The Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) programme has now been collecting data on race inequality for five years, holding up a mirror to the service and revealing the disparities that exist for black and minority ethnic staff compared to their white colleagues.
The findings of this report do not make for a comfortable read, and nor should they. The evidence from each WRES report over the years has shown that our black and minority ethnic staff members are less well represented at senior levels, have measurably worse day to day experiences of life in NHS organisations, and have more obstacles to progressing in their careers. The persistence of outcomes like these is not something that any of us should accept. It is in recognition of these realities that the People Plan 2020/21 has ‘belonging’ as one of its four pillars.
This year’s report shows that, at the point at which the pandemic struck, inequalities were already present in the NHS. It is of note that much of this is experienced by black and minority ethnic staff as subtle processes and behaviours, that are often undetected by others. Three things emerge as key lessons to take from this year’s findings:
- First, that delivering equality of outcome and opportunity should be the professional and moral obligation of every leader in the NHS. If it is not already happening, senior and executive leaders need to be accountable for developing and delivering urgent plans to eliminate inequality in their organisations.
- Second, that no one organisation is doing everything well. There are pockets of good practice across all WRES indicators, but no single organisation is exemplary. Every organisation must face up to its limitations and, as set out in the People Plan, develop measurable strategies to overcome them.
- Third, the disproportionate rate of death among black and minority ethnic staff is intrinsically linked to their over-representation in some of the most at risk groups. Those who work on the front lines of public services are often more exposed to the risk of infection, just as they are more exposed to bullying, harassment and discrimination. This years’ WRES reports a welcome increase in the diversity of our senior leadership. There has been a 42% increase in BAME Very Senior Managers, and a 22% increase in BAME trust board members since 2017. Alongside improved representation at senior level, cultures must become more inclusive as leaders develop pipelines of talent across the grades and throughout organisations, if we hope to see equality across the entire workforce.