‘When you’re doing this job as a black person or a disabled person, you’re impacted by the very things that you’re trying to work on.’
Job: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager.
Typical hours worked: 35–50.
Profile: Jacquie’s in her 50s and lives and works in the Midlands with her family. She’s from the Black African ethnic group and is disabled.
I was always interested in changing organisational cultures and how marginalised groups experience services. I started my career in the public sector doing community development and service improvement work, where my staff and I were going out into the communities to find out why the services that were provided did not meet the needs of the communities. The problem was because the services were very Eurocentric. We just had generic services that we were providing to everyone without due consideration of the needs of different communities. That's how services were provided in the ‘90s. Things have changed now from when I started my career.
After a few years, I moved on to manage training programmes, particularly positive action programmes. We recruited people every year from different ethnic minority backgrounds and trained them for up to two years. As part of their development and work experience, some gained professional qualifications and we supported them with the process of getting jobs by offering interview experiences. I also developed a similar scheme for disabled people. The aim was to tackle systemic discrimination, as ethnic minority people and disabled people experienced a range of barriers in gaining employment.
After moving on to policy and strategic Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) work in a statutory organisation, I then worked for the best part of a decade in the education sector in a similar role to the one I have today – helping the organisation to develop strategies, policies, and initiatives, around EDI and to make sure that they are implemented and embedded. I subsequently moved into my current role several years ago.
My working day
I am an EDI Manager in a third sector organisation that delivers housing and other services to communities. My job is very much about developing inclusive practices within the organisation to make sure that our staff and residents have a positive experience, regardless of their social status or personal characteristics, whether it is their ethnicity, disability, or LGBTQ status. My job is to make sure that my organisation is inclusive and supportive of all staff so that they can do their best at work and fulfil their potential. It's also about helping staff to think, when they're delivering services, about the needs of different communities. Particularly those that are less likely to have a voice.
The job is interesting and very varied, but I have to be flexible to deal with issues that come up on a day-to-day basis. I could be delivering a campaign or event one day or working on a training scheme, attending senior managers meetings to advise and provide support on EDI initiatives. I could also be developing policies, supporting staff networks, or initiating working groups to work on specific projects. For example, supporting staff who are helping to change the culture of the organisation around understanding access issues, in terms of our website, our intranet, the documents we produce and all the equipment that we might procure to make sure that IT systems are accessible to all. I could also be advising HR colleagues on case work. For example, if we have a situation where a member of staff has made an offensive and discriminatory comment against another member of staff, our HR staff on the ground will come to me for advice on how to deal with it.
My workload is quite significant because my role is wide-ranging. The way I achieve my job is to put in extra effort to make sure that it's done well, as well as working in partnership with colleagues, management teams and staff networks to help me deliver. But in terms of work-life balance, there's more that I can do, and part of it is being very realistic with my manager about what is achievable with the resources we have, the time we have, and then deciding whether we’ll stop doing certain aspects of the work. Because, if that doesn’t happen, something will give. Also, my disability means that I work differently, and it sometimes takes me a bit longer to do certain tasks, which impacts it a little bit as well.
What I like most about my work is when I feel I'm making a difference and real change is happening that impacts positively on staff, residents, service users or students. This happens when senior leaders are absolutely committed to providing leadership, progressing and role modelling EDI work. This is not the case in every organisation which can be quite frustrating and even demoralising.
In my current organisation, I actually believe I’m making a difference because I have senior leadership support. We've had positive feedback from staff and independent feedback from different sources that, as an organisation, we're an inclusive employer. For example, in terms of LGBTQ staff, and our recruitment of disabled people. I'm also very excited about our anti-racism work, working with leadership team and ethnic minority staff to understand what it means to be an anti-racist organisation and the actions we need to take going forward. We're in the process of launching a training programme for our staff which will help them understand different forms of racism, its impact on minoritized groups and what they can personally do to tackle it and be supportive of ethnic minority colleagues, residents, and stakeholders. Those are the kinds of things that make me wake up in the morning and say, ‘I want to go to work’.
Within most organisations, the resources that tend to be allocated to the EDI area are limited and this can make it challenging delivering effectively. I do this job the way I do it, going the extra mile because I'm very passionate about it. It’s because I want to make a difference and influence positive change. My passion is also influenced by my own personal experiences as a black disabled woman because some of the issues I'm trying to change are part of my lived experience. I know what it is to experience racism. I know what it is to experience discrimination because of my disability. I know the daily struggles of many ethnic minority people and disabled people, including having to cope with experiences of micro aggressions. Therefore, if I can support positive change to make organisations more inclusive – that's what drives me.
*This graph shows Jacquie’s score alongside the UK mean (average) for the 7 dimensions of our Good Work Index. Our CIPD Good Work Index interactive graphic offers further insight on the job quality of different occupations. You can see how your occupation compares to others in our index interactive tool here
Pay and benefits
When you think about the complexity of EDI roles in most organisations. When you think about the workload and all the different strands that you're trying to influence in an organisation and change. When you think how much of a battle it can be to engage and advance EDI issues and cultural change in organisations, I don't think it's particularly well compensated in many sectors.
The value attached to EDI roles in general doesn’t recognise all the complexities and the amount of effort, time, thinking, strategising, influencing at different levels, researching, going out there to bring back good practice, networking, and much more. I don't think it is well recognised. I know senior managers think I do a very good job, but I don't know whether the amount of effort it takes to deliver on it is recognised. I don't think, more generally, in terms of the HR profession, that the complexities of the EDI role are well recognised and compensated.
Health and wellbeing
The kind of stresses that you experience in this kind of role has caused so many of my fellow colleagues from ethnic minority backgrounds to burn out because you can only bear these kinds of issues for so long before they break you. Particularly if don’t have external support, or if you don’t have any family members or other support to sustain you. You’re not just dealing with trying to change the organisation in an abstract sense, in terms of its structures and behaviours and working with leadership teams and all that. You’re working on it on a personal level, with the kind of issues you’re experiencing on a day-to-day basis. I have experienced all of those myself in different aspects of my career. You have to be super resilient to survive these issues and the loneliness that sometimes occurs when you are ‘working as the only black person’ within a team or an organisation and you sometimes feel like an outsider looking in.
I recognise the importance of working sustainable hours and looking after my health and wellbeing and do try to eat well, and exercise everyday even if it’s just a 30-minute walk. Working with an Ethnic Minority Coach has also helped me to step back and remember that this work has been going on for a very long time and you can only do what you can do and recognise that it will take a long time to change society perceptions around diversity issues.
You're not just dealing with trying to change the organisation…You're working on it on a personal level…You have to be super-resilient to survive those issues.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager.
My opportunities for development have been dependent on the kind of line managers I have had. Some have been very supportive whilst others have blocked opportunities that were open to me. But it is important to recognise that when you're from an ethnic minority background, you don't always get the same kind of sponsorship, the same kind of support, the same kind of networking opportunities. That's just because most organisations don't recognise that they are not as inclusive as they could be. It's events like the protests following the murder of George Floyd that have challenged organisations to recognise that they have not been doing enough to support people from ethnic minority backgrounds.
I do feel personally that had more opportunities been open to me throughout my career I probably would be in a very different place than I am today. But I accept the impact of systemic inequalities in organisations and society in general. On the other hand, because I'm very self-motivated and tenacious, I have managed to navigate a lot of issues and barriers and develop such resilience to help me get on with my career, despite the challenges that I have experienced in relation to my race and disability. I am very proud of the progress that I have made.
Relationships at work
I have very good relationships with my manager, colleagues, senior leaders, members of staff networks and I always work hard to sustain this. Nonetheless, it is not a surprise when you are from an ethnic minority background or have intersecting issues to experience micro-aggressions, even in the best organisation. Micro-aggressions are the small day-to-day comments or exclusions related to an individual’s characteristic that have a discriminatory connotation. These are often subtle undermining behaviours which can have a negative impact on one’s day-to-day welfare and long-term wellbeing. Sometimes people will make comments and you’re the only person who can challenge that because nobody else is willing to. When you're in an organisation and you're probably the only black person within a team or you're the only black person at all, you can feel isolated because you're not always understood.
Even in organisations that are forward-thinking like my current organisation, you’ll still deal with people with some negative stereotypes, whether members of staff or residents, because this reflects attitudes in the wider society. It is therefore really important for organisations to be alive to these issues and provide appropriate support to their ethnic minority staff, residents or service users. This may include mentoring and coaching by professionals who understand these issues as well as having systems in place to deal with all forms of harassment or discrimination. Thankfully, the colleagues I’m working with are open about learning more about different diversity issues, and this makes a great deal of difference.
Voice and representation
In many respects, I would say I have a voice because of my position, but I must modulate that voice to be taken seriously. For example, I'm raising some of the issues that are impacting on disabled staff, particularly now that we are going back to work in a hybrid way. Many disabled staff have been saying working from home has benefited them, and before going back, they would like that considered. I have also represented the concerns of our BAME staff network in the development of our anti-racist work. I think that it’s important to represent other people’s voices and concerns in an honest and professional way. But I have to be careful how I raise issues because, inevitably, and I've learned this over the years, you might just be seen as that person who's trying to rock the boat, maybe even trying to work against the status quo. I also know from experience that if I don't raise issues in a way that will be received positively, then I'm just seen as part of the problem and not part of the solution.
I'm also helping my organisation recognise that when you're doing this job as a black person or a disabled person etc, you're impacted by the very things that you're trying to work on. It has many dimensions. It has a personal impact on you, and you need additional support to just deal with those issues that impact you as an individual, as well as the work that you're trying to help and support the organisation to achieve. I think those additional pressures aren't always recognised. For example, when going through the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter campaign or working on anti-racism issues. These issues are very personal and can impact on one emotionally, you can't just remove yourself and say, ‘I'm not part of this’ and therefore, one experiences additional stresses because of that. Organisations need to support their people and recognise these are real issues that have a particular impact on people from ethnic minorities, or people who are disabled or LGBTQ doing these jobs.
Even if I moved into another related area, my passion is in EDI. Because for me, it is not just a profession, it's borne out of my lived experience and it’s a reality. I know what it is to be marginalised. I know what it is to be discriminated against. I know what it is to experience microaggressions. I know this, not just from my personal experience, but from the experiences of other disabled and ethnic minority colleagues and community members. I also recognise from a range of data and research that we have a long way to go to change existing inequalities. So, I would want to continue making a contribution in whatever way I can in this field.