I am proud to champion diversity and inclusion as a central part of my leadership at Hertfordshire CC. As the country continues to navigate its way through the pandemic, it is important to recognise the wide range of diversity considerations associated with coronavirus and its response.
This includes its impact on Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, including those delivering public-facing services, the pressures and demands on all those with caring responsibilities, and on people who need support related to domestic abuse, mental health and physical and learning disabilities.
It was during these unparalleled times that we witnessed the horrendous news and images from America of the death of George Floyd and the subsequent global reactions. Council leader David Williams and I both issued statements expressing our determination to play our part in eradicating racism within our workplace and communities.
Councillors have also been supportive, with two motions passed unanimously in the last six months condemning racism and discrimination in all its forms.
At this distressing time, we knew it was very important to listen to our BAME colleagues. We ran a well-attended online Q&A event, which I hosted alongside other senior council leaders, in partnership with the leaders of our BAME staff network group.
At this event I heard very clearly how important it is for the council and its senior leaders to recognise and demonstrate, through both our words and our actions, that black lives matter and we are serious about our commitment to making the council an anti-racist organisation. Central to this is spending more time listening to these colleagues’ experiences.
To really embed a culture of acceptance and inclusion we needed a strong framework around which to focus our work, so following close engagement with our staff network groups, we have just published a refreshed diversity and inclusion strategy.
Our strategy expresses our commitment to making inclusion part of our DNA and complements our people strategy, both of which look to embed relevant actions throughout our employee ‘life cycle’ (joining, working, learning, reward; and leaving)
The strategy has two elements: the first, focuses on the county council as a large employer and looks at the priorities we have across our workforce.
The second element focuses on the council as a provider of public services and will look at our service delivery, communities and partnerships.
I am determined to help make these more than just glossy documents; our strategy includes clear governance structures with tangible priorities and outcomes. We have also included real examples to bring the strategy to life through case studies featuring the lived experiences of a range of colleagues.
We carried out both quantitative and qualitative research to enable us to establish the county council’s key diversity and inclusion priorities. These include increasing the number of women and BAME colleagues in senior positions, employees under the age of 25 and employees comfortable to disclose that they have a disability. To achieve this, the strategy includes specific actions within the employee life cycle which each directorate will implement through their workforce action plans. An example of this is the introduction of mentoring and reverse mentoring of BAME and women employees with a senior member of staff to increase the talent pipeline for these groups.
Another initiative we are putting in place is the strengthening of our equality action groups and staff network groups to ensure that we have both top-down and grassroots participation in achieving our aims.
We have a hugely diverse workforce, so our commitment to anti-racism must run throughout every strand of our organisation, in addition to our ongoing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion in our communities.
We ran a vibrant National Inclusion Week event last autumn which showcased the valuable work done by colleagues representing staff groups and networks including LGBT+, BAME, female leadership development and career progression, hearing loss, neurodiversity, menopause and many others.
We recognise that all people are individuals and that their needs can be complex and varied. To ensure that the benefits of diversity can be felt, we want an environment where differences of thought and outlook are not only respected but are expected and valued.
Feeling included is good for us as individuals; it is good for teams and it is good for the people and communities that we serve. We must demonstrate our commitment to continued action in tackling inequality and championing diversity and inclusion throughout the council.
Even with this commitment, I am the first to acknowledge that as a white, able-bodied, middle-aged heterosexual man, I have limited understanding and personal lived experience of many of the things we need to change, improve, build upon and celebrate; those unique perspectives which help us improve our own outlook and by doing so truly embrace diversity through an enlightened and inclusive culture.
To increase my understanding, I have been talking with colleagues who have recommended or given me a range of interesting books and materials, including the brilliant Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez and Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge.
While I am pleased with how our work is progressing, we all need to do more, and work together to ensure this isn’t just a ‘top down’ initiative. I am encouraging all teams to read the strategy, to discuss it with colleagues and to continue engaging closely with each directorate’s equality action group and our staff network groups. The aim is to identify what we are doing well, to celebrate and reinforce valued approaches and to establish what we could do better to ensure that relevant action plans are implemented across the council.
This is an ongoing conversation that we need to keep having so that together we can create the inclusive and anti-racist culture that we all want to see and be part of.
Owen Mapley is chief executive of Hertfordshire CC
The MJ Case Study
A LEADERSHIP ‘ALWAYS LOOKING FOR FRESH IDEAS’
Hertfordshire CC recognises the need to give all employees the opportunities to develop and excel, and for managers to provide a workplace where individual talent can flourish, writes Tendai Murowe
As a newly appointed head of quality assurance in children’s services I have been reflecting on my journey and the things that have helped me to develop within Hertfordshire CC.
Hertfordshire is a great county to work for. I have met amazing managers and leaders, who are open, encouraging and supportive; by their actions, they have proved to be as committed to my development as I am.
I joined Hertfordshire as a service manager in children’s services in July 2015, having worked for a number of years in Essex prior to that. When I first arrived, I was unsure about the opportunities for career development in Hertfordshire but as I became familiar with the organisation, I realised that there were lots of opportunities available.
In order to take advantage of these opportunities I needed to be a self-starter, to identify my own development goals and to work towards them. It was important to make sure that my managers were aware of my skills and aspirations. When opportunities for self-development and for personal growth came, it was also important to have the confidence to step up and take advantage of them.
Having a manager who encouraged and coached me to be creative, innovative and push boundaries, as well as to develop and stretch my skills really helped. The organisation recognises the need to give all employees the opportunities to develop and excel, and for managers to provide an environment where individual talent can flourish.
It is very positive that an equality and diversity strategy has been developed; it gives the organisation a shared vision to identify and overcome the barriers and hurdles that many colleagues, including those of BAME backgrounds may encounter in the workplace.
I was supported through my performance management and development scheme (PMDS) to identify my learning needs and joined the apprenticeship program to undertake my MBA while at work. Although the apprenticeship programme is extremely demanding, I have been fully supported to attend and achieve.
I have come to realise that in order to be successful you have to be confident, motivated and willing to take up new opportunities when they come up. Some of the services offered by Hertfordshire CC such as coaching can be crucial. Coaching has really been a fantastic tool and I highly recommend it for any aspiring leaders.
I also have a workplace mentor, another service provided for free by the county council through HR. Mentors are fantastic for helping you to navigate the workplace and introducing you to the right people.
If you want to make an impact in your area of work, Hertfordshire CC is great for that, with a leadership that is always looking for fresh ideas to provide excellent services.
Of course, no job role is always smooth sailing, but it is reassuring to make use of the available support, both at home and in the workplace. I have benefitted from Hertfordshire’s flexible working approaches when there have been pressures balancing home and work life.
I have valued the support of work colleagues, the open-door policy by senior leaders and the support by my own friends and family when I have encountered any work or home pressures.
Tendai Murowe is a head of quality assurance at Hertfordshire CC