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Wednesday 02 December 2020

How to be a genuine ally to black colleagues

By MiP

Many non-black managers have been asking how they can better support black colleagues and help tackle racism in the NHS. We crowd-sourced these ten tips from the managers who took part in our Black Lives Still Matter project.

Black and white allies fist bump

1. Get comfortable talking about racism

Many people feel uncomfortable acknowledging that racism exists, especially in their own organisations. But unless we get comfortable (or comfortable being uncomfortable) talking openly about racism, we’ll never be comfortable with the solutions. Don’t automatically expect black colleagues to take the lead; racism is a systemic issue, so it’s your problem too.

2. Check yourself

Being a genuine ally isn’t about saying the right things on Twitter. It means reflecting on your own thought processes and decisions, and recognising where you might have been complicit in institutional racism. Ask yourself: Do I have a diverse team that looks like our workforce and community? Am I giving black colleagues the same opportunities as white staff? Do I challenge racism, prejudices and micro-aggressions when I see them? If not, decide what action you’re going to take.

3. Listen and understand

Having a BAME representative on your board is no substitute for real conversations with black colleagues. Racism is a systemic problem, but it’s experienced personally. It might be uncomfortable, but you need to listen and try to understand the emotional, psychological and physical impact of racism. And don’t invalidate people’s individual experiences, however exceptional they may seem to you. 

4. Don't be defensive

Being called out for a micro-aggression does not mean you’re being accused of being a racist. Be open and honest about your own cultural biases – we all have them. Try to understand the point being made, and don’t put black colleagues in the position of having to assuage your hurt feelings if you’ve said or done something that offends them. 

5. Recognise that your organisation has to change

It’s not black people who need to change, it’s the organisations they work for. Better skills and qualifications won’t help if the culture of your organisation stops black colleagues from progressing. Read the research and get the facts on diversity within your organisation. What you say and do as a leader sets the culture of your organisation or team, so make sure you consistently show that race equality one of your core values. 

6. Practice inclusive (and compassionate) leadership

Compassionate leaders listen to staff, empathise with them, care for them and try to arrive at a shared understanding of problems and how to resolve them. Compassionate leadership has been proven to produce better results for both patients and staff, but make sure that you’re fully engaging with black colleagues because it can be harder to be compassionate to people who are different to you. 

7. Take action

Many white colleagues say they want to do the right thing, but few can answer the question: “What have you actually done to promote race equality in your organisation?” It doesn’t matter whether you have responsibility for diversity – if you work in healthcare, you should be able to answer that question. Start by asking yourself what you can do personally – not sometime in the future, but right now.

8. Do something different

Be prepared to challenge existing ways of working and thinking. What practical things could change the culture of your organisation or team – even in a small way. Can you offer a black colleague a secondment that gives them a chance to show their potential? Can you make your recruitment panels truly diverse? Can you set milestones for making your organisation more diverse? People can become very creative when you set them a specific target.   

9. Humanise the black experience

Try to understand how black people have to navigate everyday life and how that affects them at work. Are you regularly followed around shops by a security guard? Do you have to think about how you’re dressed before you walk into a car showroom? How many times have you been stopped by the police for no apparent reason? This ‘biological weathering’ can make daily life for black staff much more physically, emotionally and mentally wearing than for white colleagues.

10. Make race equality a priority

The evidence on race discrimination is there for everyone to see – and so is the research on what to do about it. The question is whether you see it as a priority for yourself and your team. Good intentions are not enough – real progress requires managers and organisations to be willing to change and to take action now. Are you?

Black Lives Still Matter: read our exclusive interviews with eight black NHS managers here.

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