As a Director of Communications champion for diversity and inclusion (D&I) within the Government Communication Service (GCS), you’d expect me to want to add my voice to those sickened by the tragic death of George Floyd, and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement that has gained so much momentum on both sides of the Atlantic in recent weeks. And I do – it was a disgusting abuse of power which led to the death of an unarmed African American man.
And it’s not surprising that, as I support the brilliant work that the Professional Standards are leading as we get ready to launch the GCS2020 D&I Strategy, I’m thinking very hard about whether we’re being honest enough as a community about the problems we’re trying to solve. For me this means reflecting on the experiences of all those within our community, but particularly of colleagues from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
This feels particularly poignant in the week where we take time to remember the arrival of the first Windrush generation and celebrate the huge contribution that the British Caribbean community has made, and continue to make, since arriving by invitation in 1948 to help rebuild post-war Britain.
What I’ve found myself realising increasingly over recent weeks is how much we as leaders need to guard against the overuse of ‘warm words’ and get to the point where we take tangible action. Of course, through our existing strategy much has been done that’s very positive to increase diversity within the GCS, such as increasing our talent pipeline via our apprenticeship and intern programmes; seeking to promote more Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) colleagues into the Senior Civil Service (SCS) via Power of Choice, and ensuring our recruitment panels are diverse. All incredibly important.
But what I also want us to focus on is the lived experience of our GCS colleagues – and our behaviours as leaders and managers, where every day we touch many lives and aren’t always aware of the imprint we leave.
I recently spent a couple of hours in a listening session with a number of colleagues from BAME backgrounds who were courageously sharing their stories. What struck me was just how powerful storytelling is – something I know as a communicator, but which landed a visceral punch that afternoon. Without exception, everyone in the virtual room took away a renewed sense of determination and urgency to act, not just to support: I’d go as far as saying that as leaders, to not use our voice and position to speak out and act is a derogation of duty in terms of tackling inequality.
It’s a sad reality that racism is still an issue within our society, and so of course it will be within the working population. Acknowledging that means we need to assume that we have a problem wherever we work (we do); and that it involves us directly (it does) and that we must resist complacency borne of those warm words, to rely on others to take action.
We need collective accountability, starting at the top – to that end the Cabinet Office team and I will be taking our new 2020 D&I strategy to the July Directors of Communications’ meeting, to seek their full endorsement, support and advocacy. The strategy is all about action and is based around three core themes: diversity in practice, an inclusive GCS and a representative GCS.
And given this is for each and every one of us to use and to sponsor, I’d also like your help. I’d like to hear more voices and understand better your experiences within the workplace. What does diversity and inclusion mean to you? What’s your story? What change do you want to see?
I’d also like to ask for some volunteers to stress-test the strategy itself, to make sure it’s as practical and meaningful as it has to be, if we’re going to take positive action to effect real change.
As I hope many of you will know, we recently launched the GCS 2020 leadership framework – a really important step forward on our journey as a profession. In my view, underpinning the entire framework, and the sentiment behind it, is the need to ensure our culture is one of respect, equal opportunity and collective intent to be better.
To share your story with us, or to help us finalise the strategy, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are some resources with further information on wellbeing and D&I:
- Read this mental health focused blog post, written by GCS colleague and Mental Health First Aider, Matt Dolman
- Read the current GCS Diversity and Inclusion Strategy
- Read the GCS 2020 Leadership Framework
- Image credit:
- Poli Stuart-Lacey (1)