity are visible and heard about this. The establishment of a set of accountable actions and metrics within a plan to ensure this embedding  is one way of ensuring that the leaders of the charity are seen to be delivering on the stated desire of having a level playing field. In the same way that the leadership team have been demonstrating their understanding of the importance of safeguarding by seeing everything through the lens of safeguarding, the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion be demonstrated by the same visibility of these hugely important tenets to the charity through forums, discussions, visible changes to policies and procedures, co-production, and a relentless communication plan showing the positive impact of the changes in action.

Rhyana: Continue to model the behaviours of anti-racist leadership, instil the expectations from other influential people within the charity. Continue the commitment to the conversation and the actions

 

Lessons I learned as the Chief Executive

A black and white image of many diverse people 

Policies are plasters 

Too often, Charities are lazy and believe writing policies is enough to eliminate inequality, discrimination, or abuse. A common set of rules that apply to everyone should be transparent and visible. Writing the rules down isn’t the same as living and behaving in accordance with those rules. Boundary testing and rule-breaking need to always be addressed.

 

Anti-racism cannot be addressed in a silo

No one lives within a single identity – we all have intersectional lives. Inequalities exist amongst many planes including race, ethnicity, nationality, disability, mental health, poverty sexual orientation, gender identity, to name a few of the most common areas of social exclusion and marginalisation. It isn’t cake, there is enough equality for everyone.

 

Co-create and design actions based on the feedback from your workforce

Our EDI actions are often unimaginative. Having lived experience as a leader may give your perspective but does not make you an expert on all the forms racism can take.

Does a room full of CEOs talking about anti-racism create an action list that is relevant to your own employees? Probably not. A workshop full of your staff and volunteers will however yield creative interventions faster.  Self-organising groups need your allyship, not your interference. Don’t be threatened by the healing and supportive peer advocacy staff network groups can provide each other.

 

Educate yourself and widen your own views

Your understanding of racism may be too narrow. Racism is where someone treats another person differently because their skin colour is not the same as theirs, they speak a different language or have different religious beliefs, for example. We have had incidents arising which included excluding people from accessing benefits, asking colleagues to put up with “preference style” requests relating to one colleagues’ hijab and even an investigation involving the humiliation of a colleague down to her foreign accent. The Equality Act of 2010 does a great job explaining the different ways racism may occur - direct or indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment.

 

“White fragility”, “white tears”, “white saviourism” and “white centeredness” are real in our sector

People may disagree with me but it’s true and it’s a real problem in our sector. These behaviours are often well-meaning and can arise from shock or disbelief, a lack of lived experience, fear and ignorance. My own observation has been that many people in Britain have never been taught to speak about race/ethnicity/religion/immigrant matters openly in their education. I grew up in New York where my own experience was one of a diverse community where I learned from age six to speak openly, comfortably and without fear of asking curious questions. My experience is that there is great potential in supporting these colleagues who often become the best allies after they get their head around concepts and language.  Support these colleagues who are nervous and don’t make them feel ashamed for not knowing what to do. Everyone is on a different point in the anti-racism journey and train everyone to get the basics right first.

 

Being an ally requires you to do the work yourself

Do the work to bridge understanding, and don't ask your colleagues to relive their traumas if they don't want to talk about them. Don’t flinch or pity when you hear something you don’t understand. Hear people out, and ask what you could be doing differently. Read, attend courses and join your organisation’s anti-racism staff network group. You can’t always fix society. You can stand up for others and create a fairer workplace. 

 

Dissenters and detractors will appear in the most unlikely places

Not everyone will support. Many will ignore you. Some will deny racism exists or that harm could exist within a human rights charity. Recognise that anti-racism actions level up your workplace and are not to be seen in a silo. A workplace where everyone feels welcome and feels safe will in turn encourage altruism and ally-ship elsewhere.

 

Don’t allow hierarchies of trauma and privilege to persist

Just because your beneficiaries may be living in crisis, marginalised or vulnerable does not mean your workforce is meant to tolerate discrimination or abuse. Consider the “privilege wars” that may form as the culture opens up. Don’t allow an environment to persist where one person’s lived experience is more important than another’s. It is dreadful we live in a society where this still happens. We are people who live with intersectional identities, with our own history and traumas which cannot be observed with the human eye.

 

Expectations, behaviours and tone start with you as the Chief Executive

You are accountable for safeguarding your staff and volunteers and must be unapologetic about what actions you take as a leader. There is no middle ground, no fence to sit on. You need to “practice what you preach”.

Treat everyone equally and don’t tip off or protect senior managers in your whistleblowing, grievance and disciplinary matters. Clear any barriers to raising reports and allegations. Investigate everything and don’t jump to conclusions until you have examined all of the information.

Promote a non-hierarchical culture where speaking up is encouraged and anyone can speak to anyone (including you the CEO).

Make it clear that EDI is not something that sits solely with the CEO, People Director or EDI Manager. In my own charity I make it clear that treating people with dignity and respect is everyone’s responsibility - no matter what the job title.

Remove disparities, cronyism, special favours, detractors, barriers by design. That exception to policy you thought was being kind to an upset colleague? That action was you treating people differently.

Make it easy for people to whistle blow, raise a grievance. Signal loudly as a leader that you operate retribution-free procedures, investigate all allegations formally, build in protocols “if then” so that they know how to report you and your senior team. Fluently weave together your whistleblowing, grievance and safeguarding policies. Explain to your workforce there is no such thing as a secret when receiving a racism allegation - you can never unhear it and have an ethical and legal duty to protect people from harm and abuse.

 

Don’t be afraid to enter into a debate or conflict in the name of equality

The external world is an extension of your charity workplace. It isn’t ok that your commissioner, funder, donor, beneficiary has harmed your colleague. Write to them, report it to their organisation and insist it is investigated. A letter signed from the CEO makes people sit up and pay attention.

Complain, call out, divorce and walk away from partners, suppliers, funders, commissioners who do not share your high standards. Your own people do not have a price tag and are human beings worthy of dignity and respect. Allowing others to harm, humiliate or abuse them is shameful.

Make the case for the benefits of an anti-racist culture to anyone who will listen. Think about how that may feel for the people you work with. Shout it from the rooftops. Evangelise about the benefits of equality to every audience you have as a senior leader and do it again for the people in the back who weren’t listening. Build a coalition of champions in your workplace.

 

Role model anti-racist leadership every day

My organisation helps people to uphold their human rights in public services and be seen as equal people in our society. I employ people who argue for a living. My own role as POhWER’s Chief Executive is seek social justice, campaign for human rights and advocate for equality alongside my people. I learned that I needed to be as noisy, passionate and vocal internally about injustice as I was externally.

 

The journey never ends

The most important lesson I have learned is that the journey to becoming an anti-racist charity never ends. Sadly, we don’t live in a fair or equal society and our workplaces are a reflection of this. There will always be systems to dismantle, bias to tackle, people to educate and situations you have not planned for. While inequality exists, so will POhWER’s efforts.