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.

Our commitment to celebrating Black history

Black History Month is an important time for celebration. I take this as an opportunity to recognise London’s vibrancy and how integral Black communities are to the make-up of our borough and city’s rich tapestry - through their vibrant culture, traditions and history.

It is also a period for reflection – a time to remember and learn from those who fought relentlessly for race equality and inclusion: the likes of Claudia Jones, Ellen and William Craft, Marcus Garvey, Bernie Grant, and Carter G. Woodson who founded the first ‘Negro History Week’. All these giants of racial equality inspire me every day in my role as Leader of a Borough that has two- thirds Black and ethnic minority residents.

The experience of Black communities is too important simply to be left to a small group of academics to be spoken about once a year. The murder of Stephen Lawrence, and more recently the murder of George Floyd, reminds us of how outdated and dangerous attitudes of the past continue to create adversity and hardship for many today. There remains a significant journey that we must all continue to undertake to eradicate and root out racial injustices, most recently brought into stark contrast through poorer health outcomes- particularly for our Black communities. We must strive to learn from our Black leaders and advocates to understand how we can all champion race equality. For this reason, here at Brent, we have developed a Black Community Action plan to better understand and meet the needs of our residents.

Across this month, London will play host to a series of events celebrating our Black communities. Brent Council and our partners have been proactively harnessing, facilitating and supporting the marking of Black History Month this year. You can see the range of events that have taken place and are upcoming here.

In Local Government, we must also celebrate the diversity within our workforce. Colleagues from Black backgrounds represent just over a quarter of London local government workers – reflecting the melting pot that makes up the city of London. This level of diversity and representation is what makes our sector so unique. As anchor institutions within our local communities, we take pride in celebrating and recognising the valuable contributions our Black colleagues make.

Black History Month cannot be a once in a year performative exercise, it must also inspire action. It is an opportunity to raise awareness of the things we should be doing all year round in continuous improvements for building a diverse workforce, advocating for others, creating good inclusive policies and making more comprehensive changes to the established systems. This, will better all of our futures. We must also be proactive in addressing the challenges and barriers that we know exist for our Black colleagues, including those around progression, equal pay and representation in senior positions.

In summary, this month is an opportunity to celebrate and reflect, but also to strive and ensure we continue to do more, redoubling our efforts to support our Black

communities. We must continue to aspire to achieve greater race equality and inclusion in our communities and in our workplaces – the job is never done.

Happy Black History Month to all Black colleagues and allies.


Cllr Muhammed Butt

Leader of Brent Council

London Councils Executive Member for Welfare, Empowerment and Inclusion

LB Southwark: Southwark Stands Together

Southwark Stands Together (SST) was set up in July 2020 in the midst of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and in response to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Through SST Southwark Council is reaffirming its commitment to putting equality, justice and standing against all forms of discrimination and racism at the centre of how the Council will work to become an anti-racist organisation.  Moreover, it is about how we work together and engage with the community to bring about real and lasting positive change, eliminating barriers where these exist and creating a borough that puts equality at the heart of all we do.  
The work is organised across eight work streams: Employment and business; Education; Health; Culture; Communities; Interaction with policing; Renewing the public realm; Council workforce.
Early progress:
  • Two new values added to guide all we do: ‘always working to make Southwark more equal’; ‘standing against all forms of discrimination and racism’ and developed a new equalities framework entitled “a fairer, more equal Southwark”.
  • Supported local business through the pandemic with £16.2m of additional restrictions grant; 48% of which identify as minority ethnic.
  • Developed a health ambassadors programme – over two thirds of community leaders are from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
  • At July 2021, increased number of Black, Asian and minority ethnic colleagues at senior management level from 22% to 26% since 1 April 2020.
  • 84.5% of those starting work through our employment support (Southwark Works) were from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.
  • Developing a programme of funding for artists from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.
  • In July an outdoor community workshop involving more than 150 young people took place in partnership with Lambeth Young Advisors and the local police to look at the impact of stop and search and breaking down barriers. 
LB Westminster: Westminster Police and Council Mentoring Scheme
Westminster had established a positive relationship with the police covering the BCU- (Kensington, Westminster, and Hammersmith & Fulham) in the development of the community youth provision. They decided to enhance this through the creation of the Metropolitan Police Mentoring Scheme. This partnership would pair senior Westminster Metropolitan Police Officers (MPS) with BAME staff from within the Council to share their experiences of community policing, both personal and professional.
The hope was that this mentoring session would allow parties to talk, share experiences and interrogate their perceptions. 
  1. WCC and MPS staff were invited to express their interest on the programme. The programme launched in September 2020 with eleven pairings and ran for six months. 
  2. During this time, the pairs arranged their own meetings. The entire group would meet three times over the entirety of the scheme to reflect on experiences and learning. 
  3. As conversations could be difficult, the group had access to a therapist who offered them space individually or in pairs.
  4. For the second phase of the scheme, the current members nominated whom they wanted to handover the work they had started to. The significance of this process is in the commitment to a legacy that is different – an alumni.
The intention of the scheme was to increase understanding of community policing in London from the perspective of both the recipient and the provider of the service.  This understanding would then pave way for:
  • Tackling structural racism and racial trauma
  • The development of opportunities that would positively impact police-community relations
  • Open dialogue between the Metropolitan Police and the Community
  • Highlight commonalities  
  • Allowing both parties to share their experiences and stories
  • Develop greater understanding on specific cultural nuances
  • Provide opportunities beyond the individual mentor relationship 
  • To provide a role model for improving community relations across London

As part of Race Equality Week 2022, the programme ran it's first event: Harnessing our Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority Communities talent event. You can read the event report to find out more. 

Attendees also shared their thoughts: 

Samira Islam, London Councils:

One thing that stood out for me was the call to think about the “causes of the causes” of lack of representation of Black Asian and Minority Ethnic staff in senior roles in public services. We need to think about how our systems have been set up over decades and centuries to give us exactly what we have now. It will take time to change these systems and we’ll need to be both patient and persistent. 

We also had a welcome reminder that we need to get it right so we can save and improve people’s lives – and that’s why we work in public services.

Tracey Connage, LB Harrow:

The panel and audience Q&A really reflected the theme for race equality week - #actionnotjustwords

I was delighted with the calibre of the expert panel and excellent audience engagement.   The meeting culminated with a collective 'call to action' by the chair which was well received with many of the audience staying to continue the debate and networking afterwards.

There were many highlights and points for reflective action including:

The importance of tackling root causes of racial inequality by understanding and using data to focus action e.g., ethnicity pay data. We need to address patterns of inequality in access, experiences and outcomes for our global majority workforce including staff surveys, recruitment, pay and career progression, grievance and disciplinary procedures. 

One panellist posed a key question for the debate – why is senior leadership less representative than the wider workforce? Either: (a) diverse groups are not good enough to be leaders or (b) the system is biased in favour of current majority (white) leaders. 

We need to fix bias in the systems that produces unrepresentative leaders.  Yes, let's develop more ‘diverse leaders' and develop all leaders to lead inclusively - culture change.

Other key observations / discussions:

We need to create safe spaces to talk about race at work – staff diversity networks are key to constructing and leading this dialogue in our organisations. ‘Trauma’ is an issue - staff wellbeing adversely affected by experience of systemic institutional racism. 

Can’t be what I can’t see – Self-Limiting behaviours and thinking - how do I envisage myself as a leader when I don’t see anyone else who looks like me?

Real sustainable change takes time and concerted effort but There is a strong sense of impatience and some 'fatigue' 

The large employers task group are focused on making a real difference in tackling racial inequality at work. Increasing leadership diversity to be more representative of our workforce and communities is a key objective as part of helping to develop more inclusive, anti-racist organisations where all groups can thrive and achieve their full potential.  All allies welcome. 

Andy Rollock, London Councils on the part 1 session with Rosemary Campbell-Stephens MBE

Firstly, I though Rosemary was a very passionate and inspirational facilitator. I felt the topic of Global Majority was informative and was something that I had not previously heard of or indeed thought about, but having now been introduced to the subject it is something I will certainly be aware of moving forward,

The Global Majority is definitely something that needs to be highlighted more and people of colour/of ethnic heritage need to be made aware of it in order to build confidence, awareness and strength in conviction amongst the diverse racial cultures and communities.

The London boroughs celebrated Race Equality week 2022 in a number of ways. Below are a selection: 

LB Kensington and Chelsea 

A number of events were held in LB Kensington and Chelsea, which can be seen here: 

LB Kingston and LB Sutton 

Both councils discussed the #mynameis campaign set up by Race Equality Matters in events led by their Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic staff networks. 

Sutton also held a joint network event with the LGBTQ+ group to celebrate BAME LGBTQ+ intersectionality. 

They also explored intersectionality through two sessions covering the Wheel of Power and Privilege and Diverse Voices run by their shared HR and OD team.


LB Newham 

Community Time to Talk: Racism and Inequality
On Wednesday, 9 February, Newham hosted the third of a series of Community Time to Talk sessions focused on Tackling Racism, Inequality and Disproportionality within our borough. 
TRID Roadshow: Race Equality Week Special (Online)
On Friday, 11 February they held an informal session to talk everything TRID (Tackling Racism, Inequality and Disproportionality). The session provided an opportunity for staff across the council to:
  • Hear progress of the programme 
  • Gain insight into what services are doing to support the work
  • Provide thoughts and suggestions on further work to focus on
Race Equality Week Opening Event
On Monday, 7 February,  Geeta Subramaniam-Mooney (Corporate Director Brighter Futures & Newham’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner) spoke at the Race Equality Week launch hosted by Race Equality Matters
Brolly Video and Art Exhibition
As part of our previous Community Time to Talk sessions, Brolly Productions were also in attendance to capture the voices of residents who discussed experiences of living in such a culturally diverse borough as well as any experiences of discrimination because of their cultural background. This has been produced as a short film with accompanying artwork exhibition which will be launched in the future. 

From the impulse of outrage to sustainable change

From the furore that gripped us back in May 2020, the frenzied narrative around Black lives needing to matter, really how much in Local Government (the conversation regarding change beyond local government is a much longer one) has changed?

To move beyond the initial emotional outrage to make sustained change requires a lot, without it, progress for racial equality will be sporadic, tenuous and therefore of low significance.

I will focus on one area: recruitment and leadership- my dear colleague Paul from Lewisham who heads up the CELC Tackling racial inequality group- bucket for data, told us last week that there has been a positive move in terms of representation at all pay levels in Local government.

We should be heartened that the emphasis on ensuring good representation of the communities we serve across all levels in our organisation should mean good change and therefore good things for our communities. Surely the positive increase should make us happy?

But are the positive increases the result of systemic change and desire within authorities to be different, to be awake to the actual fact that if someone doesn’t look or sound like those currently over-represented in positions of influence, that they are equally competent to deliver within their roles? Or as I fear, have organisations felt as though they should be gracious to allow Black and Brown leaders in? Completely missing the point and therefore locating the problem within those not equally represented in leadership positions rather than within the very organisational structures which have made it easier to sustain the status quo rather than to stand and challenge.

Have authorities understood the problem of the lack of diversity within senior leadership is a problem of their making and therefore one they should take the lead to fix? Or is it sufficient to weep in the face of George Floyd being murdered and not do anything significant and sustainable to organisational structures that are not equitable?

Are grandiose and impassioned speeches in the wake of the horrific impact on Black and Brown communities from the recent ravages of multiple layers of inequalities sufficient without any actual and tangible plans to reduce and remove inequality which exists within our communities and our staff teams?

This requires real talk and real action from real inclusive leaders of whatever ethnicity you are, this is the work we have to do.

Speaking personally from my own organisation and experience leading both the Westminster initiated Pan-London work which started with COVID impact and grew into looking at real and practical ways to see change, as well as leading the Challenge and sharing best practice subgroup as part of the CELC Tackline racial inequality work, I have seen change and that does provide inspiration.

The number of roles focussed on EDI across local government has grown and that is a positive change from which to build. Ensuring that both policy and strategy colleagues are directed from an EDI perspective in the work they do is crucial to see systemic change.

Conversations are much freer and there is more honesty, in Westminster we have a range of sessions entitled real talk!

I am starting to see service areas adopt an on the surface focus to ensure equity. The challenge now is to do the truly uncomfortable work deeper which will see the type of change which will start now and have only benefits for staff, organisations and communities.

The heart though has got to be the move from one off knee jerk reactions and statements to a longer term ‘how do we change things’. The TRIG initiated Global majority senior leadership group is doing just that- providing a safe space, support for senior leaders who identify as being part of the Global majority whilst leading the charge across local government.  Recently launched, the group supports colleagues through mock interviews- of the three colleagues so far supported with interviews, all three have successfully been appointed into senior positions.

This is what is needed real action.

To those who feel that ‘enough already with race equality chat I say Not enough, until the philosophy (and systems) which hold one race superior and the other inferior are permanently discredited and abandoned’ we cannot stop (Big up and nod to the right honourable Robert Nesta Marley!)

Serena Simon

Director of Communities 

Co-chair of Black,  Asian and other multiple ethnic staff network

LB Westminster

Lead of Challenging and sharing best practice group-CELC TRIG

Racialised Trauma in the Workplace - Professor Patrick Vernon OBE

‘Racial trauma which is the result the of racism has the following consequences on Black and Brown people, such as emotional, psychological, and post-traumatic stress that ultimately has an impact on individual self-esteem, mental wellbeing, physical health, and cultural identity.’

Racialised trauma in the workplace has become a hot topic ever since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 and during the time of the pandemic. There has been a massive explosion of conversations in the workplace for Black and racialised staff, having the moral authority and permission to voice about historic and contemporary issues micro-aggressions bullying, harassment, the impacts of the glass ceiling on their mental wellbeing and their career progression.

The impact of racialised trauma is a part of a wider context of the Black and Brown experience of structural racism in Britain. From my experience working in senior management in the voluntary and public sector experience and now system equity adviser and activist I have seen this in mental health services, going back 20 plus years, my campaigning work around Black history, and more recently, the impact of the Windrush Scandal has really highlighted intergenerational trauma, community trauma and body corporate gaslighting of individuals in the workplace. I think the Government's attempt to try and give an alternative perspective on discrimination, particularly during the time of the murder of George Floyd and Covid 19 through the Sewell report, has further reinforced and intensified this conversation around trauma.

The issue of community trauma is quite important because it highlights issues around of race, class, power, and privilege which often has a clear relationship in the workplace. The impact of micro-aggressions around race, gender and all aspects of intersexuality is now a powerful narrative around lack of psychological safety and spaces for people of colour to be an authentic person.

One of the key things which I have found through my work as an EDI consultant, particularly working in several public bodies over the last five years, is the key relationship between productivity and performance management. The business case around performance management and race equality is now the new case that needs to be made in terms of spending resources, time and system change around tackling racialised trauma in the workplace. 

Guilanine Kinouani authored a fantastic book in 2021 called ‘Living While Black: The essential guide to overcoming racialised trauma’. Based on her practise as a therapist and academic, she has been able to articulate the impact of trauma on an individual level, family level, and the community level. This is quite important because you cannot look in isolation when Black and Brown staff are working in an organisation. Yes, sometimes they may bring that trauma of issues affecting them into work, but also at the same time it is also recognising that that local government and public sector is also part of society too. And the policies, the treatment, interaction of staff and the organisation could trigger people because of the inequalities that are still experienced in the workplace and in wider society.

So, the question is, what can employers do? The role of HR and OD leaders are really, critical in setting the framework, the templates and collaborating with senior leaders to ensure that there is an inclusive policy around tackling racialised trauma. The role of occupational health and EAP programmes needs to be revamped and looked at because they are not really meeting the need to support staff with experiencing discrimination. I think having specialists, culturally competent therapists, is something that needs to be considered, as well as emotional emancipation circles where a model that has been developed in America, where particularly Black staff can come together to share the lived experiences of discrimination and peer support. I think having role of EDI Champions and Wellbeing Champions are still important, but need to be well-resourced and given more credibility

From a system leadership level, we need to learn lessons of Grenfell, the Windrush scandal and Child Q as these events also have an impact on Black and racialised staff too as they are often part of the same communities being affected. I think it would be great to pilot test at a regional and national level a survey on racialised trauma which could develop some key metrics and a baseline that organisations could compare themselves as part of the journey of becoming anti racist. In addition, commissioning at a regional, national level for specialists, therapists who can support Black and racialised staff dealing with issues of discrimination in the workplace. The issue of racial trauma is the elephant in the room for all public and private sector bodies that needs to be addressed to improve service delivery and performance management and creating the environment for inclusion and equity for all.

Patrick Vernon

Patrick is an Independent Non- Executive Director of Birmingham and Solihull ICS where he leads on inequalities and Chair of Walsall Together Health Partnership, Specialist Adviser for Centre for Ageing Better and Chair of Citizenship Partnership for HSIB. Patrick has been Independent EDI Adviser to Lambeth and Harrow Council. In 2020 Patrick was selected by British Vogue as of Britain’s top 20 campaigners and was included in the 2020 Power list of 100 influential Black People in Britain. Also, in 2020 Patrick co-authored 100 Great Black Britons and established the Majonzi Fund, which is providing small grants to families and community organisations to organise commemoration events for individuals from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities who have died of covid-19 over the two years

Patrick is a sought-after broadcaster, public speaker and writes blogs and articles for the national and international media on healthcare, cultural heritage and race.


Racialised Trauma at Work

“Each time I have decided to go to court, I have lost something significant in my life…I lost my mental health…I lost my marriage…my job of two decades…it was the most relentless systematic dehumanising experience of my life …it’s torture without the brusing ”  

Olivea Ebanks – former civil servant 

Tackling racial inequality is about addressing the experience and outcomes of racism where it is now apparent that trauma plays a significant part. This was the verdict of those attending the panel discussion at London Council’s ‘Harnessing Talent’ event in February. While representation really matters – ‘you can’t be what you don’t see’ – equality and inclusion are not just about the numbers of people of colour with a seat at the top table. 

“How can we be expected to even go for roles at senior levels when - nobody else looks like us and when - we are so overwhelmed and traumatised by past and present experiences of racism at work and in society generally.” “It’s too hard” “It’s too much”. 

So, what is racial trauma? ’…the impact of racism which … on individual self esteem, mental well-being, physical health and cultural identity. This also has an impact on productivity and is a contributory factor to a lack of psychological safety in the workplace’. Professor Patrick Vernon 

Black and Asian workers navigate a work experience that is demonstrably worse than others. They are less likely to be recruited, developed and promoted whilst workplace discrimination adds stress and threatens an employee’s sense of belonging and overall well-being. In many councils, our staff have been telling us – through staff surveys, forums and networks - that racism is part of their everyday experiences– from micro-aggressions to bullying, harassment and systemic inequality. 

An interviewee in a recent article about a national media companies ‘exodus’ of black female talent put it like this: 

“It feels like you’re going into not just a workplace but like you’re in a battle. You’ve got to put on your armor—and that’s … exhausting.” 

Staff from black, Asian and multi-ethnic backgrounds are not only impacted by racism at work. Racialised trauma also results from group and community suffering related systemic racism in society.  

During the pandemic many Black, Asian and multi-ethnic people, such as myself, felt stressed and  traumatised by images and reports of the horrific murder of George Floyd and the fearful news that members of our communities were succumbing and most likely to succumb to Covid 19. When the Child Q report hit the news, many of us were once again moved to tears (and protest) – Buffalo and the most recent Welsh school boy incidents have compounded these stresses and emotions.  

The governing body said: "The incident involving Child Q is harrowing, and we understand and share the sadness and anger that is being felt by the community.” 

The need for ‘compassionate and inclusive leadership’ is the trending theme post-Covid –This means creating safe and restorative spaces and welleing services for all of our staff. It also means revisiting some of  our HR processes with a new mindset of how trauma may impact staff behaviours and performance.   

Racialised trauma – the cumulative impact of racism on individuals and groups – is real. Racism hurts.  

'This is the worst nightmare that any community can face, we are hurting and we are seething right now as a community, the depth of pain that families and that all of us are feeling right now cannot even be explained…'Mayor of Buffalo, Byron Brown 

Tracey Connage is Director of HR and Organisation Development at Harrow Council. She is also co-chair of London Council’s Heads of HR and the Large Employers Tackling Racial Inequality Task Group. 

Ethnicity and pay - one year on: opportunities, green shoots and great expectations 

This article, by the Tackling Racial Inequality Data-Sub-Group, reflects on and highlights key learning points from the 2021 ethnicity and pay data.

In 2021, London Councils released the first set of analytical data on ethnicity and pay. The data-set, which covered the year 2020 and compared ethnicity and pay levels across London local authorities, was made available to the Tackling Race Inequality Group (TRIG) for further analysis. The figures showed that whilst local government employees of Black and Minority Ethnic heritage were over-represented at grades below £50k, this position was reversed at pay grades above £50k. The data, whilst raising pertinent questions about commitment to equity and fairness, in a sector where such questions should never arise, served as a critical baseline and launch pad for wider work undertaken by the TRIG.

Earlier this year, London Councils released the 2021 iteration of the data-set and there is some positive news to report. Specifically, the updated release shows that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation, at all but one senior grade, has increased compared to 2020. By contrast to the previous year, where the under-representation ‘ceiling’ started at the £40k- £50k pay band, the new ‘ceiling’ starts at the £50k-£60k pay band. In terms of under-representation at senior grades, compared to the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic local government workforce, the disparity ranges from a 6.8 per cent point difference, at the lower end (grades £50k-60k) to a 27 per cent difference at its highest (£160k and above).

So what are we to make of this then? Well, whilst the evidence purports to show discernible progress towards equitable Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic representation at senior levels, it is important to note that evidence is not proof. Deeper digging is required to know what is actually happening and better understand the actual drivers and characteristics of change. This is after all, the first year of comparative data. In the years to come, we will need to pattern spot and see if progress can be sustained, relative to the turnover rate at senior level. That will be the ultimate litmus test.

In the meantime, we will probe further to determine whether the movement over the past year contains within it, the seeds of momentum. In other words, are we witnessing signs of value-based change, borne out of a commitment to ‘levelling up’ or simply the impulse of outrage and the desire to show that something needs to be done? If it is the former, then there is genuine cause for optimism, because when values drive change we can be sure of continuity. If it is the latter, then it goes without saying that outrage is difficult to maintain and anything that is difficult to maintain is often short-lived.

To what extent, for example, has the upward trajectory been triggered by stepped up career progression planning or access to secondments and acting up opportunities (so often the escalators to more senior roles) or for that matter, learning from the routine review and audit of recruitment practices? We will be considering these and other possibilities as part of insight work with London Councils. The answers to these questions will give some indication as to whether the changes being witnessed are likely to be sustainable over the longer term or whether what we are seeing is the beginning of a ‘plateauing effect’ and the establishment of a new normal.

The above is just one of three conjoined strands of work that the Data Sub-Group will be focusing on in the months to come. Building on insight from ethnicity and pay, we propose that there should be a single set of diagnostics for local authorities to assure themselves that everyone is counting and comparing the same things in terms of career progression indices. We believe that this will go a long way to ensuring that in so far as possible, the approach to data gathering and benchmarking is grounded in science, rather than supposition. Ultimately, we should aim to eliminate whatever constitutes best practice, by ensuring that it becomes common practice.

The final strand of activity, being undertaken by our group, intersects with the work of TRIG’s ‘Our Role as Large Employers’ Sub-Group and focuses on cultural competence. Here we are keen to better understand the relationship between career progression of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic employees and the wider issue of inclusion and experience. The intention is to ensure that the TRIG programme isn’t just attending to the volume measure (representation at every level), but also the value measure (respect and dignity at work). There is no point counting the first thing, if we don’t understand the second thing.

As custodians of knowledge, local authorities need to be consciously aware and continually curious. This means that in addition to knowing what our data says, we need to know what it is telling us and what should be done about it. The work being undertaken by the Data Sub-Group is not an exercise in ‘gotcha-ism’, but rather a serious attempt to carefully gather knowledge and accumulate insight to support meaningful targeted action. To be successful, it is essential that the TRIG programme retains an unrelenting focus on the right things. However, it is just as important that the right things are being done in the right way and for the right reasons.