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This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Racial equality - we will make mistakes, we are human, but that should not force us to retreat from the conversations nor the actions.

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Diversity & Inclusion, Project Delivery Profession

The challenges of racism and achieving equal representation for people from every ethnic background is for me the defining issue facing this generation.  As I said in an address recently to a bunch of fast-streamers:

“I know Covid right now feels difficult and it is, but this shouldn't distract us from the racism that will continue to blight our society if we fail to take action now”

Project colleagues have shown such incredible resilience throughout this year. With everything that 2020 has thrown at us we have succeeded to deliver our services and remain focused and connected to each other. I suppose that gives me not only a sense of pride but also a deeper sense of hope, as the resilience, the focus, the connections we have will be needed in abundance going forward. 

Understanding privilege

As the Equality Champion for Project Delivery Profession I cannot stress enough how the next 12 to 18 months will be pivotal, if we are to really create an environment where our BAME colleagues have the same parity of outcomes as their White colleagues. We have new insights into the barriers that have been in the way of our BAME colleagues’ development and opportunities. We have had unfiltered and uncomfortable conversations across our departments on matters of race. Avoiding these conversations in the past was very short sighted of us.

I’ve been inspired through my career by a number of BAME leaders, I’d particularly call out Sharon White, now Chief Executive of John Lewis, but a civil service colleague for so many years who broke through so many glass ceilings I thought broken glass was part of her hairstyle. 

White privilege is difficult to come to terms with, I myself didn’t understand the concept, I struggled long and hard…I thought hold on a second, that label does not fit me. I come from a wonderfully hard working family, my mum and dad are amazing parents, we were not rich and we had our struggles. I worked my way up to Director General from being an Admin Assistant, the lowest civil service grade, hardly a glamourous privileged journey I thought?

In my younger years before becoming a Civil Servant I joined many friends as we gathered together and protested against racism. I can recall standing outside the South African Embassy on demonstrations against apartheid. So yes, I struggled to see why the finger of White privilege was pointing at me.  I get it now. I now see that every day I get by without any interference because of my race. My colour is not an obstacle; I am a White middle aged man that doesn’t get many doors shut in my face.

Looking to the future

So it took me a while and I am still learning from the incredibly rich and emotional experiences that my Black friends and colleagues have been sharing. But look, it’s not up to Black people to educate me or any of us. We as individuals need to lift our heads up and really tune into what is happening, not just on our doorstep, but across the globe. 

We will make mistakes, we are human, but that should not force us to retreat from the conversations nor the actions. We must be conscious of our bias in order to be able to correct for it. We hold lots of power within our departments. If we crack this, we can transform how the Civil Service is and ultimately how Britain is. I think it’s one hell of an ambition, that I am absolutely 100% behind.

If we can change the Civil Service we can help change society beyond us, so what’s not to like about the chance to get involved and help do that?’

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  1. Comment by Reza Baccus posted on

    Very positive article Neil, thanks.