Wiltshire Council – Staff Voices and the BME Staff Network

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Wali Rahman is the Organisational Development Officer at Wiltshire County Council. He is also part of the staff engagement group called #EPIC (Empowering People Innovation & Collaboration) and the Co-Chair of the Black And Minority Ethnic Staff Network.

Equality and diversity is something Wali is passionate about. Wiltshire Council has officers responsible for equalities within HR and the corporate office as well as a corporate equality and diversity steering group, made up of officers from across the council. The group was set up in 2014 by Jane Graham who was the Equality Lead at the time (now Resourcing Manager) and works to a yearly action plan with key equalities objectives agreed by its members.

Wiltshire had 3 staff equality forums (representing BME, LGBT and Disability & Carers) which met quarterly and were run by staff volunteers with the support of the corporate office. However all three forums were seeing membership numbers fall or remain drastically low. This was due to a lack of engagement from colleagues within the respective protected groups and a perceived lack of support from managers. For the BME forum this was especially challenging as the workforce itself is made up of only 2.5% BME staff.

When the Race in the Workplace Review by Baroness McGregor-Smith was published, Wali was encouraged by the fact that the issue of race was brought to the forefront and says that he was: “… motivated by the recommendations and attended an event which explored the review further. I was so inspired that I produced a follow-up report with recommendations for colleagues and senior leaders. This started the conversation around race equality and facilitated some constructive discussions.”

Around the same time, Wiltshire decided to rebrand and relaunch the staff forums as staff networks and place them all under one banner, Staff Voices, to show that the 3 networks were co-ordinated and were working together with full support from our corporate office. They already had an equalities champion from elected members but felt that they needed a champion from among their Directors and this role was taken up very quickly by Robin Townsend, Director, Corporate Services and Digital. Having a champion at senior level gave the networks much more visibility and credibility.

An equalities conference was held to officially launch the networks and to target managers and senior leaders and bring equalities to the top of the agenda. The event was extremely successful and included a quiz to debunk myths, information on the staff networks, personal stories from the network Chairs and discussions on some of the issues and experiences. So successful was the conference that the event will now take place more regularly.

In the meantime, the BME Staff Network was relaunched with the aim of having at least one speaker at each event and inviting people from across the organisation and partner organisations (including Wiltshire Police and Dorset and Wiltshire Fire), regardless of whether they were BME or not and treating the meetings as learning and development opportunities.

There are many other initiatives and ideas being implemented to promote diversity and inclusion including mandatory E&D training for all staff, equalities monitoring reports and unconscious bias training for recruiting managers through our new leadership and management programme.

The Council recently put on its first ever EmployAbility Fair, which drew in more than 100 people, who got to speak to employers and service providers at nearly 30 different stalls, all offering advice and support. More:

LGBT History Month was marked at County Hall in Trowbridge with the raising of the rainbow flag and a display at County Hall, Trowbridge.

Dr Carlton Brand, Corporate Director, Communities, Resources and Digital said: “Wiltshire Council is firmly committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion in both employment and the delivery of its services. The council is keen to celebrate the diversity of people who live and work in Wiltshire. This means making our services accessible to all, treating people fairly and providing a fully inclusive working environment. This is done through community consultation and impact assessments on service provision and by embedding diversity and inclusion into our staff Behaviours Framework and our People Strategy 2017-2027, which along with our business plan, provide direction for the development of our people and our organisation to achieve our vision to create strong communities in Wiltshire.”

What is Wali’s advice to other organisations and staff networks?

  • Align diversity and inclusion to your workforce strategy
  • If there is no Equalities team, then create an E&D steering group, involving all areas of the organisation
  • Appoint equalities champions from senior leadership
  • Set up respective equality networks for protected groups but if numbers are low then set up a single equality network
  • Work with partner organisations in your area to create joint staff networks
  • Promote networks to ‘allies’ outside of protected groups
  • Invite external guest speakers and seek out potential speakers from within your organisation to share their stories
  • Invite senior leaders to meetings and ask to open meetings
  • And Diversity Digests suggest, read the Incredible Power of Staff Networks!

The next Staff Voices Conference will be on 10th May 2018, in celebration of the National Day for Staff Networks (9th May). #makingworkbetter

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