Quick fixes rarely work on complex organisational problems. Cultural change involves a sustained effort and a prolonged commitment. Judging by the number of vitriolic comments on the website many staff in the NHS don’t accept the need or appropriateness of “special treatment”.
What’s revealing about this is that most of these comments are anonymous. This tells me that when it comes to issues of race or other areas of equality people in the NHS don’t feel able to say what they are really thinking. Which in turn means that if a trust is not a safe place to have this type of discussion then it is the type of place where the discussion doesn’t happen except in whispered corners? How can the culture of an organisation be changed if there is not the opportunity to challenge myths, stereotypes and accepted ways of doing things?
In most trusts it will be HR who try to change behaviour when it comes to recruitment. They will introduce policies to require all management posts to be advertised externally and open to competitive recruitment, they will require each advert to be supported with a person specification detailing the skills, experience and qualifications necessary. Shortlisting will be carried out against this person specification so any decision can be backed up by reference to the candidates match against the person specification. Appointments will be made on the basis of performance at interview.
To minimise the risk of bias and reassure candidates interview panels may have an HR rep present or be balanced in terms of gender and race. Candidates have feedback that an all male, all white interview panel can raise a doubt in their mind about an organisation’s commitment to equality. These procedures are supplemented by the two-day race awareness training course for all those involved in recruitment. None of which influences the views of those making anonymous comments on the blog.
Senior managers have to be prepared to debate these polices in open meetings with staff. Something they are often very reluctant to do. They need to answer questions like why do we have a leadership course specifically for BME managers, why do we need balanced interview panels and why is there a separate black workers support group? Organisations need to provide forums where staff have the opportunity to explore issues of race, gender, sexuality, faith age and disability where people’s views can be challenge without fear of being denounce as a racist or supported without being labelled politically correct.
I have seen this done very well using actors to play out a typical work place scenario around homophobic bullying or sexist “jokes”. The actors then stay in character to discuss what happened with the audience. The questions and answers arising out of these sessions can be posted on the organisation’s intranet so they can be accessed by the whole staff group.
These events can be used to recruit equality champions who will take the issues back into teams and provide to senior management new questions to be answered. If you are interested in a case study bringing together these approaches, plus more examples and training material, you will find it in An Elephant in the Room, an equality and diversity training manual published by www.russellhouse.co.uk.