Today, Sense is publishing its plan for tackling racism, recognising that racism exists within every organisation.
The plan sets out the steps that we are taking within Sense, through better and ongoing engagement with our staff and volunteers, changes in our recruitment processes and working practices, and a commitment to publish data about how well we are doing as an organisation.
I’m acutely aware that change won’t come from merely publishing this plan. We have deliberately avoided using the words ‘big bold and radical’ in setting out our proposals. The action plan isn’t perfect, but it is a starting point and, we hope, a good one.
We know we will be judged by the action we take, not the words we use. We must not think that with some tinkering here and there and with a good wind behind us and a bit of luck, we can, for example, recruit more people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups. We need to do more than cross our fingers, close our eyes, and hope for the best.
Like other organisations, we’ve had some difficult conversations about race. Many black members of staff have talked about their painful experiences at Sense and the systematic racism that they have experienced. It has been a wakeup call for us.
As a result of these discussions, we’re all much more self-aware. Tackling racism is not someone else’s job. It’s ours. Each and every one of us has a role to play in bringing about change to prevent racism at a systemic level. We are all on the journey to becoming advocates and an anti-racist organisation.
At the same time, Sense’s Equality and Diversity Group have been very clear to our Leadership team that we must not waste further time by repeatedly apologising for not doing enough in the past rather than doing things now and in the future. Movements for change don’t come from merely saying sorry. They come from doing things differently.
Our Equality and Diversity Group were also very clear that any plan couldn’t be divorced from the two different but related factors of: firstly, race and class and secondly, the lack of investment by government in a social care workforce. These are disturbing trends that are damaging for individuals, for communities and for society. Acknowledging these gaps does cause further despondency – but they can also act as a call to arms – to do something about it.
Systemic and structural racism
On the matter of race and class, long before the current pandemic, systemic and structural racism meant that many Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups were more likely to live in poverty and more likely to be unemployed or in lower paid jobs. We now know that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups have not only been disproportionately hit by the health crisis but face a double bind of health inequalities and a disproportionate impact of lockdown and its economic impact.
Heightened racism and inequalities associated with Covid-19 are likely to scar people’s lives further. We risk further disadvantaging communities for decades to come.
Onto the second related factor, the lack of investment by government in a social care workforce resulting in serious shortages. Nearly 8% of roles in adult social care are currently vacant, equivalent to 122,000 vacancies at any one time. Many of these front line staff include a significant number of overseas nationals, and they have been absolutely essential in supporting disabled people’s health needs and enabling them to lead active, productive and fulfilled lives. Sense, like other charities, is disappointed that the government hasn’t created an appropriate visa route for international staff that want to work in social care.
The social care workforce is highly skilled. At Sense, we work sensitively with disabled people learning how they prefer to communicate and spend their time. Providing personalised support at all times. Support workers are pioneers in their field. We will continue to make this case to government and for social care staff to be better recognised.
As a large employer – with 2,400 staff and 1,900 volunteers – working across the social care, charity and retail sectors in many different settings, we have the potential to do something very different.
The centrepiece in our action plan is to engage in a different and dynamic way with the 120 plus local communities we work in.
We know that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups face structural disadvantage throughout their lives. That means we need to engage with schools, training providers, colleges and universities – and local events run by local Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups – so that we can form partnerships on a local and regional basis and transform our recruitment practice.
Providing more social care opportunities
We have begun to talk to colleges about positioning Sense in a different way with them and local Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups based on a model of partnership and collaboration. We will provide support and training to schools, colleges and universities so modules on social care are part of accredited courses that lead to a qualification. We are happy to help write training course and support their delivery. We need to ensure they are attractive to Black and Minority Ethnic groups who may never had previously considered a job in social care.
Sense will also offer people the chance to spend time in our services learning about what we do and the individuals we support. We can also offer similar opportunities for people to learn about retail by having a work placement in one of our 121 shops across the country.
This means new ways of working that involve bringing social care and retail opportunities to local Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups rather than expecting people to find Sense. We have to ensure that the voices of the Black and Asian and Minority Ethnic staff are at the centre of our approach to recruitment. Through a rigorous process of community engagement at a grassroots level, we will aim to get to know local communities and recruit people at its heart with real life experiences.
If successful, it will mean having a workforce that better reflects the communities we work in. It is not only the right thing to do. It also makes economic sense as we are all addressing shortages in our current workforce. Of course, that needs to be matched by progression routes to management and leadership roles for Sense staff from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups.
Whilst we have some clout as a large employer, we know we can’t do it alone. We are looking for other charities who want to join Sense on the start of this journey. We are also currently recruiting a new Diversity and Inclusion Lead to lead on this initiative.
It will be a challenging, and at times, a difficult journey, but it will also be a transformative and exhilarating one. In choosing to act, we will play a part in tackling some of the deepest and most profound structural issues our society faces. Hopefully, the successful delivery of our plan will mean we can use the words ‘big, bold and radical’, and do so with real pride.