A reflection on Black Lives Matter and racial inequality

As we continue to cope with the challenges of a global pandemic, I turn my attention this week to another issue that has impacted people across the world – that is the problem of racial inequality.

I am sure that readers will share my sorrow, anguish and disgust at the video of George Floyd’s death, which has sparked protests and action here in the UK and elsewhere.

Photo of Steve Scown
Steve Scown, Dimensions CEO, blogs

It is perhaps a cliché to quote Martin Luther King at this point, but as an organisation that works daily to promote equality and inclusion for the people we support, his famous statement that ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ does truly resonate.

Now is the time to reflect, listen and learn and I would like to start by giving an honest appraisal of an issue Dimensions must continue to address. In writing a blog on the events of the past few weeks, I recognise that I have very few senior colleagues from BAME backgrounds to whom I can turn for advice and input. At Board level, Executive level and across the senior management at Dimensions, there is an absence of people from ethnically diverse backgrounds. The uncomfortable but unavoidable consequence is that there are shortcomings in our response to the issues at hand.

But at a time where there is a real need to lead and speak up, I am unable to draw on the lived experience, insight and expertise of senior leaders in my organisation because we don’t have it.

Dimensions is not blind to this issue and we have been taking steps to address the lack of diversity at the highest levels of the organisation. All colleagues have access to in depth unconscious bias training and we are soon to launch a reverse mentoring scheme so that myself and other senior leaders in the organisation can learn from colleagues from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds better understand the barriers they confront. Dimensions’ zero tolerance of bullying and discrimination is set out in clear policies and we scrutinise and advance our progress through our organisational Equality and Diversity Strategy. Our Diversity Matters group champions who are from diverse backgrounds support the organisation in understanding the diverse needs of our colleagues and people we support.  We are also proud signatories of the Race at Work Charter.

We have long been committed to creating a platform from which people who have a learning disability and autism can speak up about what matters to them. A diversity of voices often leads to better solutions that address the needs of a wider group of people. These principles apply more broadly and must also guide our approach to wider diversity issues within our workforce at all levels.

This work is ongoing, it has helped us to make progress over the years and it will support us to continue to effect change across our organisation. There is, of course, still a long way to go. We will have succeeded when people of any background find role models at all levels within the organisation when they consider working for us and when the strategic thinking of the organisation is informed by more people who have a diversity of experience.

In the here and now, I would like to acknowledge those who are finding the present moment difficult to cope with – either because they see their experiences reflected in the national discourse or because they find it intolerable that such acts of violence can be inflicted on someone on the basis of race or any other characteristic.

I reflect on those people we support who may be finding this time very difficult and, worse still because of the pandemic, may have only limited contact with family members who best understand and share in this difficulty.

Last week Public Health England published a report that highlighted the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on BAME communities, in particular, BAME health workers and potentially BAME social care workers. We have undertaken work to understand how we can address this and how best to support our colleagues. This is something the whole sector must engage with and I for one look forward to more detailed analysis and recommendations from government on this issue.

We all have a part to play in making change happen and to stand alongside those who experience inequality. So I would like to share this Guide to Allyship. It has been put together to address racial discrimination and it offers sage advice on how to be part of positive change for equality more broadly. As the leader of an organisation that exists to support people to have good lives, to be valued and equal members of their communities, it is incumbent on me to apply these values universally. I hope this guide will help individuals who work with and support Dimensions to join me in acting for change.

I will conclude by saying, very simply, black lives matter.