Addressing systemic racism in our sector – blog

This blog is a result of a series of conversations mental health and social CEOs have been having to address systemic racism in our sector. Racism is endemic in mental health settings and in the charity sector. I’ll be sharing our other work on racial justice as it progresses. This, below, is one small step, but it’s an important one.

As CEO of NSUN, I’m often asked to speak at events. Sometimes I accept, and sometimes I pass on these opportunities to others. 

As someone who does get to speak at events, and as someone who organises events, I’m acutely aware of the politics of these spaces. How we often end up inviting the same people. How we tend to invite perspectives and voices which are less challenging. How we might be aware of some gaps, but are oblivious to others.

Speaking at events is a very small part of the work, but it is one of the most visible. As well as the commitments below, I want to continue reflecting on who we are excluding, how to step aside and make space, and how to create new and better speaking opportunities for others.

– Akiko Hart

“This blog is the result of conversations many social sector leaders have been having about racial justice. Loose collections of us have come together in various ways to discuss, share and learn together. We have been taking a long hard look at ourselves, our organisations, our sector and the power and responsibility we have to address systemic racism within the various different roles we hold.

Those conversations have held two things in common: racial justice and a commitment to change.

They have centred on a determination to understand the everyday impact of structural racism wherever and however it manifests itself, and how we can get better at disrupting the status quo, using our power and privilege for racial justice and demonstrating strong allyship.

Allyship is constant action that challenges inequality, oppression and discrimination. It is about using our personal and positional power and privilege to amplify voices, to step aside and to step back. It is about asking who is sat at the table, who isn’t, why not and how do we get them there, as well as making sure the voices of people with a wide range of lived experiences to be heard.

We have spent time reflecting on how to be conscious and intentional in our actions, how we walk the talk in everything we do, how we make sure our racial justice work is embedded in our organisations and how we can influence change wherever we can.

Through the conversations we have reflected how much time we spend on panels, events, committees and working groups contributing to the production of knowledge and policy. Many of us are offered platforms so regularly we forget this is a privilege. It is not an opportunity everyone is afforded; that diverse voices and perspectives are often excluded, and consequently privilege, inequality and the status quo are perpetuated. Those with the opportunity to be heard get to influence outcomes, as well as develop personally and strengthen their careers.

This led us to think about the small but nonetheless significant steps we can take to ensure panels, events, committees, boards and working groups seeking to influence change better reflect the rich diversity of lived experiences and voices.
As a result, I am committing to:

  • Be part of groups and committees that are actively inclusive, and to ask myself the question who isn’t at the table, who should be and how can we get them there?
  • Be part of panels where at least 50% of the panel is women and 20% of the panel Black, Indigenous and People of Colour
  • Take part in conferences where speakers and representatives with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences are heard across all parts of the conference including the main stage
  • Always be asking myself, my teams and other organisers if we are making sure a wide range of voices and lived experiences are heard in our own events and those we participate in.

I am also:

  • Encouraging others to make these commitments
  • Making this an organisation wide approach whereby we encourage everyone to do the same
  • Talking to event organisers about amplifying diverse voices
  • Encouraging thinking about any barriers – financial or otherwise – to attendance at their events and consider subsidies and other mechanisms that enable people from diverse communities to participate.

I – along with many others in the sector – have already been using these commitments to drive conversations about more inclusive spaces. We are keeping a track of them so we can learn as we go. We know we won’t always get it right. When we don’t, we will reflect on why and what we can learn.

In making these commitments public, I am naming and owning the power I hold to create space for more diverse voices to be heard, and for meaningful and inclusive conversations to take place in policy making and practice development. The more of us that make these commitments the faster we will make change.

They are part of a process of learning and unlearning. We know from experience that having the conversations works and will make sure the spaces we occupy are more diverse, more representative and more impactful as we work together for a racially just society.

There is no badge, no club to join, no fee to pay, just an ask, please join us in committing to do all you can to ensure diverse voices and lived experiences are heard. Will you?”

This piece is being published on multiple organisational and individual channels. We would encourage anyone who wants to join us in those commitment to use and adapt the text and publish on your own channels. If you are struggling to access the text, please email and we will send it to you.