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Diversity still matters

This is the final ADCS blog-spot in October, when we celebrate Black History Month, so I’d like to return to the subject of racial and ethnic diversity, which I last blogged about back in September 2018. In that piece, I reflected on the low number of black and other minority colleagues in the most senior positions in children’s services, and noted that as a group of leaders we are far less diverse than the communities we serve. Regrettably, this remains true two years on. However, action on this issue continues, and is accelerating.

Back in October of 2018 The Staff College (the public sector leadership organisation for children’s services) held an alumni event for graduates of the five cohorts of its Black and Asian Leadership Initiative (BALI) programme. This sowed the seeds of a bigger idea, which has come to fruition this autumn with the launch on 14 October 2020 of a permanent BALI Network. This network brings together people who have completed the BALI programme to share their experiences and support each other and also invites allies to join, help, advocate and support the cause.

Meanwhile, in March 2019, as one of the recommendations in its policy paper “A workforce that works for all Children” ADCS made an explicit call for a focus on and investment in training BAME leaders for the future. The Staff College has gone on since then to secure the funding to run two BALI cohorts a year, and in November of this year, the BALI programme’s ninth cohort will participate in a two day virtual ‘residential’, structured around the different stages of a career from middle to senior leadership, and with a focus on the added value that Black / Asian leadership can bring.

Alongside this work at a national level, regions are taking action too. In London, within the workforce work-stream of the London Innovation and Improvement Alliance (LIIA), there is a commitment to establish a kind of ‘pre-BALI’ programme for London’s aspiring BAME leaders. A steering group is now actively engaged in the design of this programme, which we hope to be able to launch early next year. In response to feedback from BALI alumni, who continue to experience barriers to progression in the organisations that employ them, this programme will not only provide a development opportunity for BAME colleagues, but – crucially – will contain an element of anti-racist challenge to the organisations they work for. What are the behaviours and biases in our organisations that stand in the way of BAME advancement?

Individual local authorities can also make change happen. Our colleagues in ADASS are taking forward a pilot to implement the NHS’s Workforce Race Equality Standards (WRES) in the adult social care workforce, and local authority children’s services are encouraged to participate too by adopting/adapting the nine NHS indicators for local authorities, which can be found on p.73 of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard report. In Merton, we’re not confining this work to the ‘people’ services, but applying these adapted measures across the whole council.

In response to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on BAME communities, and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter following the killing of George Floyd, our local, regional and national actions to tackle racism and discrimination are under the spotlight as never before. This scrutiny can only be a good thing. On Wednesday 4 November, straight after the official opening of this year’s NCAS Conference, the plenary is: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion – Inclusive Leadership in Social Care. This session will challenge delegates to consider how they exercise inclusive leadership. I urge you to attend.

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