Emotion, labour and the risks of speaking out: diversity and inclusion within The King’s Fund

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The collective account that emerged from the experiences that members of the research group shared with each other, was one of diversity and inclusion becoming increasingly important to the Fund. The researchers all felt that telling this story publicly was part, not just of sharing our learning, but also of making our organisation more accountable – both to our colleagues and external stakeholders – for getting our own house in order.

Our work identified three main phases around attitudes to diversity and inclusion within the Fund over the past decade.

Early 2010s:

Our researchers’ accounts of The King’s Fund in this period suggest that the organisation, perhaps like others in the charities sector, and health and care more widely, was characterised by an indifference towards diversity. For example, while the organisation considered the basics such as the diversity of interview panels, there was no commitment or concerted effort to address diversity and inclusion, and no overall action plan. 

Finding oneself on the non-dominant side of those differences showed up for our group of researchers as feeling unable to speak up, keeping one’s head down, and, for some, accepting everyday injustices.

But there was difference of all kinds in the Fund – gender, race, class, educational background. Finding oneself on the non-dominant side of those differences showed up for our group of researchers as feeling unable to speak up, keeping one’s head down, and, for some, accepting everyday injustices. Some of us found the organisation to be cold, exclusive and uninterested in issues of inequality and it’s perhaps not surprising that research with stakeholders found that some thought of the Fund as elitist and exclusive. Our researchers remembered this led to them suppressing strong emotions and feelings of injustice which for some was quite hard to cope with. 

2013–2017:

During this time our researchers recalled that things started to change as the Fund began to focus on internal organisational development. Staff survey data indicated that some people felt there was room for more openness and role modelling. These findings, as well as frustration at difficulties in getting self-initiated diversity and inclusion work approved, catalysed action. Staff set up new forums and initiatives that created space to explore experiences of discrimination, power and hierarchy and it became possible to talk about topics, such as recruitment and progression, that had been difficult before. 

And yet, in important ways, the Fund remained much as it had been. Our researchers recalled that many people they encountered felt that addressing diversity and inclusion simply wasn’t part of their job, and talking about it could elicit eye-rolls or empty platitudes. Even when stakeholder research highlighted a lack of diverse perspectives in the Fund’s work, there was little urgency in responding to this feedback. Tensions about this divergence between those who wanted to act and those who didn’t see the need to bubbled up in the context of a wider societal trend of the importance of talking about difference. 

2018–present:

Overall, people across the Fund seem to be getting better at staying with the discomfort of what are often very difficult conversations...

The past two years have seen significant progress in the Fund’s diversity and inclusion work: people across the organisation are reading more, sharing more and talking more openly about inequalities. There is a thriving diversity and inclusion working group that regularly attracts new members. The Fund has a clear, focused action plan for working on diversity and inclusion that makes it easier for everyone in the organisation to see what work is happening and to get involved. The Fund has set realistic targets about representation across a range of its functions. In response to participating for the first time (and scoring poorly) in the Stonewall UK Workplace Equality in 2019, we’re now working on our internal HR policies, have a growing number of LGBT+ allies, as well as looking to buddy with and learn from others. Overall, people across the Fund seem to be getting better at staying with the discomfort of what are often very difficult conversations and all of this may be contributing to some of us feeling happier, more valued and more engaged.

But there’s clearly so much more to do. As health care professionals on Twitter pointed out following the publication of our recent report into workplace inequality, there is a stark lack of diversity in the Fund’s senior management team. Indeed, the (voluntary) membership of our collaborative research group, while gender, ethnically and LGBT+ diverse, failed to include a Black colleague which gives us food for thought about who in our organisation felt safe enough a year ago to participate in this work and therefore what perspectives we might be missing.    

Further, the experiences the researchers in our group have had or have heard about from others, point to ongoing incidents of micro-aggression and hurt that remain difficult to speak about. Our research highlighted that the people working directly on diversity and inclusion can find themselves bearing the brunt of the emotional labour of supporting and advocating for colleagues as well as trying to work towards real change. This work is rarely part of the day job, but the members of our research group noticed how we remain driven by our values and belief in the potential for social justice and a fairer workplace. In the past, this additional labour has gone largely unrecognised, which adds another layer of burden to trying to stay engaged; we’re glad to see it being increasingly appreciated and for many more people across the organisation seeing diversity and inclusion as their responsibility, whatever their background.

But if The King’s Fund only treats diversity and inclusion as a research topic, we will continue to fail our colleagues who are still daily experiencing the negative impacts of inequalities in the workplace.

It may seem odd that as an organisation, we’d share all of this – many might reasonably prefer to keep these ‘internal workings’ to themselves. But if The King’s Fund only treats diversity and inclusion as a research topic, we will continue to fail our colleagues who are still daily experiencing the negative impacts of inequalities in the workplace. The members of our research group have found working on diversity and inclusion to be a great experience and so we wanted to share what we’re learning with others – we’re keen to learn from others too. If what you’ve read strikes a chord or you’d like to be part of our conversations about diversity and inclusion, please get in touch

This blog was updated on 3 September 2020 to remove a sentence regarding the Black staff network as there was insufficient clarity and the blog did not fully explore the factors that contributed to the formation of the internal network at the Fund.

Comments

Jane Newson

Position
RN,
Organisation
Prefer not to say
Comment date
07 September 2020

I've spoken out within my organisation based on what I've seen, heard and experienced. I've been furloughed and my contribution dismissed as not something they recognise, for others it has resonated deeply. My advice would be look after yourself first. It is emotionally costly and potentially re traumatising doing this work and Kinouani (2020) have suggested that to even have a diversity team is racist. A great piece, thank you for your leadership.

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