Race Equality: Voices from across the boroughs

The page hosts the Race Matters newsletter, as part of the Tackling Racial Inequality programme, and captures the voice of staff across the London local government workforce. 

The Tackling Racial Inequality programme is led by a Chief Executive working group, it aims to support and build on the work already taking place across individual councils in London seeking to address racial inequality. It aims to tackle the long-standing racial injustices faced by London’s communities and contribute to making London a fairer and more inclusive place for all its residents

Kim Smith, Chief Executive of Hammersmith & Fulham and Chair of the Tackling Racial Inequality programme

Does it feel like a whole year has passed since the world was shocked by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers? Maybe the recent trial of the assailant has brought it all back but for many of us the hurt never left us …

The words George uttered ‘I can’t breathe’ not only reflected his physical pain as his life was so cruelly ended but it became a symbolic metaphor of the global struggle against racial injustice and inequality encapsulated in the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

People from Black, Asian and Minority ethnic backgrounds led a global outcry and people from ALL backgrounds demanded change.

In London, local government has stepped up and is taking the lead in driving forward the public sector race equality agenda. We were already working on service improvements and systems leadership in areas like housing, health, crime/policing, skills and employment, climate change but since June 2020, we’ve challenged ourselves to more pro-actively and visibly embed high quality race equality commitments and actions.

We’ve also spent some time establishing a new London local government work programme centred on 3 key themes;

  • growing more visible and impactful senior leadership commitment
  • doing much more as large employers ourselves (recruitment, succession, development, sub-contractors) and
  • building/promoting and critically sharing best practice.

So, we’ve established an almost military-like operation with working groups using over 100 volunteers from all boroughs in the hope that setting up a robust governance framework will make tackling racial inequality stick, make it sustainable and ensure we make measurable differences.

Indeed, every London borough and the City of London have signed up together with London Councils and this engagement has created a solid foundation upon which I believe we can better achieve pan-London action for change.

We’re also collaborating with borough staff networks; Heads of HR, recruitment firms, London Leadership Programme Alumni and other stakeholders who have a shared responsibility to tackle racial inequality to ensure we don’t work in silos and we don’t duplicate.

You can’t fix something until you all agree what’s broken right?

So, our best example of our approach and our progress over the last year has been the ground-breaking ethnicity and pay survey of 87,000 workers across all London boroughs. Imagine it’s never been done before … you need to know where the ‘glass ceilings’ are for which community, in which departments before you can develop training, fast track and get ahead initiatives surely. So our work is unapologetically hard hitting and ambitious and we relish the challenge!

Colleagues we have much work to do so let’s work together to see if we can make 2021 even bigger and better and show visible race equality outcomes for all. You can get involved through your council’s staff network – we’re stronger together.

 

George Perry Floyd Jr. 14/10/1973 - 25/05/2020   Rest in Peace

Janice Green, Community Scheme Manager, Westminster Council

Why did you sign up to the programme?

I signed up to be a part of the programme because I’m currently on the Emerging Leaders Programme and wanted to get involved in working groups that focus on issues which affect my community, especially young people and women.

What is your hope for this work?

My hope is that we identify areas of importance and develop services, policies and support that encourage a better standard of living for local people.

What do you think are the key challenges your group is facing?

The key challenge I feel is inequality itself - there is a reluctance in certain areas to accept that it exists.

What is happening in your own borough/organisation?

In Westminster, I’m a member of a number of working groups including Housing, Health & Safety, Economic Recovery, and Community Engagement. We hope to raise awareness of the impact different issues have on our BAME communities.

Do you have any other reflections on the past year, or local and London progress, that you’d like to share?

The last year has been difficult for us all, some more than others, and my condolences goes out to all those who have lost loved ones.

That being said, the past year has shown how people can come together in support of each other. I have seen and met enterprising people who have used the lockdown in a positive way by starting their own businesses. I would hope this continues and groups like ours would provide them with the support they need to develop further.

In our day jobs we’re Chief Executives of Lewisham and Newham councils, and we also sponsor the Tackling Racial Inequality workstream on ‘Our Role as Large Employers’. This stream focuses on our role, as Local Authority leaders of significant organisations across London, to drive forward and shift the dial in supporting boroughs in having a clear deliverable programme which includes creating an environment for its workforce which is inclusive, diverse, culturally competent, and develops systems that ensure anti-racism practice throughout. In the context of racial equality we believe it is vital to ensure our organisations are representative at all levels, including in senior leadership, and that everyone has the opportunity to develop and thrive within London local government.
 
An important area of work we have been developing is to eliminate the ethnicity pay gap across London local government. We have successfully built an understanding of the levels of diversity amongst the 87,000 staff that work across London local government, including the levels of representation of different ethnic groups across pay bands.
This has enabled us to develop an understanding of trends across the sector and, most importantly, where the challenges lie and where we must target our interventions. So, what have we learned? 
 
We now know that there is a high representation of people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities working in local government compared to the London population. However, there are differences across different ethnic groups and pay bands – for instance, people from Asian communities are underrepresented at all pay levels and those from Black communities are well represented up to the £60k pay band but significantly under represented at high pay levels.
 
Overall, we can see that a ‘glass ceiling’ exists at the £50k-60K pay band where representation of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff reduces dramatically. Therefore, all of us across London local government must consider how inclusive our practices and support are for staff, irrespective of their ethnicity.
To help shape our next steps we reached out to borough staff, senior leadership teams and staff networks to understand your priorities for addressing the ethnicity pay gap. You said we must:
 
  • Develop solutions to smash the glass ceiling and the lack of representation in senior positions.
  • Understand the differences in representation across service areas, including a focus on the general under-representation from Asian communities.
  • Better understand and change HR systems to improve practice around recruitment. 
  • Build more visible and targeted workforce inclusion initiatives.
 
In response, to achieve real change, we must ensure the barriers to career progression are eradicated and that we have better representation at all levels of seniority. That is why the programme will continue to monitor progress on ethnicity and pay to measure and see change. The Large Employers working group are collaborating with volunteers across boroughs to co-design a range of models, best practice and tools that can support you and your organisations. These include developing a toolkit around what inclusive leadership looks like in practice; a checklist for inclusive recruitment and a model around dignity at work.
 
We have an important opportunity to ensure we continue to be  visible leaders within our councils and our places, supporting our  organisations to be  representative at all levels and have initiatives in place that proactively support the progression of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff. This is vital work, that is delivering at pace, and we look forward to sharing more about the practical tools  being developed that we expect to make a positive impact in the near future.
 
Kim Wright 
Chief Executive, London Borough of Lewisham
 
Althea Loderick
Chief Executive, London Borough of Newham

A number of events took place across Greater London to celebrate Windrush Day 2021 and educate the community about the experiences, contributions and legacy of the Windrush Generation, including: 

  • The London Borough of Lambeth saw a number of events and activities take place throughout the borough, including a specially recorded community version of Jimmy Cliff's ‘You Can Get it if You Really Want’ that was played from locations across the borough. Sing-alongs were attended by the Leader of Lambeth Council, Cllr Claire Holland alongside local MPs Bell Addy-Ribeiro, Florence Eschalomi and Helen Hayes.
  • In Tottenham, a Windrush Festival was held at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, bringing together a diverse range of community members to share skills, creative activities and theatrical and literary works (including extracts from a new play by singing legend Carroll Thompson) in celebration of the Windrush Generation. 
  • The London Borough of Brent hosted a virtual online event including interviews with local Windrush Generation residents and a Reggae workshop, which is available to watch online 
  • Waltham Forest’s Vestry House Museum has a free exhibition called ‘We Are Here’ and featuring photographic portraits, mementos and oral testimonies from Windrush Generation residents, put together by a local collective of photographers. The exhibition is open until later this year. Find out more.
  • LB Redbridge held an event organised by Partner North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT), who are recognised nationally for their work on equality, diversity and inclusion. Programme can be seen here. 



Windrush Festival at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in Tottenham, London Borough of Haringey

LB Hammersmith and Fulham
 
LB Hammersmith and Fulham's Get Ahead development programme is helping to 'grow our own' and harness the talent they already have. Read more here. 
 
 
LB Waltham Forest 
 
The London Borough of Waltham Forest’s internal Race Equality Network (REN) was re-formed in August 2020. We know we have a long way to go to tackle inequality and prejudice, but by working with and learning from REN the Council has made progress in several areas including:
 
  • An action plan to eliminate the Council's ethnicity pay gap, approved by Cabinet
  • A new People Strategy which will allow the Council to embed diversity and inclusion more deeply and ensure that as much energy goes into supporting staff as residents 
  • Improved training for senior leadership and staff on unconscious bias and microaggressions. REN have formed an Unconscious Bias training scrutiny group to ensure training is accurate and appropriate
  • Safe Space Clinic Champions made up of six REN members which offers a confidential safe space for staff to discuss issues of discrimination that are having a detrimental effect on their working and private life. The objective is to work with staff alongside management to gain a better understanding of issues staff face and how senior management can make a real difference in listening and acting on what is heard to effect positive change.   
  • Mentoring Scrutiny Group made up of six REN members – set up to work with the mentoring programme team to make sure the Council’s mentoring scheme is in line with the Ethnicity Pay Gap strategy and effectively improving the work and career opportunities of those staff taking part. 
  • Appraisal system scrutiny group –  the key objective of this scrutiny group is to provide recommendations for the appraisal system which reflect inclusivity to all, with the objective of increasing internal promotions and improving staff recognition and management
 
These achievements show a definite step in the right direction but as Pauline Campbell, Senior Litigation Lawyer and Co-Chair of REN, says: “The battle continues, things are moving but we still have a long way to go.”

Paul Aladenika from the Tackling Race Inequality Data sub-group discussed how learning from ethnicity and pay data can promote equality, fairness and opportunity.

Tom Pickup discusses his role as Race Equality Lead at London Councils.