Change from within to attract from outside

Written by: Rebecca Davis is Chief Executive of West Midlands Employers
Published on: 22 Jul 2021

Second only to London, the West Midlands is the most ethnically diverse region in England and Wales. With this in mind, West Midlands Employers (WME), representing 33 councils in the region, commissioned the Inclusion Insights report to research diversity within our organisations to see how accurately we reflect the communities we serve. And the report makes for difficult reading. While there are pockets of diversity and inclusion (D&I) excellence within councils, there is a long way to go in truly achieving fair opportunities and representation for all.

It’s a harsh reality, but if we want real change to occur then we must start being more honest about what is really going on and be held accountable for our actions. After conducting qualitative interviews with a range of employees – from chief executives to employees in underrepresented groups – and analysing quantitative data, WME uncovered some of the D&I barriers to overcome within councils.

With regards to recruitment, for instance, some areas of the research highlighted that ‘old boys’ networks’ still exist. While new positions were advertised externally, it was an unspoken reality that the position had already been filled by acquaintances internally. This meant that any initiatives taken to promote a diverse recruitment process fell by the wayside as final decision makers circumvented efforts to ensure fair practice.

The ramifications of this were numerous and devastating: diversity wasn’t achieved, staff were left disengaged and distrusting of the organisation, and many didn’t bother applying for new roles or promotions internally as it was perceived as a ‘done deal’.

We can see across the councils that efforts are being made to address D&I. Particularly in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement, the COVID-19 pandemic and last weeks response to our England footballers, shining a light on racial inequality once more – it has pushed the agenda back up our priority lists. But all too often D&I training is delivered as a one off, stand alone initative – and although this is helpful in addressing issues, lasting change doesn’t occur. The truth is that D&I is a leaders’ challenge, a people challenge, a systems challenge and a culture challenge. Everyone is affected by it; everyone has a responsibility to change it. Much more accountability is required for change to take place. 

Knowing where to start with tackling D&I issues can feel daunting and overwhelming. Therefore, one of the WME recommendations to councils is focused on collaboration – to share successes and failures. We want councils to build upon the good work already being achieved to make step change a reality.

Councils need to change from within to attract talent from outside. To do this there needs to be a long-term commitment to developing leaders as ‘allies’ and in the West Midlands this autumn we will be launching our ‘Spotlight on Allyship’ leadership programme and activities to create an ‘allyship’ network across our managers and senior leaders. Through creating ‘allyship’ across councils, we hope to create a sense of accountability, solidarity, and leadership across the region. We recognise for many it is a new and sometimes uncomfortable space and we need to create a culture where leaders can ask for support and admit they don’t have all the answers yet.

We also need to consider how we develop our talent from within and create long-term sustainable talent pipelines.  Internally there are many barriers to  progression and in the West Midlands we will be launching a ‘Spotlight on Talent’ elevation programme for those in our organisations leading with difference, targeted at all those within protected characteristic groups of race, gender, sexualy orientation and disability.  We want to help our colleagues to have a platform to break through some of the barriers they often experience and have individual support and coaching as enablers. 

Our longer-term ambition is to build a strong link between these two programmes with indiduals on our Spotlight on Allyship programme sponsoring individuals on the Spotlight on Talent programme; opening doors and offering new opportunities and leadership experiences. We want to take it a step further than mentoring and really put the onus on our senior leaders to become sponsors.

By holding the mirror up to ourselves and our organisations, supporting each other on this journey, we can make real, lasting change – ensuring that D&I is getting the attention and action it deserves.  Lets build and invest in the infrastructure for long-term change in our organisations, that magnifies itself with many benefits to our communities.

Rebecca Davis is Chief Executive of West Midlands Employers