2020 will be etched in our minds for so many reasons. Living through a global pandemic has been troubling for many of us and devastating for some, with people experiencing loss of life, loss of income and mental ill health. Covid-19 has also shone a light on the health inequalities experienced by People of Colour and Black People and has demonstrated how race and racism is an issue that we cannot keep ignoring.

At the height of the pandemic, and after the senseless killing of George Floyd, people from communities across the world joined hands in protest, demonstration and solidarity against the systemic and institutional racism prevalent around the globe. As a purpose led social enterprise we published a statement of solidarity and spent time reflecting on the action it was clear we needed to take.

As part of our commitment to becoming a truly anti racist organisation, we developed an action plan which set out a number of commitments and created a team to drive forward our pledge to be an anti-racist social enterprise. Today we publish a report one year on which sets out our progress and some of our learning. It isn’t a glossy report designed to be self-congratulatory. Issues of race, racism and inequality are too important for that. It provides an honest account of what we have done so far and sets out our commitments for the year ahead.  

As the executive sponsor for our anti-racist work, I have been reflecting on the journey so far. Here are my thoughts. 

The work we are doing now is long overdue: as we systematically review policies and procedures, content, materials or imagery with an anti-racist lens it can be surprising and often deeply uncomfortable to realise the level of bias and privilege inherent in the way we do or say things, the way that knowledge is produced and the imagery we have used. It is important to bring to the surface my (and other colleagues) whiteness, my privilege and to use John Amaechi’s term, my embedded assumptions and how they operate. By deliberately and consistently asking ourselves why I am thinking this or indeed why am I not thinking about this, we can become much more inclusive and anti-racist in our deeds and actions.

Success is dependent on individual accountability and culture change, as well as the delivery against actions: we can track progress against our commitments easily. The most important change is in the mindset and making sure we are taking action when the spotlight is on, and most importantly when the spotlight is off. Everybody at MHFA England must be accountable for thinking about and taking action on race and inclusion. This year everybody has this as an objective. We need everybody to be asking questions like

  • ’Are the right people involved in the project and discussions to make effective decisions?'
  • ‘How do we make sure this is relevant, accurate and inclusive for everyone?’
  • ‘Are there any communities who will not see themselves here and if so why? Is that acceptable and if so why?’
  • ‘Is this the right way to do this? Is there bias, privilege or assumptions that mean we need to rethink or re-engineer the process?’ 

Every single person brings with them their intersectional and multi-faceted lived experiences: whether that be of racism, anti-semitism, islamophobia, white privilege, having a faith or none, growing up in a multi-cultural city or parts of rural England. Our starting points, our feelings, our learning journeys, our patience for change and our impatience for change will be different and as leaders we must find ways to make sure there is room for all those experiences, with plenty of room for learning and growth, and none at all for excuses or lack of accountability. At MHFA England we have adopted a zero-tolerance approach which means we ‘never walk on by’. If we see or hear something that is inappropriate, we take responsibility for finding the best way to address it. 

We have to try new approaches and take risks: if we only do what we have always done we will get the same results! We have to use data, trial and error and try new ways to achieve change. It may not be swift or as quick as we like and we all know the world has speeded up again in the context of Covid 19 but being absolutely clear that we will not just keep doing what we have always done even if it takes a bit longer. This is true across all areas and is particularly true for recruitment and selection practices.  

Change takes time: together at MHFA England we are clear that the pace of change inside and outside the organisation will never be as fast as we want it to be. Systemic and institutional racism has firm, strong roots and dismantling it will take time. Our ambition to be a truly anti-racist social enterprise will take time, energy, effort and resources. It will be slower than we would like, and we will get it wrong at times, but as Chief Executive, an Executive Team and Board we are 100% committed in our words, deeds and actions to doing everything we can – one step at a time - with the resources we have to achieve our goal.  

I hope you will find the report interesting. I look forward to any feedback and thoughts you may have. And I hope you will join me in sharing learning and being accountable for creating and driving momentum and change in our organisations and wider society.

Download a pdf of the report here