Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, there have been dozens of moments where – as a society – we have been forced to take stock of what really matters.
We have seen the power of people pulling together, from the weekly NHS clap to the army of people who signed up to Government’s NHS Volunteer Responders scheme.
However, the tragic murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests that broke out across the United States, and the world, gave us a more complex question to think about: are we coming together as a society to combat racism?
A report published by Public Health England gave a clear and resounding answer: no. The report found that Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people are more likely to die from coronavirus than white people. A later report, leaked in draft form to the BBC, said, ‘Racism and discrimination experienced by BAME key workers [is] a root cause affecting health and exposure risk.’ Tragically, it has also been shown that BAME people are more likely to die with COVID-19 in care homes.
The issues in social care
Given my time working in the social care sector, the Black Lives Matter protests caused me to stop and think about our industry. As a person of colour with a long history working in social care, I know all too well the unacceptable lack of representation in the sector. I have sat in various meetings with local authorities, commissioners, and even in my own company and noticed that I am the only BAME face in the room.
We know that people from BAME backgrounds account for 20% of the social care workforce in England, rocketing to 67% in London, so why do we accept the troubling lack of diversity at executive level? I have highlighted before that only 4% of the BAME workforce in social care are in executive roles. This is a shocking and unacceptable figure.
We must recognise that social care is not an outlier here. The Parker Report (2017) concluded that boardrooms in Britain generally do not reflect the ethnic composition of the UK. When the report was written, 51 FTSE 100 companies did not have a single BAME director. A follow-up published this year found that the ‘One by 2021’ target suggested in the original review – that all FTSE 100 boards should have at least one director from an ethnic minority by 2021 – will almost definitely not be hit.
One of the most glaring examples of this problem can be seen in football. The sport has no shortage of BAME players, but coaching and managerial roles are rarely filled by BAME people. In the top four leagues in England, there are only six black managers. Despite the so-called Rooney Rule – which requires BAME candidates to be interviewed for coaching posts – there has been barely any progress.
The failure of the Rooney Rule to make a tangible impact is an example of the exact problem we are facing in social care. There is too much rhetoric and signposting, and not enough action. Although the Rooney Rule counts as affirmative action, it is riddled with issues. For example, although a BAME candidate must be interviewed, there are no diversity requirements for the interview panel.
One of the key problems we have as a society is that we have all been conditioned, in one way or another, into unconscious bias. BAME representation on interview panels matters in all industries, but particularly in social care.
Fixing the problem
Quotas are often mentioned in the context of improving diversity. I do not believe that quotas are the way forward even though I am passionate about the need for affirmative action.
There are benefits of course, and if quotas lead to better representation, then this might encourage BAME people who are junior within a business to recognise their potential. For example, if you are a young black person working as a care assistant, but you see no people of colour in the positions above you – from care supervisor all the way up to chief executive – it is likely you will feel demotivated.
The problem with quotas is that they can seem tokenistic, devaluing the worthwhile achievements of BAME people without getting to the root of the issue. Instead, we should be asking for organisations to be proactive in their recruitment procedures and make sure that candidates and interviewers come from a variety of backgrounds. This is how we can get the representation that matters.
The representation of BAME people in senior roles can be linked back to the issue in football. As a black player who has just retired from professional football or earned your coaching badges, it is surely off-putting to see how weak the representation is in the roles you are aiming for. When you add the systemic prejudice, manifested from unintentional but harmful microaggressions, all the way to blatant racist abuse, the extent of the uphill battle becomes clear.
The job we have in social care is to flatten that hill and create pathways for BAME people looking to make a career in our industry. This will not be easy – it will take time and investment. But there are proven ways to create these pathways and a level playing field for BAME people. This starts with training and a change to organisational culture.
Unconscious bias is a phrase that has rightly gained some credence in the past few months, with many people describing how they have been affected in the workplace. I have seen LinkedIn posts from individuals who were a shoo-in for a promotion but saw that job go to a white person who is less qualified and less able. Unconscious (or implicit) bias simply means learned stereotypes that are unintentional and automatic. Of course, such unconscious bias is hard to unlearn, and normally this takes professional training. But doing this work will reap huge rewards for organisations and their employees.
Interviews are also a vital piece in the puzzle. My own feeling is that if large firms are repeatedly unable to include any people of colour on a panel when a BAME candidate is being interviewed, then we will need legislation to combat this. Introducing mandatory BAME pay gap reporting or diversity data reporting could also help us to gain clarity on the challenges we are facing, and help us to better address these challenges.
I believe a good way of encouraging organisations to address their BAME pay gap and diversity issues would be to create a BAME Pathways Charter. This could act as a nationally recognised minimum standard for BAME diversity reporting, pay gaps and action. Public sector contracts should only be awarded to companies that meet this minimum standard and can demonstrate they are fully committed to treating BAME people and their careers fairly.
I would also call on BAME leaders to offer their time as mentors. Although I do not think the burden of this issue should fall on BAME people’s shoulders, I have my own experience of mentoring. Not only is it immensely rewarding, but it also creates a tangible impact. BAME role models have so much power to make a difference across all sectors.
It is also important to recognise this link between mentoring and a clear career pathway. Last year, I was approached on LinkedIn by a young man who was interested in working for one of my businesses. This individual was so determined that he took up a hospitality role to show me his ability to be disciplined, punctual and hard-working. I then took him on as a finance apprentice within one of my care companies. He is now a valued member of the team, working alongside a diverse group of colleagues, and is on a clear career pathway to achieving his ambitions.
While it might sound like one person’s experience does not make a difference, it all comes down to one key fact: representation matters and it does have an impact. From Martin Luther King to Barack Obama, the history of BAME leadership is rooted in role models who can communicate aspiration, hope, and determination to young people.
Words won’t work
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the need for social care leaders to act innovatively and with agility. But to do this, we must address the lack of diversity in leadership roles. Diverse backgrounds mean diverse thinking. More than ever, the social care industry needs creative thinkers with rich life experience.
For example, one of my fantastic BAME colleagues came to the UK from Africa as a refugee and spent the next decade putting herself through education and accountancy training, all while learning English, raising a family, and settling in a new country. She is now part of the Senior Management Team and is within the top six of a workforce of 5,000 people, bringing a wealth of life experience and diversity of thought that is instrumental to how the business operates. She is a role model not just to the BAME people in the workforce, but to everyone.
I am pleased to have campaigned on this for a long time and acted as a mentor to young adults of all backgrounds. But given my own background, I can see the challenges which particularly affect BAME people. I recognise that there is still so much more to be done. I recently called on some of the UK’s leading social care organisations to make a clear statement on how they are going to help our sector become more diverse and I look forward to seeing the response.
We have seen countless reviews and suggestions made on how to tackle systematic racism in the UK over the past few decades, including the Parker Report, the McGregor-Smith Review and the Lammy Review. Despite the many recommendations and urgent calls for action put forward over the years, it is clear the Government and businesses alike have not done enough.
I believe that legislation and promoting best practice must be at the heart of addressing racism going forwards, in the social care sector and beyond. A BAME Pathways Charter would be a great place to start, so that we can stop wasting public money, time and, most importantly, BAME talent. No more reports, no more commissions. Now is the time for action.
Do you have an experience to share? What actions have you taken to ensure representation at all levels of your organisations? Let us know by leaving a comment below.