Passion with no end: where next for our diversity and inclusion work?

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Writing our own narratives and reading each other’s was an emotional experience that further fuelled our passion for improving the Fund’s work on diversity and inclusion. This passion energises us and sustains us through setbacks. It enables us to endure the sluggish pace of progress, navigate complexities and to change ourselves, as well as lead organisational change. But passion is sometimes uncomfortable in an organisation where thinking, objectivity and intellectual rigour are central to what we do, how we do it and the values on which our reputation is justifiably based.

The challenge for those of us involved in this research and who are influencers of diversity and inclusion work in the Fund, is how to shift the effort to another level. For the organisation’s culture to change, it is not enough that this work is being done by a small number of people sustained by their passion. Every single colleague needs to engage in that change and to pay attention to their own part in the inequalities that continue to play out.

'For the organisation’s culture to change... every single colleague needs to engage in that change and to pay attention to their own part in the inequalities that continue to play out.'

To achieve this, we are trying to engage people in new ways. We are aiming to make work around diversity and inclusion more accessible, to reduce the fear that can accompany early steps into what is a difficult and sensitive area. We are encouraging our colleagues to share, just as we did in our research, more personal and honest accounts of experiences of diversity and inclusion work and how the rich learning has a positive impact on their lives both professionally and personally. We hope this will create a safer environment for all of us to explore our differences.

Our narratives identified passion as key to breakthrough moments, for example, when a group of colleagues, conscious of hidden stories within the Fund about persistent micro-aggressions, incivility, discrimination and self-censoring, successfully advocated for a project to bring these into the open and to address the underlying causes. Here, passion worked as power – to break the silence. Building skills and confidence is important too, and our research highlighted that these high-stakes moments often involve discomfort and challenge. We are now progressing opportunities for colleagues to develop listening, active bystander , dialogue and allyship skills so we can stay with these conversations .

Our collaborative research has shown us that truly engaging with diversity and inclusion feels personal, disruptive and emotional and so safe spaces are needed. We found this to be true for all of us, including the most senior member of the group, a white man. So, we are trying to support our senior leaders to enquire and listen, to find solutions ‘with’ rather than ‘for’ and to share their power. Our ability to come together across hierarchy and have honest dialogue where it feels safe to be authentic and vulnerable is crucial to the transformation we want to achieve.

This is a new way of being in an organisation where expertise and knowing rule and where systemic racism involves us all but has an impact on some more than others. It is not easy to face the responsibility of power and privilege, but it is easier than being constantly silenced by them. Our narratives reflect that where initiatives have stalled or not had the impact we hoped for, it is most often because those in relative power (vested by position, gender, ethnicity and age) were not willing or able to hear, or because those who have learnt they are less powerful are not willing or able to speak. Our research has convinced us that being able to draw on our own experience of diversity and inclusion will better equip us to support transformation in the system.

'We have a long way to go, particularly in increasing the diversity of our senior workforce and in addressing racism, but we are making slow and steady progress in building a culture where these are now, more than ever, realistic goals.'

We have discovered that we cannot predict what’s coming next and we are living and learning through our experience moment by moment. We have a long way to go, particularly in increasing the diversity of our senior workforce and in addressing racism, but we are making slow and steady progress in building a culture where these are now, more than ever, realistic goals. As a colleague who is mentor to two directors said, ‘Even if we’re going at a snail’s pace, we’re moving.’

Indeed, in May, as we were concluding our research reflections, we wondered whether we should be more disruptive in the way we approach diversity and inclusion in the Fund – as one of us said, ‘I wonder how much our current approach preserves the status quo?’ In the weeks that followed our discussions, George Floyd was murdered, Black Lives Matter protests took place around the world and the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people from ethnic minority backgrounds emerged. We also published our own research on workforce race inequalities and inclusion in NHS providers. These developments have fuelled a wave of anger, passion and activism from colleagues that has created a disruption larger than we had been able to create ourselves. This has led to renewed momentum for action within the Fund, enabling us to strengthen our focus on addressing racism, both in the health and care system and within our own organisation.

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