Breaking Diversity Barriers involves everybody

I have the privilege of being a member of a Diversity Delivery Group made up of senior staff from NHS finance departments across the UK.  In a recent meeting, a lot of the discussion was around what organisations are doing in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and it was good to hear the range of positive action being taken in NHS Finance Departments across the country.  It’s also encouraging to hear about the ongoing commitment to Diversity and Inclusion across NHS Finance and the support available from Future Focussed Finance and the wider HFMA in these challenging and unprecedented times.

However, every member of that group would identify as having a protected characteristic under equality laws.  Where is the white, straight, able bodied male?  The group produce a newsletter periodically that is distributed around NHS Finance staff through various routes.  Before I left my role in NHS finance, I would forwarded my copy to everybody in the department, but I wonder how many people would think “oh that’s a newsletter for people who are from BAME backgrounds / have a disability / identify as LBGTQ+” and not even bother to open and read it?

Diversity is about everybody.  Let me assure you, I am not talking about the All Lives Matter attitudes that have, ignorantly or intentionally, undermined the Black Lives Matters discussions and protests than we have seen since the death of George Floyd. 

My argument is that in order to promote full diversity and inclusion I believe that we need a two pronged approach.  We need programmes of work that gives people from diverse background the developmental tools and confidence to be authentic and push against the barriers that stop them progressing.  But equally important the message of diversity and inclusion needs to be promoted in the wider communities.  In the workplace, all staff should have an understanding of the issues faced by colleagues with diverse characteristics and recognise that everybody has a part to play in promoting full diversity and inclusion.

I recently left my career in the NHS to focus on promoting diversity awareness, particularly in relation to disability, as that is where I have first hand experience.  An important part of that is about talking to other people with disabilities, sharing how I have coped with and overcome some of the challenges that I’ve faced throughout my career and hopefully giving them some tips and tools to do the same.  But that is not really about promoting awareness – those individuals are fully aware of the issues they face!

Promoting awareness for me is about reaching a mixed audience, which for is most impactful when I share my story through face-to-face conferences and events.  Whilst I talk about my experience as a finance professional with a disability, I emphasise that these are just my specific barriers.  All of us, regardless of the “boxes that we tick” are likely to face barriers in our careers and how we overcome them is key to our personal and professional development.  I stress that diversity is about seeing everybody for their strengths and ensuring that employers recruit and develop their staff based wholly on skills and abilities.

As a society we will only achieve full diversity and inclusion when we get to the point where we stop talking about differences and see everybody as an equal individual.  We are a long way from that, and therefore it is vital we ALL keep talking about these issues.  So next time you see an article about diversity, BAME, disability, LGBTQ+ or anything else that you don’t directly identify with, rather than ignoring it or thinking “there’s nothing in that for me”, why not have a look and see what you can learn from it…