News

Race + Conflict

Peter Olawaye, Vice Chair
Thursday 17th December 2020
My earliest memory and experience of racism was when I was a teenager. I was chased by a group of boys in an all-white area. My experience back then is very different when I hear how my elders describe their individual experiences back in the 70s and 80s, but it is painful all the same. More recently, the racism I have experienced is less overt - from the many many ‘random’ stop and searches by police whilst walking home, to being treated differently as the one black person at corporate events." data-share-imageurl="https://leapconfrontingconflict.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/image/Peter_RC%20Cropped%20Image.jpg">

My earliest memory and experience of racism was when I was a teenager. I was chased by a group of boys in an all-white area. My experience back then is very different when I hear how my elders describe their individual experiences back in the 70s and 80s, but it is painful all the same. More recently, the racism I have experienced is less overt - from the many many ‘random’ stop and searches by police whilst walking home, to being treated differently as the one black person at corporate events. As humans we want to believe we are ‘good people,’ and so any suggestion that we are (or what we said is) the ‘R’ word cannot be.

But the events of this year, have forced us to confront our own prejudices, attitudes, and race biases - whether that be in sports, government, or the charitable space (a sector close to my heart). People are starting to recognise the need to increase their own understanding of race and racism in the UK. For me, it is clear that cultural and behavioural change across the charity sector is the direction of travel. Promoting black staff who have earned it is a great starting point, but more needs to be done so that black staff feel safe in the organisations they work in and to ensure that all workers feel they can thrive without being made to feel inferior or that a glass ceiling is above them. Moving forward, I have the hint of scepticism that so many of my peers will relate to, that "by 2021 this will all be forgotten, and the world will be onto the next topic". However, based on what I've seen in the last few years and the increased urgency in 2020, I remain hopeful that if we continue to progress, that glass ceiling - will be shattered to pieces!

Self Leadership is key to trailblazing change

Since our last update in June 2020, Leap has been on a journey of self-reflection on the impact of race and conflict within the organisation and racism within the charity sector. Our aim is to trailblaze change, but before we lead others, we must first lead ourselves. From September we have established the *Diversity and Inclusion subcommittee, of which I am Chair and we have recruited Bayo Adelaja as a critical consultant to Leap’s Senior Management Team. Bayo is Founder and Chief Executive for Do it Now Now, and is committed to helping charities, corporations, and governments re-purpose their resources for the benefit of underserved communities in the UK and across Africa.

In post Bayo has facilitated several unconscious bias training workshops for both the Senior Management Team and white members of staff as well as facilitated conversations with black members of staff on race relations within Leap and to individual career and leadership aspirations within Leap and/or externally. In the past, Leap has been slow to understand and acknowledge our failures but during these past five months I have witnessed an escalated shift in attitudes and am encouraged by young ambassadors, staff, trainers, senior management, and the board’s commitment for change. These conversations have led to small step changes, we have:

 

  1.  Met with young ambassadors to understand the issues currently facing young people, and in particular young black people
  2. Reviewed and updated our whistleblowing policy
  3. Reviewed and are in the process of finalising changes to our bullying and harassment and recruitment policy

To become an anti-racist organisation, it is partly about revising policy but most importantly it is about comprehensive culture change. Our work is not complete, but we are on the right track in creating a culture where black and ethnic minority staff members can be themselves, raise concerns and know they will be heard and are able to move into leadership positions within Leap.

Ben Kernighan says:

‘I have learnt a lot about race this year and have been challenged in my own attitudes and upbringing in a Merseyside suburb.  I have also had numerous conversations with black and white Chief Executives in my action learning set and in a more informal Charity CEO network of which I am a part, about the personal and organisational aspects of racism. Next year I will continue to work closely with the whole team to create an anti-racist culture where young people, staff and trainers can be their whole selves to work.’

What’s our focus for 2021?

Next year we will continue to evolve as an organisation as we invest time, money and resources to becoming an anti-racist organisation that supports black and other minority ethnic staff to become sector leaders for anti-racism. Below, I highlight top priorities for the committee’s 2021 workplan, they are to:

 

  • Oversee the development of new curriculum focused on young people and identity (available in Summer 2021)
  • Roll out our courageous conversations: exploring race and racism training through London Violence Reduction Unit Rise Up programme and to other voluntary, community and social enterprise partners.
  • Conduct a culture audit with some staff, trainers, trustees and possibly external stakeholders to make an in-depth assessment of Leap’s current culture and what it should become
  • Create a leadership training and development programme for black members of staff to move up in seniority (either at Leap or in their future employment). Our hope is that this programme will address the lack of black people in senior leadership positions across the sector.

Bayo Adeleja says:

Leap has the opportunity to be at the forefront of the conversation about what it means to run an organisation that puts anti-racism at the centre of its processes both internally and externally. I am sincerely looking forward to getting to know the fantastic team behind such transformative work’

Organisational culture change of this scale is a long-term process, but I am committed to driving forward change that will positively impact the lives of young people, colleagues, and the charitable sector. I look forward to working with Leap in the months ahead.

End

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* The current committee members are: Peter Olawaye (Vice-Chair), Deborah O’Neill (Trustee), Ben Kernighan (Chief Executive), Gabin Sinclair-Constance (Director of London Programmes), Ruth Chapple (Director of Finances and Resources), Penny Nkrumah (Data and Impact Manager), and Leigh Gallagher (Executive Support Manager and Secretary to subcommittee).

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