Diversity and inclusion has been a challenge that organisations have struggled to adequately address for a long time, however recent events and growing disquiet have caused institutional racism to be at the forefront of public consciousness.
Protests, debates, and even reports surrounding the disproportional impact of COVID-19 on Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities have highlighted the chasm of inequality still present in modern society, demonstrating that more work needs to be done to address this and create effective change with tangible benefits in professional and civic life.
At Westminster City Council, in October 2018, the BAME staff network was formed to ensure representation and a seat at the table for those most affected by feelings of racial inequality within the organisation. 33% of council employees are from Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic backgrounds, whilst only 14% are in leadership roles; a considerable under-representation which has been recognised and is being address by the organisation in conjunction with the network.
Our aims for the BAME network are simple but effective: to support BAME employees, offer a voice to their issues and concerns, improve diversity in leadership roles, and support activities that value diversity and inclusion. We have evolved to focus not only on internal communities, i.e. staff, but also to effect change for external BAME communities, i.e. our residents and external organisations across Westminster. Although we use the term ‘BAME’, it is important to also understand the nuanced experiences and challenges that arise for people under this umbrella – for example, my experience as a Black man of Ghanaian heritage would differ significantly to my Asian colleague of Indian heritage, and this is something that must be recognised when addressing diversity and inclusion
The network steering group is split into sub-groups: Recruitment, Learning and Development, Communications/Events, and External Partnerships. This year we have also added a COVID-19 response group as a priority. Our network, with support from senior and executive leadership, develops and supports a range of projects and incentives to improve diversity and inclusion, and the experience of BAME staff within the organisation.
We also have a considerable focus on inclusive recruitment. The mechanisms of achieving this include BAME representation on interview panels, ensuring a representative shortlist for every management post, inclusive recruitment training for hiring managers as well as unconscious bias training to identify and challenge internalised biases. Our Organisation Development team are also implementing a diversity audit this year to establish a baseline within the organisation to build on going forward.
The council is also a proud member of the Race at Work Charter conveying the commitment of leadership to establishing practices of positive action to create a truly diverse work force, utilising talent from all ethnicities.
We have taken a more external approach to our work, holding a pan-London Council public sector event discussing the impacts of COVID-19 and how to effectively engage with communities to address this. The network has also partnered with Support When It Matters (SWIM) Enterprise to deliver a range of assertive outreach events to understand how COVID-19 is affecting BAME communities, and what needs to be done to reduce the risk.
Quite significantly, the council are one of only 3% of organisations in the UK which publish a BAME pay gap report. This was a bold decision by the leadership in efforts to recognise existing issues and to be more transparent and accountable in the provision of solutions. The BAME pay gap report was first published in 2018 and in 2019 there was a 2.2% decrease in the mean pay gap to 15.5%. Since April 2019, 46% of all advertised roles at Band 4 (managerial level) and above have been filled by BAME candidates.
The work of the network, genuine support from leadership and active engagement from colleagues across the council has caused a significant culture change to the organisation in comparison to the Westminster City Council I joined in 2016.
Despite the success we have experienced, we recognise the importance of continuing the established pace and pressure, and of the work yet to come. We will continue to influence change internally and externally in the hope of a truly diverse Westminster, and London.
Bernard Bruce is a member of the BAME Network Steering Group and Partnership and Development Manager in Growth, Planning and Housing at Westminster City Council