Over the last few weeks I’ve found myself clicking on articles, posts and blogs. I’m searching for the answer, an answer, the silver bullet, the good advice and hope. What I find is a mixture of soul-searching, clickbait and unhelpful advice.
It was only after an eye opening conversation with a someone I respect, that I started to put my finger on a number of possible reasons why we’re making so little progress here in Norfolk. The white privilege I possess, our utterly inept efforts as a society, my own sense of inadequacy at even discussing this and the need for change are not up for debate.
Following the horrific murder of 46 year old George Floyd in March this year, outside a shop in Minneapolis, at the hands of an officer of the law, I did what many people probably did. I asked for help in my role and responsibility as CEO of Your Own Place. That we are not representative of the community we serve is a source of deep shame. It’s simply no longer acceptable to sit back and wring our hands or attribute our lack of progress to our geography.
The first reason I quickly realised, was inexperience among our business community. Having enquired after the practical steps we could take, I was presented with a template of an Equality and Diversity Policy. Seriously, that was it. To think that this is what’s needed is highly indicative of why we are where we are. In short, if this all we’ve got to offer businesses here in Norfolk, is it any wonder at our lack of progress?
My reticence in writing this piece comes from fear of using the wrong words, my white privilege and my right (or not) to speak on such things. Some, but certainly not all, of this trepidation, comes from the bile that social media is at times party to. It happened last week too. I wanted to share a pretty innocuous tweet about male mentors. Then I stopped to consider if I was allowed to refer to ‘male’ mentors. And no, I don’t think that it’s ‘political correctness gone mad’. I think it’s an appropriate pendulum swing that provides us with a moment to be thoughtful about the language we use when in so many arenas prejudice still pervades. However, that pendulum has another side and that’s to stifle exploration and conversation when we don’t feel equipped to have it.
We have recently recruited an entirely new Board of Non-Executive Directors. Despite ‘considerable efforts’, not one person from a minority background applied. This is a failure and one I now plan to put right. It seems clear that it’s never been about quotas or positive discrimination at particular times (although these may have a place), but about an ongoing approach, value-system and effort. It’s simply no good during your recruitment campaign to think you’ve done the right thing by advertising in certain publications. Doing the right thing is doing the right thing and something proactive for 365 days a year. That means giving people from a range of backgrounds the opportunity to get involved in your business. This won’t happen by accident and there’s no point waiting for others to make to happen. There’s only us and there’s only now.
So when my friend, whom I respect, says, ‘but that’s just Norfolk’ I no longer accept that. It’ll only be different when we make it so. Who’s with me?
Following our Unconscious Bias training in November with the team, I will be exploring, with our incredibly limited resource, what we can do to build relationships across communities and provide people from all backgrounds with belief that they can be a part of anything, including a respected and equal member of our team at Your Own Place.