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So Let’s Talk About Race!

Zahra Raffique, Operational Team Lead in our Crawley Physio team shares below her story about her personal journey to becoming the BAME lead and what it is like to have open conversations about race in the workplace.

“Diversity is having a seat at the table, inclusion is having a voice and belonging is having that voice be heard.”

One of the key issues from Business in the Community’s Race at work survey (2015) of 24,457 people was that employees from all ethnicities in the workplace said that their employers were not comfortable talking about race. The survey found that conversations around age, gender and sexuality are much easier to have than conversations about race. I ask myself why?

I came to the UK in 2010 to embark on my physiotherapy journey. I joined the University of Birmingham and completed my Bsc, Physiotherapy in 2013. I intended on going back to Mauritius however the prospects of working for the NHS at the time seemed like the right thing to do and I have never looked back since. I have now been working for Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust for the past six years and have continued to grow professionally always seeking for new opportunities to move forwards. In 2018 I received an email from the trust which caught my attention! The trust were encouraging BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) staff to apply for the stepping up programme, something I had never heard of before and the thought of developing my leadership seemed like the right thing to do…

So what is the stepping up programme? Why is it aimed at BME staff? These were my first thoughts too. BAME staff make up 81% of NHS frontline staff, but where is the representation of this at the top? The UK’s diversity is one of the biggest assets to the NHS as we know having a more diverse workforce leads to better patient care, improved performance and greater innovation and creativity within a team. This is where the stepping up programme comes in. The aim of the NHS leadership academy is to create greater levels of sustainable inclusion within the NHS by addressing the social, organisational and psychological barriers restricting BAME colleagues from progressing to more senior roles. The selection process was rigorous and I was very fortunate to be one of the 42 successful candidates of about 1200 applicants, apparently the systems even crashed!!! This is where my journey begins… 

It is hard to put into words what I actually took away from the course. I came back to work after my first module and work colleagues asked, how was your course? To this I was lost for words as the programme changed me in ways I find hard to describe. I completed both modules which was part of the course and I felt my eyes had finally been opened… I listened to my peers on the course hearing their version of the story and their values. I felt angry as they told their stories, being passed for promotions with no real reasons, bullying, working in environments with poor working cultures and values and lots more… my peers were not bringing their true selves to work.. I was adamant we needed a change.

Coming back to work, I felt like a superhero, I knew we needed to do something different and I felt different. Suddenly I was more confident and felt I was able to challenge people when needed. I kept thinking, what can I do next?… but as time passed, the change seemed to become harder to make. A few months later, things just went back to being the same until one day I received an email from Sally – she shares her version of the story here. I was thinking, am I in trouble, what have I done?

I accepted to meet with Sally and discussed my experience so far. We chatted about race, diversity, inclusion within our department. There was laughter as we talked through and some tears… I admitted that sometimes work colleagues could struggle to differentiate between other BME colleagues and myself, sometimes getting a name mixed up or not being able to pronounce names properly. The mix-ups were never malicious and often I would just laugh this off (awkwardly) and reassure the other person it was okay but was this acceptable? 

Following the last meeting with the 16 members of staff, I have met with some individuals on a one to one basis being an advocate for them and somebody they can feel comfortable to confide their stories to. I have also met with Jacinta listening to her side of the story which she will share with you separately. I have also shared my experience with the team feeding back to all members of staff. I feel empowered to have taken the challenge of being open and truly bringing ‘my whole self to work’ reminding myself and others: I am enough! I am now the BAME lead across Crawley and Horsham encouraging the team to have open discussions about diversity and to improve our cultural intelligence ensuring we create a safe working environment for everyone including all members of staff and patients. Hopefully this has shown senior managers how important treating diverse staff can be and how important inclusivity is. Helping one person might not change the world but it could change the world for one person, so let’s talk about race!

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