There is a familiar African saying that goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, meaning that we all have an input into how we raise each other’s children and feed into their life experiences. That is not the only wise African saying we can learn from. I was watching The Daily Show, hosted by South African comedian Trevor Noah. During a behind-the-scenes segment, Noah talked about how in his village they treated each person, regardless of where they came from, with respect and equanimity.
He said they treated everyone with ‘ubuntu’ – which means that you can’t see the humanity in you, unless you see the humanity in everyone else.
In October 2021, I made a short presentation to the Association of Chief Trading Standards Officers (ACTSO) Managers Group about launching a small inclusive mentoring scheme for Service Heads primarily outside of the M25. I chose this area specifically due to the racial makeup of the profession in certain parts of the country with a distinct demographic. This is something that was evidenced when
we looked at the initial findings of the CTSI Diversity Survey that was commissioned last year.
I was looking for several Service Heads or Managers to volunteer and be part of the Ubuntu programme of inclusive mentoring. Over the next couple of months several Service Heads kindly submitted their profile for consideration onto the scheme. They have now been matched with senior Black and Asian staff and carefully chosen allies to discuss topical issues that are happening throughout our society.
Addressing the issues
Following a successful sign-up by the Service Heads in February 2022 we started the mentoring sessions. These last for at least an hour but usually for much longer, and consist of conversations about the profession and chosen topics or events that are occurring in the UK, selected by myself and overseen by ACTSO Policy Director Wendy Martin.
Light and heavy subjects are debated on a one-to-one basis in full confidentiality. Only the participants know what is discussed. In these conversations there are no right or wrong answers, just a better understanding of culture and various life experiences that are usually not witnessed or shared by everyone.
I am hopeful that from this, lives will be changed, new allies will be formed, campaigns will be organised in an inclusive manner, recruitment processes will be diverse and conversations will be undertaken without fear of anyone being labelled by saying the wrong thing unintentionally.
Some of the topics are directly related to our profession and some are on broader societal issues. These have included ‘The meaning of Woke?’ and ‘Do you feel there has been unconscious bias during your recruitment process?’
The pilot is running for 10 months and is reviewed every couple of months with the mentors. There will be a final review at the end of the project.
The success of the programme will look and feel different to each of the various participants. However, no one should leave the Ubuntu programme feeling the same as when they entered.
Moments of revelation
Having been involved in mentoring over the years, I was once told that you can only hope for a ‘penny drop’ moment. It can come at any time and usually sometime after the mentoring process has finished.
The aim of the project is to identify and assist Service Heads and Managers who are interested in becoming allies in the force for change within our profession and society. This could be reflected in recruitment, promotion or business engagement as demonstrated by some of the comments made by those involved.
“The Ubuntu programme has allowed a space where topics can be explored and discussed with understanding and openness,” said one participant. “Due to the environment created and personalities involved I feel that I have quickly been able to strike up a good rapport. This has allowed the ability to discuss pertinent, sensitive topics in an open and comfortable way.”
Another participant said: “I am so pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the CTSI Ubuntu programme. I have a monthly meeting with a mentor via Teams. We have very different experiences of growing up and living in Britain due, in no small part, to the fact that I am White, and my mentor is Black. Our discussions are always thought-provoking, stay with me way beyond our hour together, and have led me to read a variety of books by global majority authors.”
“I don’t just want to say I am an ally; I actively want to be one and do better,” said another participant. “This program provides a safe space for some really tough conversations and allows us to start challenging behaviours and learnings. I really hope it can bring about change.”
Some of our oldest British companies are making concerted efforts to be more reflective as they recognise that the Parker Review and McGregor Reports offer provable evidence that a more diverse workforce will bring about better outcomes for our service delivery, business, profession and the communities that we serve. An honest assessment recognises that our profession needs to be more reflective of a modern-looking profession in the UK. Lack of true diversity on the leadership boards are counter-productive to any public-facing organisation, whether it is for-profit or non-profit.
As pointed out by the psychologist Viktor Franklyn: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
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