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Wednesday
16
December 2020

Building an anti-racist Think Ahead – our progress and our future plans

Think Ahead’s CEO, Ella Joseph, provides an update on how we are embedding anti-racism in our work.

At Think Ahead, we strive to promote Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) throughout all of our work – because we believe in social justice, and that all lives are equally precious, and we know that diversity of thought and experience intrinsically improves the performance of teams and organisations.

This year we’ve had a particular focus on anti-racism.  As we explained earlier in the year, all of us at Think Ahead were deeply distressed by the murder of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement spurred us to review all of our work to look for more and better ways to embed anti-racism.

As the end of the year approaches, I want to share what action we have taken on this during the year, and how we’re planning to go further next year.

I am enormously grateful to everyone who has worked with us on this. Our ambitions, actions, and plans have been shaped by input – through surveys, focus groups, and many individual conversations – from people currently training on our programme, our alumni, members of our Service User and Carer Reference Group, our staff team, and many other people from across our community and sector.

Building on that input, we have identified five key objectives for our anti-racism work:

  1. Recruit more racially diverse cohorts onto our graduate programme.
  2. Ensure our curriculum and teaching embed anti-racism.
  3. Improve the experience that programme participants from racially diverse backgrounds have in the working environments (at NHS Trusts and Local Authorities) where we place them.
  4. Make Think Ahead’s team of staff and supporters as diverse and inclusive as possible.
  5. Continuously listen, learn, and review our plans accordingly.

Below is our assessment of Think Ahead’s progress and plans against each of these objectives. Within our staff team, this work has been led by the volunteer members of our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Working Group, and I am grateful to each of them for the personal commitment they have shown to championing this issue throughout the year.

These plans, and the actions we have taken so far, are important steps towards achieving Think Ahead’s full potential to play its role in combatting racism. We know this is a journey that will continue – there will always be more that we can do – but we are committed to travelling it as far and as fast as we can.

-Ella

1. Recruit more racially diverse cohorts onto our graduate programme

Our starting point was:

  • We have always striven to attract the most diverse range of applicants possible, and to ensure our selection processes eliminate bias and focus only on candidates’ potential to be excellent mental health social workers.
  • We ensure that our case studies, attraction events, and marketing materials feature a diverse range of individuals.
  • The Registration, Situational Judgement Test, and Written Application parts of our assessment process are carried out “blind” (meaning that our assessors have no knowledge of applicants’ personal characteristics), our assessors include a mix of individuals from diverse racial backgrounds, and all of our assessors receive mandatory training in unconscious bias.
  • Our 2020 Cohort was made up of 90 individuals who self-identified as white (83%), and 19 individuals who self-identified as from other racial backgrounds (17%). This is up from 87%/13% in our first cohort in 2016. We want to improve this further in the future.

In 2020 we have:

  • Set a stretching target for 20% of our 2021 Cohort to be made up of individuals who self-identify as from racially diverse backgrounds, an increase of three percentage points in a single year.
  • Introduced online events targeted at people from racially diverse backgrounds, to attract them to apply to the programme and advise them on how to approach the application process.
  • Introduced the offer of personal coaching in the application process for any candidate who opts in, with a particular focus on racially diverse candidates. 960 people have taken up this offer so far (our applications are not yet closed).
  • Carried out a review of the advertising outlets we use, to enable us to prioritise by their reach to racially diverse audiences.
  • Formed a partnership with Bright Network to highlight our programme to their network of students and graduates, 40% of whom are from racially diverse backgrounds.
  • Increased our engagement with universities that have high numbers of students from racially diverse backgrounds, including offering individual phone calls to their students.

In 2021 we plan to:

  • Whilst respecting individuals’ privacy, carry out social media advertising which is targeted towards relevant affinity groups.
  • Telephone people from racially diverse backgrounds who have registered with us, to personally encourage them to complete an application.
  • Ask our Recruitment Ambassadors, who are currently being recruited, to prioritise reaching out to potential candidates from racially diverse backgrounds.
  • Carry out a review of the language we use to discuss racial diversity, for example to assess alternatives to the contested term “BAME”.
  • Add more information to our website about why anti-racism is important to us and why we want to recruit more people from racially diverse backgrounds, including content featuring racially diverse people putting forward their point of view.
  • Seek further partnerships with organisations that have strong networks amongst racially diverse communities.

2. Ensure our curriculum and teaching embed anti-racism

Our starting point was:

  • In line with the social work profession’s focus on promoting social justice, our curriculum and teaching has always included a range of content on structural inequalities (including racism), cultural competence, and anti-oppressive practice.
  • Our teaching staff has included individuals from a range of diverse backgrounds.
  • Our teaching and assessment has been co-produced with people who have experience of living with mental illness, including individuals from racially diverse backgrounds.

In 2020 we have:

  • Reviewed the entire curriculum, as a basis for making ongoing improvements in this area. This has included an open consultation with current programme participants, asking what they would like to see added or changed.
  • Updated and expanded the programme’s reading lists, including by taking suggestions from programme participants, to include a more diverse range of voices and experiences.

In 2021 we plan to:

  • Introduce an explicit focus on anti-racism, including expanded teaching on the topic and an overarching objective to be an anti-racist programme producing anti-racist practitioners.
  • Improve the racial diversity of our teaching staff, including guest lecturers/speakers, and others supporting the delivery of teaching.
  • Include new content exploring how mental health issues can present in individuals from different backgrounds and cultures.
  • Ensure that teaching includes strengths-based approaches to the interaction of race and mental health (in addition to exploring inequalities).

3. Improve the experience that programme participants from racially diverse backgrounds have in the working environments (at NHS Trusts and Local Authorities) where we place them

Our starting point was:

  • This is a new area of focus for us. Our consultations with participants and alumni this year have revealed that there are big differences in how the organisations who take on our recruits approach diversity in the workplace. We want everyone who joins our programme to be in an environment where they feel able to be authentic and share their experiences with their colleagues.

In 2020 we have:

  • Consulted our programme participants to understand the issues and potential solutions.

In 2021 we plan to:

  • Introduce new diversity-focused requirements into the delivery agreement we sign with NHS Mental Health Trusts and Local Authorities. These will include a requirement that organisations have in place safe, informal mechanisms for staff to discuss their experiences (such as via affinity groups) and raise any concerns.
  • Include new elements in our “organisational readiness” process (the steps we go through to support employers to prepare for the programme) that are explicitly focused on anti-racism and the employer’s own policies and processes e.g. for handling complaints.
  • Expand and improve the coverage of anti-racism in the training we give Consultant Social Workers (who are employed by NHS Trusts and Local Authorities to supervise our trainees).
  • Require that anti-racism is embedded in Consultant Social Workers’ work with our trainees, including in individual supervisions and group sessions.

4. Make Think Ahead’s team of staff and supporters as diverse and inclusive as possible

Our starting point was:

  • One of our five founding values is to be inclusive, and we have worked hard to thread this through our team’s culture and work.
  • Our longstanding Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Working Group, with representation from all parts of the staff team, has the freedom to consider and raise issues related to any aspect of the organisation and our work.
  • We aim for our team – including our staff, board of trustees, and Service User and Carer Reference Group – to be as diverse and representative as possible, including in terms of race and ethnicity.
  • Our process for recruiting members of our staff team uses “blind” scoring of written applications (meaning that the assessors have no knowledge of applicants’ personal characteristics). We aim for the panels of people assessing applications, at both written and interview stage, to be as diverse as possible.
  • Over 30% of our staff team identify as from diverse racial backgrounds other than white. However, our five-strong Senior Management Team all identify as white British, and there is too little diversity amongst our board of trustees.

In 2020 we have:

  • Reviewed the role of the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Working Group. This has included clarifying that any staff member may attend any session (even if not a standing representative), and that the Senior Management Team will attend every session.
  • Introduced a range of diversity and inclusion training sessions for staff, including on unconscious bias and microaggressions. Undergoing the core course annually will now be mandatory for all staff.
  • Commissioned a full, expert review of our staff recruitment processes, to explore all options for positive action (complying with legislation) to recruit more racially diverse staff.
  • Commissioned an independent review of how our Service User and Carer Reference Group works, including in relation to diversity.
  • Joined the Employers Network for Equality and Inclusion, and asked them to independently review our Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Strategy.

In 2021 we plan to:

  • Make changes to our staff recruitment processes in line with the expert review. This will include introducing a rule that once written applications have been scored (which will still be carried out “blind”) and the pool of candidates who have met the threshold for shortlisting is determined, then we will always invite at least one candidate from a racially diverse background to interview (assuming there are such candidates in the pool).
  • Expand our board of trustees, in such a way as to improve its racial diversity.
  • Introduce Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion training for trustees, including on unconscious bias and microaggressions.

5. Continuously listen, learn, and review our plans accordingly

Our starting point was:

  • We know that we cannot play our full part in challenging racism without listening to the widest possible range of people, to understand their experiences and their ideas for change.
  • Issues related to diversity and inclusion are regularly raised through our mechanisms for seeking input and feedback from all of the people we work with – including our participant surveys and Participant Forum meetings, alumni events, Service User and Carer Reference Group meetings, staff surveys, and Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Working Group meetings.

In 2020 we have:

  • Invited input specifically on anti-racism and Black Lives Matter from all of the people we work with. This has included multiple dedicated sessions with participants, alumni, our Service User and Carer Reference Group, and all staff, in addition to survey questions focused on this issue and a great many one-to-one conversations. This input has fundamentally shaped all of the actions we have taken and plan to take.

In 2021 we plan to:

  • Establish regular, dedicated mechanisms to explicitly seek input on anti-racism, and diversity and inclusion more generally. This will include establishing Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Working Groups within each cohort of our participants, and including questions focused on anti-racism in our participant surveys on a permanent basis.
  • Continuously review and improve these plans, and publish an update like this one at least once during the course of the year.