Since last summer, a series of conversations have taken place between mental health and wider social sector leaders on our roles in dismantling the structures and systems that uphold racism and oppression. Collectively, we recognise our own positions as [majority] white CEOs and it is our intention that the blog below and our personal commitments act as a small, but necessary, step forward in this drive for change.
As the CEO of a mental health infrastructure organisation, I not only recognise that racism is prevalent in mental health – in the design and delivery of services – but also recognise the impact of racism on a person’s mental health. In order to create change and to hold ourselves and others accountable, it’s essential that we learn and understand racism and what it means to be anti-racist. It is important that when we consider policies or statements, we look at them from a racial inequalities lens. As such, The Association has collated a set of articles, blogs, podcasts, books, and programmes/films to support this journey of learning, and to educate and enlighten, and we have begun a series of workshops for members with experts to support the VCSE mental health sector in achieving racial justice and equalities. We are creating a racial justice plan and anti-racism strategy to ensure all our work has a racial inequalities lens and we take an anti-racist approach.
We know that it’s time for us to act and we must do more than we have before.
Kathy Roberts, CEO.
There is no doubt there is much more that could and should have been done to tackle structural racism by us – changemakers – working across civil society. The senseless murder of George Floyd was an important catalyst for long overdue action.
This blog is the result of conversations many social sector leaders have been having about racial justice. Loose collections of us have come together in various ways to discuss, share and learn together. We have been taking a long hard look at ourselves, our organisations, our sector and the power and responsibility we have to address systemic racism within the various different roles we hold.
Those conversations have held two things in common: racial justice and a commitment to change.
They have centred on a determination to understand the everyday impact of structural racism wherever and however it manifests itself, and how we can get better at disrupting the status quo, using our power and privilege for racial justice and demonstrating strong allyship.
Allyship is constant action that challenges inequality, oppression and discrimination. It is about using our personal and positional power and privilege to amplify voices, to step aside and to step back. It is about asking who is sat at the table, who isn’t, why not and how do we get them there, as well as making sure the voices of people with a wide range of lived experiences to be heard.
We have spent time reflecting on how to be conscious and intentional in our actions, how we walk the talk in everything we do, how we make sure our racial justice work is embedded in our organisations and how we can influence change wherever we can.
Most of us involved in these conversations have signed up to different standards including the Business in the Community Race at Work Charter, the ACEVO diversity principles and led on organisational action plans.
Through the conversations we have reflected how much time we spend on panels, events, committees and working groups contributing to the production of knowledge and policy. Many of us are offered platforms so regularly we forget this is a privilege. It is not an opportunity everyone is afforded; that diverse voices and perspectives are often excluded, and consequently privilege, inequality and the status quo are perpetuated. Those with the opportunity to be heard get to influence outcomes, as well as develop personally and strengthen their careers.
This led us to think about the small but nonetheless significant steps we can take to ensure panels, events, committees, boards and working groups seeking to influence change better reflect the rich diversity of lived experiences and voices.
As a result, I am committing to:
- Be part of groups and committees that are actively inclusive, and to ask myself the question who isn’t at the table, who should be and how can we get them there?
- Be part of panels where at least 50% of the panel is women and 20% of the panel from minoritised communities
- Take part in conferences where speakers and representatives with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences are heard across all parts of the conference including the main stage
- Always asking myself, my teams and other organisers if we are making sure a wide range of voices and lived experiences are heard in our own events and those we participate in.
I am also:
- Encouraging others to make these commitments
- Making this an organisation wide approach whereby we encourage everyone to do the same
- Talking to event organisers about amplifying diverse voices
- Encouraging thinking about any barriers – financial or otherwise – to attendance at their events and consider subsidies and other mechanisms that enable people from diverse communities to participate.
I – along with many others in the sector – have already been using these commitments to drive conversations about more inclusive spaces. We are keeping a track of them so we can learn as we go. We know we won’t always get it right. When we don’t, we will reflect on why and what we can learn.
In making these commitments public, I am naming and owning the power I hold to create space for more diverse voices to be heard, and for meaningful and inclusive conversations to take place in policy making and practice development. The more of us that make these commitments the faster we will make change.
They are part of a process of learning and unlearning. We know from experience that having the conversations works and will make sure the spaces we occupy are more diverse, more representative and more impactful as we work together for a racially just society.
There is no badge, no club to join, no fee to pay, just an ask.
Please join us in committing to do all you can to ensure diverse voices and lived experiences are heard. Will you?
Versions of this blog are being published on multiple organisational and individual channels and we would like to encourage anyone who wants to join us in those commitment to use and adapt the text and publish on your own channels.