Understanding and Addressing Structural Racism in Devon County Council
A report of the Race Equality Audit Project Team. December 2021.
This report provides a summary of the findings of the Race Equality Audit, commissioned by Devon County Council’s (DCC) Leadership Group at the recommendation of the Lead Officer for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).
The aim of the audit was to deepen the knowledge of Leadership Group members on EDI, to assist them in actively influencing and shaping the Council.
The purpose of this report is to help DCC understand the nature and impact of structural racism within the organisation so that it may be addressed.
The audit was undertaken by anti-racism consultants from the local community, Sandhya Dave, Kalkidan Legesse MBA and Maia Thomas, with support from the Head of Policy and Strategy (Roland Pyle), Strategic Advisor and Executive Assistant to the Chief Executive Officer (Angela Welch) and Lead Officer for EDI (Jo Hooper). [Race Equality Audit Project Team]
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Published 26th January 2022 – read our message to staff. Please note that the report contains racial slurs/racist language.
Please see our Anti-Racism Framework and Action Plan.
- To enable DCC to act on its Legal Duties under the Equality Act 2010 to:
- Eliminate unlawful discrimination, harassment and victimisation and any other ‘prohibited conduct’.
- Advance equality (remove or minimise disadvantage; meet people’s needs; encourage participation in public life).
- Foster good community relations (tackle prejudice and promote understanding).
- To create more actual and psychological safety for Black and Asian staff and service users of DCC.
- To support DCC in understanding the steps it needs to take to advance racial equality and inclusion and address structural racism within the organisation.
- To identify how Black and Asian people* are currently reflected in DCC’s work, and how and when to increase visibility.
- To help DCC understand how to adopt new cultural practises that can address structural racism and other forms of discrimination within the organisation.
- To communicate the state of current interventions on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) within the organisation and to identify opportunities for improvement.
- To communicate strategies that would increase overall workplace diversity across the organisation.
We aim to do this in three key ways:
Firstly, by inviting the normalisation of the discussions of racism, inclusion, safety and wellbeing, particularly in the context of legal responsibility.
Secondly, by encouraging the active deployment of resources to support an EDI strategy with a focus on developing systems to support safety and inclusivity for Black and Asian staff and service users.
Thirdly, by demanding that any anti-racism interventions are rooted in accountability as much as they are rooted in learning and personal development.
*the audit focussed on the experiences of Black and Asian people because these reflected the identities of the anti-racism consultants, however the findings can relate to wider groups of ethnically diverse people. In some parts of this report, we also refer to ‘people of colour’.
To understand the presence of structural racism, research was carried out in three key stages:
- The first stage was a literature review of various public facing documents created by DCC for its service users and the wider public. These were assessed for clarity, inclusivity, racial and cultural sensitivity. The overall summary of the literature review was that diversity and inclusion initiatives, or representation was not present in the vast majority of public facing documents produced by DCC.
- The second stage was a series of interviews with DCC staff and leadership, notably with the Chief Executive. These groups included staff members and leadership and included the following departments: Data, Adult Social Care, Children’s Services, HR and Customer Services.
- The final stage was a series of interviews with current DCC County Councillors covering the full Devon region, notably the Leader of the Council was present for two interviews.
The focus group interviews lasted approximately two hours each. Areas of questioning included:
- What is your understanding of systemic or structural racism, and do you see this within DCC or Devon?
- How do you ensure Black and Asian people feel safe?
- How do you / does your service area engage with and develop an understanding of Black and Asian communities and service users or staff and encourage participation in service improvement / decision making?
- Contact with Black and Asian people.
Throughout our group interviews and literature review and staff testimonials we found numerous examples of institutional racism within DCC. Promisingly, we also found instances of the passion and motivation to address these areas to create a more diverse and inclusive organisation.
Structural Racism Themes
Racism takes many shapes and forms, from name calling, violence, bullying and inequality to deep seated apathy, biases, ignorance and cruelty. Although leadership in DCC have worked to lower levels of ignorance within the organisation, from the testimonials of Black and Asian staff members, to the use of racial slurs during the interviews we conducted, we’ve identified that racism is present, pervasive and dangerous within the organisation.
To understand how it is present we’ve identified six key themes, they are as follows:
- Denial of Racism
- ‘Small Numbers’ Rhetoric
- “No Data” Excuse
- White Fragility in Leadership
- Lack of Sufficient and Consistent Leadership for Diversity and Inclusion
- Unwelcoming Culture for Black and Asian People
This report will describe the examples of structural racism under these key themes, its impact and methods that can be used to address them. Overall recommendations for DCC can be found in the next section.
This section provides an overview of the recommendations. Recommendations with an Asterix (*) have been highlighted to be a priority to be carried out early in 2022.
Four of these priorities have been highlighted as urgent priorities to focus on first (**). These are:
- Provide clear guidance on the process of investigating incidents of racial discrimination to all stakeholders.
- Employ a diverse and skilled EDI team, with Black/ Asian/Ethnically Diverse backgrounds, to work alongside the Lead EDI officer in implementing the recommendations of this report and wider equality priorities.
- Implement appropriate racial grievance channels, enabling staff to raise concerns independent of line manager.
- Let’s Explore Race mentoring programme to be made available to all management within DCC.
|Structural Racism Theme||Recommendation|
|Denial of Racism||Act on the Legal Duties required by DCC to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality and foster good community relations.|
|**Expand the Let’s Explore Race anti-racism/cultural competency mentoring programme to all managers across DCC.|
|Develop a culture of curiosity and empathy, enacted through ongoing discussion and planning on diversity and inclusion.|
|Relaunch in person, group-based training on EDI.|
|‘Small Numbers’ Rhetoric||Challenge the assumption. Work with data teams to understand real and actual numbers of Black and Asian people in Devon and how resources are applied to support them.|
|Understand the legal and moral duty to represent the minority.|
|“No Data” Excuse||Properly resource the Smarter Devon initiative, and use it to collate race-based data across the organisation.|
|Use currently available channels (for example Customer Services) to gather more complete, demographic data that would shed light on race equality.|
|*Gather qualitative data from staff and service users through periodic peer groups and feedback sessions.|
|*Provide managers with data collection training, led by data teams so that managers can understand the scope for data collection and analysis on race. Require data teams to develop effective organisation wide data guidance on how to collect, record and analyse sensitive data.|
|White Fragility in Leadership||*Ensure all leadership are aware of their legal duties under the Equality Act 2010.|
|Ensure Let’s Explore Race mentoring for corporate leadership and Councillors is compulsory.|
|Develop a complete and mandatory, compassionate leadership training course for senior leadership for race and other protected characteristics.|
|**Set up appropriate independent racial grievance channels between staff and senior leadership. To enable staff to express needs and experiences based on race and other protected characteristics, to prevent the need for staff experiencing challenges from having to navigate through their line managers.|
|Lack of Sufficient and Consistent Leadership for Equality Diversity and Inclusion||**Employ a diverse and skilled EDI team, with Black/Asian/Ethnically Diverse backgrounds, to support the Lead EDI officer in implementing the recommendations of this report and wider equality priorities.|
|**Provide all managers with clear guidance and timescales on how to investigate and manage incidents of racial discrimination.|
|*Provide effective guidance on how to commission third parties in line with the Equality Act and DCC racial inclusion goals.|
|Commission a monthly Race Equality Reference Group made available to feedback and advise on ongoing work.|
|*Require annual reporting on protected characteristics from each department head in line with the Equality Act 2010. Detailing resources spent, activities carried out, feedback given, and plans for the following year.|
|Introduce in-person learning and development in addition to the current e-learning offer on DeL.|
|Provide effective organisational wide communication of EDI initiatives currently active across the organisation.|
|Create opportunities for cross-organisational learning, coordination and monitoring. Engage in opportunities to learn anti-racism strategies from peer organisations. For example, from the ongoing work in Bristol City Council.|
|*Introduce clear and effective organisational wide discipline for individuals who behave in racially discriminatory ways.|
|Make all online EDI training mandatory.|
|Unwelcoming Culture for Black and Asian People||*Require managers and leadership to include potential for race-based discrimination or violence in risk assessments for internal and external work.|
|*Include race equality competency screening into interview processes at all stages to ensure that individuals who hold discriminatory views are not hired.|
|Welcome a culture of openness and discourse on race and equality by including comments on race and equality in performance reviews of managers and weekly supervisions of staff.|
|*Create resourced Peer to Peer support networks for Black and Asian staff, for individuals to share experiences and identify opportunities for mutual support and improvements.|
|*Provide time and financial resources, any time that a staff member is required to carry out race-based work (outside of their job descriptions).|
|Tighten prerequisite training for mentees participating in the Let’s Explore Race mentoring programme to ensure that mentees are ready to engage with the programme without causing any harm to mentors.|
|Provide appropriate external wellbeing support to all mentors, including coaching and counselling.|
Denial of Racism
“Denial of racism is the root of many other things. If there is no acknowledgement there won’t be the resources applied to address it.”
(Focus Group participant)
Over the course of the 10 interviews conducted with over 70 leaders, staff members and Councillors from DCC we opened with the question “is there structural racism within DCC”. The majority of White interviewees felt that there was no racism within DCC. Whereas, contrastingly, the majority of Black and Asian interviewees felt that there was.
White individuals relied heavily on their own experiences stating that since they did not “see colour” and since they “had not witnessed racism themselves” then it was not present within DCC. Surprisingly, this occurred even in groups which had interviewees of multiple ethnicities, where Black and Asian interviewees expressed that they experienced racism themselves. This points to the fact that denial of racism is not based on individual ‘experience’ but to individual values and priorities.
“A racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person.”
(Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report, Sir William Macpherson, 1999)
Often after denying the presence of racism, White individuals would reference other forms of discrimination as being either more present or more pertinent than the issues of race, for example “I don’t think there is racism…but we’ve had issues around transphobia”. This is a deflection technique described as ‘whataboutism’. It is designed to distract from the conversation about race, not designed to address the needs of other groups.
“I would be absolutely astonished to learn that we positively, systemically abuse our position as an organisation by prejudicing the Black and Asian community. I just couldn’t see that.”
(Focus Group participant)
Another pattern we saw emerge was that with the seniority of the interviewee, the likelihood that they would make an effort to express that they would be “astonished” at the presence of racism and that they “hoped” it was not present grew. What was clear is that these individuals made definitive decisions on the nature of the organisation based solely on their personal experiences. Or based on highly specific definitions of racism that would discount the lived experiences of staff members and service users. The reality that they expressed ‘hope’ racism did not exist speaks to a theme we will cover later in the report, the lack of accountability, even by those well equipped to make a difference.
The most concerning instances of the denial of racism were by portfolio holders who were not informed of the racism being experienced by service users under their responsibility. For example, leaders in education were unaware of the severity of racism within schools, where Sandhya Dave pointed out that with qualitative gathering of evidence, over 92% of secondary school students from different ethnic heritage backgrounds, who have taken part in the Youth Cultural Champions programme carried out by Devon Development Education, have experienced race-based bullying and identity harm.
Another way that denial of racism manifests itself is through inaction. Black and Asian service staff have also described experiences of going into the community to be met with threats by White service users. Threats such as “my brother doesn’t like Black people, it’s good that he is not here whilst you are here”, then reporting this to their line manager for the line manager to not act on this information in any way. To not raise it in supervisions, not create a risk assessment and not provide any well-being or professional support to the staff member.
The impact that the denial of racism has, particularly when this denial is voiced by leaders, is to create an environment that is not safe for staff or service users from Black and Asian backgrounds to discuss the reality of their experiences. This reduces psychological safety and ultimately trust. In the absence of trust, fewer racial incidents are reported.
Denial of racism also works to de-prioritise management of racism by DCC, meaning that resources to address racism are not effectively applied, if they are applied at all. Finally, and most seriously, denial of racism creates a safe space for racism to thrive.
The key recommendation is for DCC to adopt an honest and inquisitive culture about both explicit discrimination and inequality due to inaction within the organisation.
“What I’m doing is reflecting on the conversations I’ve had with my mentor as well as what I can actually do and become, rather than just talk about it.”
“Working with the person I’m mentoring – that person is keen to understand other people’s experiences and that makes it richer. I have faced racial discrimination through my career, and I think now it comes down to unconscious bias, and I have been asking – why have we got so few people from BAME backgrounds in senior roles.”
“From my perspective, the senior management team have shown an interest in being mentored on race which is a really positive step, and the person I am working with is very positive and prepared to find out.”
(Focus Group participants)
Act on the Legal Duties required by DCC to eliminate unlawful discrimination, advance equality and foster good community relations.
Not only must DCC eliminate unlawful discrimination, it must advance equality and meet the needs of its current diverse workforce and service users.
*Expand the Let’s Explore Race anti-racism/cultural competency mentoring programme to all managers across DCC.
The Mentoring Programme has been highlighted by the majority of participants as an effective way to bridge understanding between leadership and Black and Asian staff members. An expansion of the programme to managers would increase overall awareness and competency.
Develop a culture of curiosity and empathy, enacted through ongoing discussion and planning on Diversity and Inclusion.
Inviting open, frequent and managed conversation will lay the groundwork for ongoing learning and development and will create an environment of agency and leadership for change at all levels.
Relaunch in person, group-based training on EDI.
Staff members gave mixed reviews of the current DeL training and requested the reinstatement of in person training. Primarily because the online training felt ‘isolated’ and due to the opportunities for interpersonal development with in-person activities.
‘Small Numbers’ Rhetoric
The second most common theme raised during interviews was that any racism, discrimination, inequality on inequity that existed within DCC or the wider community was due to the ‘small numbers’ of people within the Devon community that have Black and Asian backgrounds.
The basis of this argument, that if there were more people of colour in Devon or within DCC there would be less racism, is based on three flawed assumptions:
- White individuals would have more experience of Black and Asian people enabling them to empathise better and therefore be less racist.
- There would be Black and Asian people in influential positions to ensure fair treatment for their group in a way that White individuals currently do not have the power to do.
- That quantitative research would be more statistically significant and therefore guarantee better service and treatment for people of colour.
Because of these unverifiable assumptions (because racism still exists in areas with greater ethnic diversity) the ‘small numbers’ rhetoric causes apathy and inaction and results in a lack of understanding as to what the true causes of current racism are and how they can be addressed.
“My ward has very, very few people of ethnic minorities. I meet more coloured people in County Hall and I talk to more coloured people here than I do in my home area.”
(Focus Group participant)
In addition to this, like the denial of the existence of racism, the sense that there are ‘small numbers’ of Black and Asian people in Devon was rooted in individual respondents’ personal experience. For example, during the final stage of the interviews some Councillors stated that their wards simply had “very, very few people of ethnic minorities” and that they “meet more coloured people in County Hall” or that the only Black and Asian people in their wards were owners of ‘Chinese shops’. These statements were made despite explicit evidence to the contrary.
It is also the case that the risk of racial attack has been higher in areas with the smallest minority ethnic communities. One in 16 minority ethnic residents have been affected by racial incidents in Cornwall and Devon compared to one in 200 in the West Midlands (Minority Ethnic Pupils in Mainly White Schools DfES research report 2002). This suggests that from a care and wellbeing perspective, more attention needs to be paid when group size is smaller.
“One of the things I feel we can do better on is around our understanding the intelligence we have about the people of Devon and there have been meetings I’ve been in where people have said “Black & Asian communities are so small in Devon, there isn’t enough intelligence, we can’t find out, the data’s not there, it’s not an issue for Devon”, I have heard that, and that really hurts and that’s not OK. I’ve been saying – “no, that’s not the case – we do need to collect the data”, we need to advocate for the collecting of intelligence because we need to understand the make-up of communities in Devon – from quantitative to qualitative.”
(Focus Group participant)
Although Devon is predominantly White British, according to the 2011 census just over 2% of the population were Black or Asian (a total of around 11,000 people at the time). This number is of course only growing; in the 2021 census this group is likely to account for 7% of Devon’s population. With the overall growth in Devon’s population, the population of non-White British Devonians today could be as high as 40,000 people. Whether or not this constitutes a ‘small group’ is a matter of perspective and values.
Other groups which make up 7% or less of the Devon population are the population of Ilfracombe (17,000 people) and the number of adults in adult social care (11,000 people). These groups are not misunderstood or underrepresented by DCC due to ‘low numbers’, nor do the fact that they make up a small proportion of Devon’s population affect the decision as to how to allocate DCC’s resources in a way that can best support their needs. Need in these cases are not defined by population size but by the nature of the lived experience of people.
“Not putting resources in because of low numbers is actually another way of getting out of situations.”
(Focus Group participant)
At a high level the impact that the ‘small numbers’ rhetoric has is illustrating apathy on the part of DCC to understand and improve the lived experience of staff, service users and constituents of colour in the region. If there are small numbers, then there is no need for immediate or extensive action.
Teams often cited ‘small numbers’ as the justification to why little qualitative data was available on race and ethnicity, describing that it was not worthwhile to capture and organise data that was not statistically significant. Over time these gaps in data create huge blind-spots as to the lived experience of people of colour, which eventually reinforces the ‘small numbers’ rhetoric.
At an interpersonal level the impact is to create a mutual understanding between White individuals that they are not themselves responsible due to factors beyond their control, in this case the overall population density of the region. It sets the start date for action to an unspecified future date when the number of Black and Asian people finally warrants improvements.
Effectively, this understanding breeds unaccountability. For example, how can a Councillor prioritise the needs of their Asian constituents if there are so few of them? Why should resources be applied to that group? Or why should the EDI training be prioritised as part of new staff members induction if it is not relevant to the cohort?
“Local councils serve their community and are funded by the community, so putting resources into everyone no matter how low the number – they should be prioritised or at least emphasised.”
(Focus Group participant)
Challenge the assumption. Work with Data teams to understand real and actual numbers of Black and Asian people in Devon and how resources are applied to support them.
The primary recommendation for the ‘small numbers’ rhetoric is to understand that it is a subjective assessment rooted in perception and not fact. And to unravel how the rhetoric is used as a tool of inaction, as opposed to critical review.
Understand the legal and moral duty to represent the minority.
“Low numbers should not be used as an excuse, because one bad experience for one person is one too many.”
It should go without saying, that DCC has a moral and legal duty to all its constituents, despite how few or how many of them may be in the region.
'No Data' Excuse
“The fact that Black and Minority Ethnic people are part of almost every community in Devon demonstrates that diversity is not just an urban quality.”
(Sam Magne 2003 – Devon Multi-Ethnic Handbook)
Directly related to the ‘small numbers’ rhetoric is the “no data” excuse. Decision makers we interviewed at every level at DCC referenced the lack of useful data (both qualitative and quantitative) to be the reason why racism in the organisation was present and/or could not be understood or addressed. Councillors referenced that they never heard from Black and Asian people in their wards and therefore were unable to understand their needs. Managers referenced that they felt collecting data on their staff members’ race could identify and therefore isolate them.
Most teams felt that DCC did not have the relevant capacity to collect data on race and ethnicity effectively across the organisation. Contrastingly, the data team described that they had capacity and were looking to department heads to commission work. And that they have in fact a bank of data being underutilised.
This was confirmed across all interviews, where it was evident that some data is collected, but that it was not always used.
“Often data is collected and then ignored, it is collected without staff members always understanding why they need to collect that data.”
“Additionally, when there is a low return of data it is often ignored due to not being statistically significant.”
(Focus Group participants)
Decision makers often assume the reason there is a lack of data is due to ‘small numbers’. We found that the absence of data was due to the lack of resources applied to understanding how to capture, manage and analyse effective demographic data on groups.
The key impact of the ‘no data excuse’ is it allows continued inaction, whilst missing key opportunities to act upon the range of qualitative and quantitative data available in the everyday interactions across the different departments.
Properly resource the Smarter Devon initiative and use it to collate race-based data across the organisation.
Smarter Devon presents opportunities to improve collection, analysis and accessibility of data. However, it would need to be ensured that the Smarter Devon team is properly resourced and supported to ensure this goal can be met.
Use currently available channels (for example, Customer Services) to gather more complete, demographic data that would shed light on race equality.
There are many channels where data on wellbeing, EDI and racism is being captured informally. Identify these channels and map out effective ways to capture qualitative data.
*Gather qualitative data from staff and service users through periodic peer groups and feedback sessions.
More qualitative data can be captured from current staff and service users, the Mentor group can be used as a pool of resources. The 2003 report ‘Multi-Ethnic Devon – Handbook’ is an example of qualitative data gathered amongst service users, DCC may review, update and cross reference the handbook.
*Provide managers with data collection training, led by data teams so that managers can understand the scope for data collection and analysis on race. Require data teams to develop effective organisation wide data guidance on how to collect, record and analyse sensitive data.
During the interviews many managers described that they did not have access to data, whilst the data team shared that they were too sparsely used to capture and analyse race and ethnicity-based data. To create a more fluid and productive relationship between the data teams and management, the data teams can provide further training on the scope for data collection and analysis on EDI.
White Fragility in Leadership
One of the key identifiers that a person is ill equipped to deal with the discussion of race at DCC, is when they cannot bring themselves to effectively describe different races and ethnicities. When instead of using the words “Black person” or “Asian person” they use vague and insufficient terms like “BAME”, or worse yet, ethnic slurs such as “coloured”. Dealing with racism today requires an understanding of the correct terms to talk about race today. When someone does not know what those terms are, what they are sharing is that they have not taken the time to learn about diversity and inclusivity.
Increasingly, people fear they will be socially reprimanded for using incorrect words. However, instead of taking the time to learn new knowledge about race and equality, when faced with the necessity of discussing race, they express that they feel under attack for having to learn effective language. Sometimes they say “I don’t want to use the wrong word” and then use a racial slur. Sometimes they say “BAME” despite years of being asked by Black and Asian colleagues to use terms that do not brush huge swathes of the global population under one term. One thing is clear, these individuals are more worried about the social ills of ‘getting it wrong’ than they are addressing their own ignorance in order to get it right.
Sometimes White individuals make excuses for not only themselves, but for their peers. They state that they get it wrong for one of a handful of reasons; these are the most common:
- they are too old.
- the ‘correct’ terms change too regularly.
- or they are learning, but simply at the pace that they can, and Black and Asian people should simply be realistic about what “the art of the probable” is.
Implying that age is directly related to racism and racial ignorance is grossly unjust, and ageist. There are many people of all ages who are and who are not racist. Those who are not racists have simply taken the time to understand the injustices of racism and learnt to unravel their own biases to behave more ethically.
The idea that the ‘correct’ terms change too often implies that there has historically been a moment in time where all injustices have been understood and accounted for, and those from marginalised groups have been given sufficient and complete opportunity to seek proper representation. This is an illusion, this moment is not in the past, we can simply hope it to be in the future. A future that is only possible if we take time to fully understand under-represented groups today to create a more equal society. Complaining that terms change too regularly makes that future unlikely.
Finally, the idea that more time is needed for White individuals to understand the correct language or techniques to deal with racism is deeply painful to communities who live with inequality daily. And deeply disrespectful to the work produced by countless experts to help teach the current correct language, to deal with biases and to understand and address the impact of racism.
“I’m actually still reluctant to speak because I’m virtually on the verge of tears because I’ve upset somebody today, that my presentation has been interpreted as threatening. So, I’m quite reluctant to speak and I do think that people need to have empathy about how we feel as well because the way I was brought up, dear Lord, you just would not have believed some of the things that I listened to from relatives that were born in the late 1800s, so there we go.”
(Focus Group participant)
The key purpose of White Fragility is to make the discussion of racism as a personal conversation between two people of equal power when more often than not the conversation is between decision makers and the individuals under their professional care. It victimises the White individual causing harm whilst vilifying the person experiencing racism or raising awareness of racism. This dynamic is described by the Karpman Drama Triangle which describes how sometimes when dealing with challenge, roles undertaken are not ‘honest’ but rather ‘fluid’ with actors switching between the characters of victim, perpetrator and rescuer in a way that achieves unconscious goals and agendas.
In the case of leadership in DCC, these unconscious goals are likely to be desired unaccountability. By evading accountability, the White individual benefits from retaining economic and social power structures as they are. Over time this behaviour becomes normalised and ultimately it becomes organisational culture to the point where all challenges are dropped because it is clear that not only will it not be addressed, but that the challenger will be punished by social isolation in so far that they ignore the norms of culture. Eventually this leads to leaders not being challenged at all in ways that causes them discomfort.
“Racism feels a horrible thing and by starting a conversation which is built on that foundation already feels like a negative starting point. Partly that could be because people haven’t got the confidence to know that they are raising the subject in the best possible way. It’s fear of making a mistake.”
(Focus Group participant)
White Fragility can ultimately result in leaders failing to act on the full breadth of their responsibilities. For example, during our interviews we learnt of one case where a Councillor stopped visiting a school in their constituency after they were made to feel uncomfortable for describing a visiting consultant to the school as “brown”. The Councillor described themself as “devastated” that they caused offence and as a result “did not go back to that school”. Instead of treating the moment as a learning opportunity, the Councillor decided that they would evade similar instances in the future.
*Ensure all leadership are aware of their legal duties under the Equality Act 2010.
The key recommendation for White Fragility in leadership is communicating that understanding race and creating a safe, equal and equitable space is not a choice but a necessity of the job description legally binding by the Equality Act 2010.
Ensure Let’s Explore Race mentoring for corporate leadership and Councillors is compulsory.
Black and Asian staff members also suggest that the Let’s Explore Race mentoring programme be expanded to managers and team leaders. They have found that personal, open and specific conversations which have been resourced provide an opportunity to share experiences and insight without the power dynamics in traditional meetings.
Develop a complete and mandatory, compassionate leadership training course for senior leadership for race and other protected characteristics.
In supplement to the Let’s Explore Race mentoring, leadership should be provided with training that specifies their area of responsibility and opportunities for action and interventions.
*Set up appropriate racial grievance channels between staff and senior leadership. To enable staff to express needs and experiences based on race and other protected characteristics, to prevent the need for staff experiencing challenges from having to navigate through their line managers.
Grievances should be treated as learning opportunities for the organisation and should not be bottlenecked by line managers, who themselves may be displaying white fragility. Objective grievance procedures create the opportunity for psychological safety of affected parties and will lower the barrier to sharing experiences.
Lack of Sufficient and Consistent Leadership for Diversity and Inclusion
“I think the fact that DCC is a huge county with god-knows how many employees with one person doing a big job, says a lot about where the organisation stands with equality, diversity, racism. For me, that’s not acceptable.”
(Focus Group participant)
So far, we have discussed the absence of leadership in driving anti-racism, equality, diversity and inclusion. Henceforth we discuss the lack of sufficient and consistent action taken so far. The corporate arm of DCC has three key ways in which it currently addresses structural racism to drive inclusivity. These are online training courses, equality reference groups and mentoring.
These activities are designed, created, deployed and assessed by the Lead Officer for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (a singular individual), who in addition to these activities is tasked with communicating the equality strategy of leadership to staff and service users, as well as to feedback the experiences and needs of staff and service users to leadership.
Although it is positive that actions are being taken, and indicative of an appetite for progress. There are three key flaws in the current system. First and most seriously the scope of work is too great to be carried out by a single individual. This was raised in all of the interviews we conducted and is something that the race equality audit project team hopes will be addressed swiftly. This is why our immediate recommendation is that the DCC deploy more resources to EDI.
The second is that the method by which this current work is carried out provides little room for reflection, analysis or feedback on its effectiveness. For example, mentors in the Let’s Explore Race mentoring programme have communicated that the support they receive (the ‘Employee Assistance’ support provided throughout the organisation) does not come with the level of cultural and psychological expertise they would expect, given the personal nature of the task they are being asked to participate in. Something which could be alleviated with proper professional and well-being support. Raising the questions ‘is the workforce offer sufficient and specialist enough for responding to racism?’ and if not, how soon can that be addressed.
“(I) Enjoyed doing the advanced training on DeL (Understanding Race Bias) but it is online and isolated.”
(Focus Group participant)
Another example is the complaints raised on the oversimplified nature of the online EDI training provided (training which is split into two sections – the first mandatory, the second optional). Faced with this challenge the response is that the training will be edited in due course (over a 12 to 24 month period). This is an example of inertia, largely driven by lack of time. It should also be noted that instead of improving the training, DCC is currently trying to tackle the low adoption of the institutional tools available. This is a short-sighted view that fails to question the effectiveness of the online training in the first place. For example, although online training is useful in its ability to distribute necessary learning to a large group of people in a time efficient way, further development of training, beyond e-learning is required and being called for by teams. Black and Asian staff groups in particular highlighted the benefit of in person training (or online group training), that enabled more opportunities for understanding, accountability and peer review should be pursued going forward.
“What I haven’t seen yet is, or what we haven’t done yet, is translated that into ‘well, what are we going to do then and how are we going to respond to this mismatch between how people work and how we deliver these optimised conditions’?”
(Focus Group participant)
The third flaw with the current work carried out in EDI is that it does not deal with the underlying causes of structural racism, as outlined in this report. For example, it does not require or call for accountability from decision makers (instead, opting for better judgement and personal development), it does not address the culture of inertia and lack of challenge of leadership (because it is confined within organisational norms of lack of challenge). Finally, it does not prioritise the needs of Black and Asian staff and service users (for example, decision making on the work that is carried out is not directly related to their feedback). A lack of structure of targets, feedback and accountability results in overall inefficiency. Resulting in a morally disappointing strategy that presents potential for DCC to not meet its legal requirements under the Equality Act 2010.
“I haven’t done that training. I’ve never been told it’s mandatory.”
“No, I’ve had no diversity training as such. Until really the BLM issue that came up it wasn’t something that was really discussed.”
(Focus Group participants)
White staff, leadership and Councillors faced with this structure for equality, diversity and inclusion work respond largely with inaction. This is true despite some of the bolder statements made by leadership over the past 12 months. For example, the uptake rate for online training of some of the resources provided are less than 50%, despite the Chief Executive announcing that he wished DCC would be “intolerant of racism”. Raising the question ‘can DCC be an anti-racist organisation if staff members do not complete the little training on anti-racism that is provided?’
“Where is the leadership for this? It’s sort of everyone’s job, but nobody’s job. You know, no one has kind of clear responsibility for it, and I guess there aren’t really consequences for not doing it very well either”.
(Focus Group participant)
White staff often state that they do not have enough resources to carry out actions to address racism and racial inequalities, however their Black and Asian teams carry out work regularly if informally and not in explicit parts of their job description (unpaid). This difference in behaviour is the result of apathy from White staff on racism and equality as a subject that only affects them indirectly and as such does not warrant their full attention.
It is doubtless that most staff at DCC are stretched, under-resourced and underfunded (as communicated by teams in each interview) and organisations that are stuck long-term in firefighting mode struggle to focus on organisational improvement. As such it will no doubt be a challenge for DCC to bring about organisational change when people are struggling greatly with doing the current ‘day to day’. It is up to leadership to marry daily tasks with the cultural objectives that will bring about long-term improvement.
For example, part of the challenge is the inability to recruit social care staff to meet the demand. Addressing the organisational culture, through EDI and anti-racism work, creating a safe and inclusive working environment will make DCC a more attractive employer, and support recruitment. As such, it is up to leadership to communicate the importance of this work, and to set reasonable levels of resources to conduct it, and to create effective reprimands for when it is not carried out in alignment with its overall strategic goals.
Currently, the lack of clear leadership may also be resulting in an inefficient use of the funds that are available. Without a clear organisational strategy, funds are used from different departments to conduct the EDI work, overlapping one another’s efforts, but not multiplying one another’s effectiveness. In our interviews the finance department suggests that tracking how much funding is spent on EDI related work within DCC would not be possible. However further questioning identified that with a simple tagging format in budgeting, leadership could set organisational wide targets and measure organisational wide impacts.
*Employ a diverse and skilled EDI team, with Black/Asian/Ethnically Diverse backgrounds, to support the Lead EDI Officer in implementing the recommendations of this report and wider equality priorities.
The ability to carry out EDI work, anti-racism work and create a culture of accountability, equality and progress will be greatly improved by applying more resources to the EDI team. We recommend adding an additional staff member per protected characteristic, in addition to finding complementary skills to enable a breadth of understanding from lived experience.
*Provide all managers with clear guidance and timescales on how to investigate and manage incidents of racial discrimination.
Leadership should provide guidelines to managers on how to measure and manage racial incidents. This framework can be used to ensure accountability over time.
*Provide effective guidance on how to commission third parties in line with the Equality Act and DCC racial inclusion goals.
Guidelines for commission should be drawn up that require all commissioned parties to have effective EDI objectives and strategies.
Commission a monthly Race Equality Reference Group made available to feedback and advise on ongoing work.
Organisation change will be transformational, as such ongoing and open feedback will be needed. We recommend that the reference group is made available to provide monthly feedback and support.
*Require annual reporting on protected characteristics from each department head in line with the Equality Act 2010 detailing resources spent, activities carried out, feedback given and plans for the following year.
Leadership should set clear and measurable organisational objectives on EDI, these objectives should be specified per department and for commissioned organisations. Managers should be expected to understand and optimise their impact on EDI. Detailing resources spent, activities carried out, feedback given, and plans for the following year. By measuring resources spent and impact, leadership can create a framework for assessing effectiveness and ensuring accountability. Managers should be expected to understand and optimise their impact on EDI.
Introduce in-person learning and development in addition to the current e-learning offer on DeL.
We recommend DCC to re-introduce in-person learning to parties to encourage interpersonal development as part of its anti-racism strategy.
*Introduce clear and effective organisational wide discipline for individuals who behave in racially discriminatory ways.
Accountability is made possible through effective structure and consequences. DCC should tie anti-racism strategy to performance and rewards.
Provide effective organisational wide communication of EDI initiatives currently active across the organisation.
The means in which work is communicated across the organisation should be improved so that teams can stay up to date with strategy and progress.
Create opportunities for cross-organisational learning, coordination and monitoring. Engage in opportunities to learn anti-racism strategies from peer organisations. For example, from the ongoing work in Bristol Council.
Make all online EDI training mandatory.
Training provided should be effective, and effective training should be distributed to all staff members.
Unwelcoming Culture for Black and Asian People
“I would be amazed if there are any Black and Asian staff working for the County Council who had not experienced racist comments or behaviour within the County Council; I would be staggered if that was the case. Certainly, from my experience of talking to Black and Asian staff, they report being on the receiving end of comments – whether there’s an intentionality behind it or not – they perceived and received those comments and behaviours as racist, and that’s what we’re going to have to work really hard on. It’s going back to my outcomes comment. People need to distinguish (particularly in organisations like ours – a public service organisation – which is generally there to do good) between intentionality and impact.”
(Focus Group participant)
During the interview stage of this audit, we discovered that one of the historic goals of DCC has been to hire more people of colour. We were told that DCC worked to hire Zimbabwean social workers – who upon arriving at Heathrow were given no support to come to Exeter. That DCC has spent more than usual fees on recruitment advertising in more diverse areas in the UK to attract new employees of different races to find there was no interest to come to work for the institution. That when people from diverse backgrounds do come to DCC they leave at a higher than usual rate of turnover. The question posed to us goes ‘what can DCC do to hire more diverse people?’ Instead, the question should be ‘what is the experience of Black and Asian people within DCC, and would it be a positive environment to invite others into it?’
“I’ve found the office culture is a problem, particularly staff who have been here ‘since the dawn of time’. They’re the ones who are not challenged – it’s like ‘oh yeah, they can say what they want whether it’s PC or not and everyone just accepts it.”
(Focus Group participant)
Too often organisations treat EDI work as a marketing campaign, driven by aesthetics and box-ticking goals, in the hopes that if they do enough of it their organisation will suddenly become diverse and inclusive. They brainstorm in groups largely consisting of their White peers to make decisions on the behalf of their Black and Asian peers. They run new photography campaigns and update organisation landing pages to show wide smiles of diverse models, to give the impression of inclusivity. They send out organisation wide newsletters stating commitment to change, leaving readers to infer what the details of that change is. They do all of this without asking what the current condition is for the work-life of Black and Asian staff within the institution, and how it can be improved.
“Since I joined DCC I’ve been in four teams, and whenever I’ve made suggestions about training – inviting local community members to come and talk to the team such as inviting the Imam or Rabbi, because we do have some minority ethnic groups coming to use our services – those suggestions are completely knocked down as “inappropriate” or “people won’t engage” – and that’s management blocking that. It feels like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. That for me feels like a systemic problem because people in charge are not trying to make changes and are actively blocking.”
(Focus Group participant)
The key takeaways we’d like to leave the reader with is that Black and Asian staff within DCC experience the absence of psychological safety, compounded by the following factors:
- They experience racism when carrying out their work in the wider community and feel that DCC does too little to support them professionally in preparing for the risk of racism and for the consequences of experiencing it.
- Their managers and leadership show apathy to learn and act on the reality of this racism (as expressed in our Denial, Small Numbers and No Data sections of this report).
“Poor handling of a reported incident is a guaranteed way of breaking the trust and confidence of Black and Minority staff.”
(Sam Magne 2003 – Devon Multi-Ethnic Handbook)
In this final section of the report, we want to share specific feedback provided by Black and Asian staff at DCC who raised grievances and what would be required to address them.
- They would like the organisation to better vet new applicants into DCC, to include EDI competency and capability into the hiring process to ensure the organisation no longer hires individuals who are particularly apathetic, or who hold racist tendencies.
- They feel that the conversation on race should be more frequent, carried out as a part of supervision, tied to performance reviews.
- They would like the creation of peer-to-peer support networks, properly resourced and not expected to be carried out outside of working time.
- They would like racism to be treated more seriously within the organisation and call for accountability and reprimand of individuals who express racist attitudes or who fail to properly serve colleagues and service users due to their race.
- They would like complete and full EDI training to be mandatory and not optional. Regularly improved in consultation with relevant feedback from reference groups and in relation to the effectiveness of the training.
- They would like a channel to discuss racial grievances that are not directly tied to their employment structure so they can retain relationships with their line managers.
- They call for the expansion of the Let’s Explore Race mentoring programme to drive new conservations with colleagues at every level. And request that mentors are provided more psychological support to carry it out.
- They would like to not be expected to be asked to do EDI work informally, without recognition, but as a recognised and appropriately resourced part of their work.
*Require managers and leadership to include potential for race-based discrimination or violence in risk assessments for internal and external work.
Black and Asian social workers and community placed staff are at risk of race-based incidents in the community. Managers should develop risk assessments that alleviate or minimise these risks.
*Include race equality competency screening into interview processes at all stages to ensure that individuals who hold discriminatory views are not hired.
To ensure that individuals who hold racist views are not invited into DCC, the interview process should include race equality competency screening.
Welcome a culture of openness and discourse on race and equality by including comments on race and equality in performance reviews of managers and weekly supervisions of staff.
Open and honest conversations about race, equality and inclusion should be welcomed by DCC and can be fostered by including them into structures already in place such as weekly supervisions and performance reviews.
*Create resourced peer to peer support networks for Black and Asian staff, for individuals to share experiences and identify opportunities for mutual support and improvements.
DCC should support Black and Asian staff by creating the space for network development, online and in person.
*Provide time and financial resources, any time that a staff member is required to carry out race-based work (outside of their job descriptions).
Race Equality Work is work if Black and Asian members of staff are asked to carry out this work as a matter of the expertise of their lived experience they should be compensated accordingly.
Tighten prerequisite training for mentees participating in the Let’s Explore Race mentoring programme to ensure that mentees are ready to engage with the programme without causing any harm to mentors.
Provide appropriate external wellbeing support to all mentors, including coaching and counselling.
Although effective, the LER mentoring is intimate and requires a level of emotional and cultural intelligence from the mentees to be effective. Adding pre-requisite training will allow for ensuring this intelligence. To support mentors in their wellbeing, DCC should provide access to external and expert support.
Structural racism exists within DCC because of inaction from White stakeholders and the absence of clear, structured and sufficient leadership. It can be addressed with an EDI strategy, proper resourcing, open communications and accountability. The recommendations presented in this report are the summary of the findings of the audit process where over 100 stakeholders within DCC were interviewed. They should be treated as the starting point from which leadership can drive meaningful change.
Our recommendations sit under five key pillars, aimed after transforming the organisation with grassroots feedback. These pillars are:
- Staff Support
- Ongoing training
Firstly, DCC should work to prioritise safety for all, for service users and staff to shift from a culture of inertia, avoidance and fear to one of curiosity, sensitivity, empathy and inclusivity.
Secondly, the shift of culture should be carefully strategized by leadership, and with consultation of all stakeholders. Built on the understanding of legal requirements for equality as defined by the Equality Act 2010 and be met with clear performance indicators for managers, leadership and with accountability structures in place; this includes the introduction of clear and effective organisational wide discipline for individuals who behave in racially discriminatory ways, and annual reporting on protected characteristics from each department head in line with the Equality Act 2010 detailing resources spent, activities carried out, feedback given, and plans for the following year, and finally clear guidance and timescales on how to investigate and resolve incidents of racial discrimination.
An anti-racism strategy should include a requirement of managers and leadership to include race-based discrimination or violence in risk assessments for all internal and external work. And to ensure the organisation has room to develop a culture of inclusivity, race equality competency screening should be added into interview processes at all stages to ensure that individuals who hold discriminatory views are not hired by DCC.
Crucially, the team leading EDI transformation should be expanded by employing a diverse and skilled EDI team, with Black/Asian/Ethnically Diverse backgrounds, to support the Lead EDI officer in implementing the recommendations of this report and wider equality priorities.
Thirdly, to enable the team and other stakeholders to carry out EDI strategy, new support systems should be put in place for staff. This should include: resourced peer to peer support networks for Black and Asian staff, for individuals to share experiences and identify opportunities for mutual support and improvements. As well as appropriate objective racial grievance channels. This would enable staff to raise concerns independently of their line managers.
Finally, to provide effective training in EDI skills, the training package provided should be expanded in the following ways. Firstly, the successful ‘Let’s Explore Race’ mentoring programme should be expanded to all management throughout DCC and secondly, managers should be trained in data collection techniques, led by data teams so that they understand the scope for data collection and analysis on race.
Anti-Racism is the work of actively opposing racism by advocating for changes in political, economic, and social life. Anti-racism tends to be an individualized approach and set up in opposition to individual racist behaviours and impacts.
Source: Racial Equity Tools | Home
Racism = racial prejudice + social and institutional power
Racism = a system of advantage based on race
Racism = a system of oppression based on race
Racism = a white supremacy system
Racism is different from racial prejudice, hatred, or discrimination. Racism involves one group having the power to carry out systematic discrimination through the institutional policies and practices of the society and by shaping the cultural beliefs and values that support those racist policies and practices.
Source: Racial Equity Tools | Home
The normalisation and legitimisation of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional, and interpersonal – that routinely advantage White people while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for Black and Asian people.
Source: Racial Equity Tools | Home
|White Fragility||Discomfort and defensiveness on the part of a White person when confronted by/witnessing information or discussion around racial inequality and injustice. (Source: Oxford Languages)|
A rhetorical device/technique of responding to an accusation or difficult question by making a counter-accusation or raising a different issue. (Source: Oxford Languages)
For example, when mentioning racial inequality, changing the focus to another issue such as homophobia.