In the wake of our immensely successful Black History Month event last week, it is both a privilege and a necessity to discuss the significance of this commemorative month within the context of local government. In my role at Penna I am continually reminded of the strides we have made and the road that lies ahead in creating inclusive and diverse leadership teams.
This was no ordinary event. We were joined by equality, diversity and inclusion royalty in the form of our guest speakers Donna Fraser (Olympian), Sandra Pollock (founder of The Women’s Awards) and Bernadette Thompson (civil servant and a non-executive director) as well as a panel of local government chief executives.
Local government has made significant advancements in diversifying leadership. Many policies and practices have been put in place to ensure fair representation, however, there’s still more to be done. The event’s success demonstrated an interest in tackling diversity issues head-on, with more than 100 dedicated attendees keen to learn and engage. Yet, this audience is a fraction of the larger landscape that needs educating, redefining, and reforming.
One of the most resonant themes to emerge was the importance of allyship. It is not enough to occupy spaces where diversity is discussed; one must be active in advocating for it. Allyship extends beyond public declarations and company policies; it’s about listening to, understanding, and believing in people’s lived experiences. The discussions during our event showed a craving for authentic allyship, one that would permeate through local government structures and instil a culture of acceptance and understanding.
The group also discussed how leadership has a unique set of responsibilities, including standing against injustice. In local government settings, this responsibility is not just an ethical requirement but a civic duty. Leaders are often privy to the inner workings of systems and institutions, granting them unique insights into injustices that may not be visible to the public. Their voice, therefore, carries significant weight.
This means senior officers must actively identify, challenge, and rectify these instances, whether they are discriminatory hiring practices, unequal allocation of resources, or systemic biases that affect policy decisions. This is not merely a task for HR departments; it is a responsibility for the whole organisation.
Speaking against injustice creates a ripple effect, encouraging open dialogue, fostering a culture of equity, and holding everyone to a higher ethical standard. It signals to employees and constituents that justice and fairness are not optional, but foundational principles of the organisation. Leaders in local government can serve as the vanguards of systemic change, ushering in a new era of inclusivity and fairness for all.
An especially significant focus was the theme of ‘Saluting Our Sisters’ – emphasising the roles Black women have played, and continue to play, in shaping our communities. Their unique challenges and undying resilience, contribute significantly to the richness of Black history and culture. Acknowledging their contributions within local government is not only fair but also necessary to understand what diversity truly encompasses. This emphasis invites us to scrutinise gender disparities within local government and obliges us to action.
Moreover, Black History Month serves as a catalyst to recognise, celebrate, and champion underrepresented groups. It provides a platform to extend conversations and actions throughout the year, serving as a reminder that inclusivity isn’t a seasonal topic but an ongoing commitment. In local government, this means pushing for better representation across all departments and hierarchical levels.
Calls to action
1. Inclusive recruitment: To ensure an inclusive hiring process, consider diverse representation on your stakeholder, officer, and member panels.
2. Training and education: Implement regular training sessions that focus on allyship, listening skills, and understanding lived experiences. Utilise real world scenarios to create a more engaged and knowledgeable workforce. Think beyond just traditional coaching and mentoring. As one speaker put it: ‘What’s the tangible outcome after six to twelve months of coffee meetings?’
3. Open forums: Establish open platforms where employees can discuss diversity, ask questions, and share experiences. This transparency allows for a more authentic, inclusive environment and creates a safe space.
4. Gender-focused initiatives: Launch programs and support networks that particularly address the advancement of women in leadership, paying close attention to inter-sectional identities.
5. Celebrate diversity: Integrate the recognition of diverse cultures, achievements, and milestones into your organisation’s calendar. Diversity should be celebrated year-round, not just during a designated month.
Black History Month is a time for reflection, celebration, and most importantly, action. In local government, where policies can directly impact diverse communities, the need for a representative leadership team is not a luxury; it’s a requirement. As we salute our sisters and allies, we look ahead with optimism. The actions we take today set the precedent for an inclusive, fair, and vibrant local government sector, one capable of serving all its constituents equitably.
Let us seize this opportunity and make inclusivity a cornerstone of leadership.
Dawar Hashmi is director of executive search at Penna