The proverbial elephant in the room…

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On my long train journey from London to Manchester, I was filled with excitement about the great programme ahead...Two full days of seminars, workshops, speeches and networking with the great and good from across public sector communications. I was also excited to see the lovely future leaders cohort, as we embark on another intense couple of days of learning and networking.

Looking at the packed agenda, the one that grabbed my attention was the plenary panel discussion:“ Driving diversity and inclusion best practice in public sector communications’. The lack of ethnic and racial diversity across senior roles in communications and local government is stark. I saw some stats from the Local Government Leadership report, 2018, which showed that in London where 40% of the population is non-white, only two out of 30 boroughs has a CEO from a BAME background.

Lack of ethnic diversity and inclusion is often the proverbial elephant in the room...we all know it is an issue, but we often feel uncomfortable talking about it. So, I am very pleased that this is being discussed at a high profile national conference, as recognising it’s a problem is the first step in us working collectively to come up with solutions. Obviously, diversity is a loaded term covering a myriad of areas - age, gender, race, ethnicity etc. As a Black British woman of African descent, I am looking at this through the intersectional lens of ethnic and gender diversity. I feel that great strides have been made in addressing gender diversity, with data on gender diversity widely available and reported upon. However, this doesn’t appear to be the case for BAME diversity. As someone who comes from an engagement background, one of the key principles of good engagement is to ensure that the people you are talking to or involving are representative of your target audience. This also applies to communications, the people involved in communicating to our target audiences should ideally be a reflection of the communities they are communicating with.

As communicators, we are often telling the stories of the different communities that live in our local areas - how effective can that be if those telling the stories are not reflective of the communities that we are serving? As our communities are not homogenous, but are made up of an array of people of different ethnicities, ages, gender…It's not unreasonable for those developing and communicating the narrative to communities to reflect the communities within which they serve. This will allow for more effective campaigns with more nuanced messages that resonate with our local communities.

I have to admit that I thought about applying for the Future Leaders programme for about three years before I actually applied. Self doubt crept in, I doubted whether I’d be successful, as when I looked at previous successful applicants none were from a similar background to me. I am glad that I suppressed my self doubt and applied..and guess what, I was successful! The programme has been amazing so far, giving me the opportunity to further develop my skills, helping me to take that next step in my career and inspire others like me to apply for the future leaders’ programme.

The session left a lot of the communicators in the room with a lot of food for thought, an opportunity to look critically at the processes in our respective organisations to see where unconscious bias may be playing a part in limiting access for a more diverse range of communicators.

Florence Obinna is a Consultation & Engagement Manager at Hackney Council and an LGcomms Future Leader.

Posted on 7th November 2019