Anti-Racism Review 2022

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Our journey to becoming an anti-racist organisation – by Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK)

At UNICEF UK we want to be an anti-racist organisation. This is fundamental to our role in upholding child rights and is completely in line with our values as an organisation and as people.

For me, being an anti-racist organisation is so much more than being an inclusive or diverse organisation; it’s about saying that an organisation that exists to uphold the rights of all children must be an organisation that seeks to prevent and stop racism in all its forms.

In 2021, following concerns being raised about racism and racist behaviour, we commissioned an independent review to understand and establish the extent to which racism existed at UNICEF UK, how it manifested itself in the lived experience of colleagues, how it could be best addressed, and how we could become an anti-racist organisation.

I will describe the review in the following paragraphs, but I want to say right from the start that the independent review found that colleagues from minoritised ethnic communities have experienced and continue to experience instances of racism at UNICEF UK. This is intolerable for me and for UNICEF UK, and I am truly sorry this has happened and is happening, and I want to sincerely apologise for the hurt this has caused colleagues.

Having joined UNICEF UK as Chief Executive in January this year and having spent much of my professional life promoting inclusion and working against inequality, this is not an easy truth or reality to be faced with, but I know that we need to understand the problem fully in order to move forward. And now I am determined to ensure we learn, build and grow from here.

We fully accept the report’s findings and recommendations and acknowledge that, even though we have made much progress, we have some way to go to becoming a truly anti-racist organisation.

The independent review has been comprehensive. It engaged with colleagues across UNICEF UK, and sought to understand their personal lived experience, and the depth of feeling in the organisation. Everybody at UNICEF UK has had the opportunity to have their say, and this has helped us to learn and understand what barriers we have to becoming the anti-racist organisation we want to be – the anti-racist organisation we must become.

Over the past year, the specialist EDI agency, Full Colour, conducted a series of one-to-one interviews and cross organisational focus groups, reviewed and captured feedback from colleagues past and present through a comprehensive desk review and ensured all colleagues could confidentially share their views and lived experiences via an anonymous online platform. Colleagues from our staff networks including the Racial Justice Network, Inclusive UNICEF, the Diversity Action Group and Staff Association have tested the findings with the researchers to ensure they had an accurate picture of our workplace.

Now we have received the final report from Full Colour, we are confident that we have a clear picture of where we are and the steps we must take. The report is comprehensive and sets out the extent and nature of racism experienced by colleagues at UNICEF UK. Examples of the findings include:

  • Results from the annual EDI survey show that colleagues from ethnic minoritised groups have lower levels of satisfaction working for UNICEF UK across a range of different indicators
  • There is a distinct lack of ethnic diversity at a senior management level, with (at the time of writing) only two people of colour sitting on the Extended Leadership Group out of a total of 20
  • Microaggressions are the most common form of how colleagues experience racism at UNICEF UK, with 24 different types of microaggressions being identified during the research

The report did acknowledge that progress has been made and since the review was commissioned in 2021:

  • We have overhauled our recruitment system to reduce bias and in 2022 more than 40% of our new recruits have been from minoritised ethnic communities, including the only permanent appointment made to my Executive Team this year
  • We increased investment and we now have two diversity specialists working within the organisation to support the changes as well as dedicated Executive and Board-level sponsorship of this work
  • We released our first ever ethnicity pay gap review. Whilst this is not yet a legal requirement, we feel that this reporting is an important step. The result of the analysis showed clearly that people of colour are under-represented in senior roles at UNICEF UK
  • We have an engaged Racial Justice Network, a Diversity Action Group and an Anti-Racism Working Group – each of which contributed to the creation and distribution of the report and are holding us to account and guiding us towards the right solutions
  • We have mandatory anti-racist training and a new inclusive leadership training scheme
  • The diversity of our Board has continued to improve with 50% of Trustees now coming from minoritised ethnic communities, and the Board continues to prioritise our diversity and inclusion agenda

While this is the right direction to take, it is just the beginning of a journey and we will not rest until we deserve to be acknowledged as an anti-racist organisation and every one of my colleagues feels included, safe to be themselves and able to focus on our vital work for children. Building on this progress, and our full acceptance of the recommendations of the independent review, we will now create the full action plan needed to sustain our progress. We will create that plan in the coming weeks, but some examples of concrete actions we’ve already committed to are:

  • Continuing to strengthen, develop and support our colleague networks, including our Racial Justice Network, with specialist training and coaching to support colleagues in these vital roles
  • Building on the mandatory training we have introduced on anti-racism, adding training relating to microaggressions and creating an environment where colleagues can talk safely about any concerns they have
  • Reviewing our reporting processes to ensure they are suitable for raising concerns about racism, building trust with colleagues about the processes for raising concerns, including about experiences of racism, and ensuring that all colleagues have the support they need
  • Building on the introduction of more inclusive recruitment processes, we will launch a new inclusive talent approach, with a focus on successfully attracting, recruiting, retaining and developing diverse talent, with a particular focus on development into more senior roles
  • Putting in place dedicated funding for these and other actions as we bring together all of our EDI and anti-racism work plans into one clear and funded plan

As with every aspect of this work, the action plan will be developed with full involvement of our colleagues, including the Racial Justice Network, and based on an understanding of the personal experiences of people of colour across the organisation. Our plan to implement the recommendations in the Full Colour report will be developed over the coming weeks and start to be rolled out from January 2023.

While extremely saddened to understand that some of my colleagues have experienced racism, my hope and determination is that this report is a force for good and the basis for organisational learning and development.

I would like to express my personal gratitude to everyone who has been involved in this review, especially those who have described and recorded their personal experiences. We owe it to you to continue our progress in making UNICEF UK the very best place to work and to deliver our mission to uphold children’s rights as we collectively strive for a better world for every child.

Jon Sparkes
Chief Executive, UNICEF UK
November 2022