There is no doubt there is much more that could and should have been done to tackle structural racism by us - changemakers - working across civil society
CEO Julie Bentley’s statement on Samaritans' commitment to tackling structural racism.
The senseless murder of George Floyd was an important catalyst for long overdue action.
This blog is the result of conversations many social sector leaders have been having about racial justice. Loose collections of us have come together in various ways to discuss, share, and learn together. We have been taking a long hard look at ourselves, our organisations, our sector and the power and responsibility with which we must address systemic racism within the various roles we hold.
Those conversations have held two things in common: racial justice and a commitment to change.
They have centred on a determination to understand the everyday impact of structural racism wherever and however it manifests itself, and how we can get better at disrupting the status quo, using our power and privilege for racial justice, and demonstrating strong allyship.
Allyship is constant action that challenges inequality, oppression, and discrimination. It is about using our personal and positional power and privilege to amplify voices, to step aside and to step back. It is about asking who is sat at the table, who isn’t, why not and how do we get them there, as well as making sure the voices of people with a wide range of lived experiences are heard.
We have spent time reflecting on how to be conscious and intentional in our actions, how we walk the talk in everything we do, how we make sure our racial justice work is embedded in our organisations and how we can influence change wherever we can.
Most of us involved in these conversations have signed up to different standards and led organisational action plans.
Samaritans' vision is that fewer people die by suicide. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year, the service is for all people. Yet we understand that as an organisation we still have much to do to be truly anti-racist and fully inclusive. We spent last year having internal conversations about what real diversity and inclusion looks like in Samaritans and what that tells us about the work we need to do as an organisation. This led to the publishing of our organisational commitments; 'Our commitment to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion'. We are now developing the detailed plans to fully deliver on these commitments. We have an online Inclusion and Diversity group which, to date, has 400 members from across our staff and volunteer base, this is being built on with the establishment of specific affinity networks. We are establishing an Advisory Group from across the organisation, with external members, to hold us to account for the delivery of our diversity and inclusion work programme. This year we are developing our next strategy and a new Head of Diversity and Inclusion will work within the strategy team to ensure that as we develop our plans over the next months, at every level we will be working to understand the barrier to being fully anti-racist and inclusive, to ensure this is embedded in our future strategies. We have begun reviewing and implementing a new recruitment and selection policy and approach to support greater diversity, and we will continue to develop this work throughout 2021. We will now be prioritising the review of induction, performance development and talent management policies and processes to ensure they are inclusive and will support how we attract and retain staff from diverse backgrounds. We are also developing the mechanisms to gather data to understand if we are attracting people from a diversity of backgrounds, reflective of local communities, to volunteer and work with us. We are being supported to finalise our detailed work programme by an external diversity consultancy and we will make our workplan public when completed and will report against our progress publicly.
Throughout the conversations we have reflected how much time we spend on panels, events, committees and working groups contributing to the production of knowledge and policy. Many of us are offered platforms so regularly we forget this is a privilege. It is not an opportunity everyone is afforded; that diverse voices and perspectives are often excluded, and consequently privilege, inequality and the status quo are perpetuated. Those with the opportunity to be heard get to influence outcomes, as well as develop personally and strengthen their careers.
This led us to think about the small but nonetheless significant steps we can take to ensure panels, events, committees, boards and working groups seeking to influence change better reflect the rich diversity of lived experiences and voices.
As a result, I am committing to:
- Be part of groups and committees that are actively inclusive, and to ask myself the question ‘who isn’t at the table, who should be and how can we get them there?’
- Be part of panels where at least 50% of the panel is women and 20% of the panel Black, Indigenous and People of Colour
- Take part in conferences where speakers and representatives with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences are heard across all parts of the conference including the main stage
- Always be asking myself, my teams, and other organisers if we are making sure a wide range of voices and lived experiences are heard in our own events and those we participate in.
I am also:
- Encouraging others to make these commitments
- Making this an organisation wide approach whereby we encourage everyone to do the same
- Talking to event organisers about amplifying diverse voices
- Encouraging thinking about any barriers – financial or otherwise - to attendance at their events and consider subsidies and other mechanisms that enable people from diverse communities to participate.
I – along with many others in the sector - have already been using these commitments to drive conversations about more inclusive spaces. We are keeping a track of them so we can learn as we go. We know we won’t always get it right. When we don’t, we will reflect on why and what we can learn.
In making these commitments public, I am naming and owning the power I hold to create space for more diverse voices to be heard, and for meaningful and inclusive conversations to take place in policy making and practice development. The more of us that make these commitments the faster we will make change.
They are part of a process of learning and unlearning. We know from experience that having the conversations works and will make sure the spaces we occupy are more diverse, more representative, and more impactful as we work together for a racially just society.
There is no badge, no club to join, no fee to pay, just an ask, please join us in committing to do all you can to ensure diverse voices and lived experiences are heard. Will you?
This piece is being published on multiple organisational and individual channels. We would encourage anyone who wants to join us in these commitments to use and adapt the text and publish on your own channels. If you are struggling to access the text, please email [email protected] and we will send it to you.