Dear PPMA friends

#nationalinclusionweek has rightly been a time of celebrating the good news across Public Services. Our President Karen has been reflecting on where we are with this critical work. This is a long blog because the subject is worth it. She shares her thoughts here…

“#nationalinclusion is an interesting time. It’s amazing to see the breadth of working going on across public service; humbling to read people’s very personal stories, but equally as confounding to realise that we’re still struggling to make progress.

It’s obviously an important issue for PPMA. Whether we’re looking at our Let’s Talk: Future Workforce, Transformation, Developing our Organisation or Wellbeing themes, you soon recognise that inclusion is a key element for all.

I was speaking to a fabulous business psychologist a week ago who was at the forefront of the early equalities and diversity work. We chatted for a good while but that conversation further reinforced my conclusion that we’re not making anywhere near as much progress as we should be.

People are kind enough to invite me to support diversity events – and from a PPMA perspective it’s critical we are engaged. But I die a little when I hear ‘diversity’. Not because I don’t believe in it, but I am getting ever more cynical about the range of people who tell me that their methodology for LGBTQ+ is better than this one for BAME etc. That is just bullshit.

Over the last 12 months I have increasingly been saying that whilst I will support events, I’m not a fan of using the term diversity. Part of my increasing opposition to the term is that it’s become for too many people conflated with both political correctness. And at the same time there is an abject lack of knowledge of what racism, sexism etc actually means. These terms are for many people, used liberally and are deeply emotive and offensive.

Setting aside the political correctness issue, I’m not convinced that we have clarity about what we’re trying to achieve or that we have a common understanding across HR & OD and our broader organisations of the purpose of the Equality Act is. That just is not acceptable. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about why progress seems to be stalling.

It’s worth saying at this point that the progress issue relates to how many people from differing backgrounds are making it to the top of their organisations. There is plenty of data that shows us that representation is good at lower levels in organisations but the higher you get, the more sparse the numbers are. For those of you interested in numbers, I would always recommend you look at the Green Park Leadership reports.

Policy choice versus people like me?

For public services organisations inclusion is a policy choice that is aimed at delivering broader benefits to society. It’s not rocket science to hypothesise that designing, deliver and sustaining services in ways that best represents all our communities is a good idea. Even if you don’t think it’s a good idea, the rise of social media and the effectiveness of activism and advocacy means that disadvantage is harder to turn a blind eye too. Rightly so.

Enabling this type of representation is often the preview of policy shops. There are some amazing examples of Local Government policy teams engaging communities in ways that deliver tangible and sustainable change. And probably better examples of social enterprises and charities working with communities to identify what they need etc.

Reaching out is only one part of the equation. At a recent event, breakout discussions identified that many people in minority communities choose not to apply for positions. The reason given – “I don’t see anyone like me” is a reason that I’ve used myself when looking at future employers. But sometimes it can just be as simple as someone being brave enough to try or take a first step to change things for others.

There is a wonderful blog published by Cabinet Office that speaks to this. In it, Keith Fraser, a member of the Youth Justice Board says “As a government you are dealing with complex issues. It is clear therefore, that you need limitless perspectives and experience. If board members look, feel, think, have the experience of those they are serving, you increase your trustworthiness and your ability to succeed.”

The ‘people like me’ element of the discussion is one that I don’t think we discuss openly enough. Unconscious bias has been a profoundly important issue to tackle in raising awareness of the ways in which people from different communities, BUT it has also become an epithet used for real and imagined discrimination.

This week there has been an absolutely brilliant blog on exclusion and inclusion written by The Army Leader. It touches on our very human desire to belong to groups and its context is of course based on life in the Army.  It’s titled Exclusion and Inclusion: The Inner Ring. Sadly, I don’t have it in me to summarise this with the respect it deserves, but you can read it here. Thank you to the amazing Siobhan Sheridan for the twitter share on that.

Context is King, Queen or They – political correctness is pants and the workforce stuff

The Equality Act 2010 is something in my view, that HR & OD people should know inside out. We don’t, because we tend to employee ‘D&I’ teams or individuals and we seem to expect them to solve the issue for the whole of an organisation.

EqA is a fascinating piece of legislation and one that is much misrepresented. The point of the legislation is to level the playing field so that people with the potential to excel are not prevented from doing so for reasons that are purely discriminatory.

The legislation already provides for the opportunity (article 258 and 259) to enable positive discrimination. There are conditions of course – as there should be – but this blindingly obvious tool is often a) not known about, b) not known about and not used and therefore organisations can become seduced by initiatives that don’t always achieve much, cost a lot and actually disenfranchise employees.

I can’t help thinking that if we were consistent in our use of language we’d knock the political correctness trope into the wilderness where it belongs. And we would have the confidence to start using the legislation properly. I’ve recently sat through a presentation given by a ‘professional’ whose language was so glib, inflammatory and utterly ignorant, that I spent the whole of my journey back home muttering to myself. I’ve barely recovered now.

This looseness of language means that racism, sexism and every other-ism are poorly understood and inconsistently applied by all of us. This lack of clarity is amplified and seized upon by politicians of all stripes, a majority of the media who want quick headlines and it is profoundly divisive. Lazy language in this important area marginalises – and in these political times that is deeply dangerous. But it is also the case that HR & OD policies don’t exactly help our leaders, managers and employees either.

Context has to be king too – for several important reasons. We know as HR & OD professionals that there are multiple factors involved in enabling inclusion. It’s not just about recruitment – it’s about fair development, it’s about creating equality of opportunity for people to progress. And sometimes that will mean that you are developing amazing people who leave your organisation because you can’t offer them something internally. It is also about being honest about your organisational context and what is reasonable for you to achieve.

We all know that some of our organisations are doing things to put a ‘tick in the box’, because we are afraid of the consequences of not ‘being seen to be doing the right thing’. This wastes money and time. We have to have some honest conversations about how we spend our money.

Future focus: intersectionality and the lived experience?

We have to spend our money wisely because the reality is we don’t have it to spare. So, we need to spend where we know we are going to deliver results. I’d argue that we’re unlikely to get the results we want by purely focusing on the numbers game – albeit it is an indicator.

We’re not going to get results without thinking holistically. There’s a blindingly obvious example of where we aren’t. It takes someone like Professor Jim McManus – to articulate it. Jim is an utterly extraordinary human being – so you should follow him on social media and read anything he writes.

In talking on other issues, we happened to share a thought or too on intersectionality and single-issue advocacy. I’ve talked to colleagues who have shared fabulous stories about the wonderful LGBTQ+, BAME, Women’s, Disability and so on, staff networks they have created. They’ve done some great work BUT as Jim points out, as human beings we rarely fit into one box.

I happen to be a woman with an illness that is sometimes more debilitating than disabling, I’m a lapsed Catholic (God forgive me for the swearing!) and a childhood lived in what for a long time was the 4th poorest council ward in England. I know Gay Vegetarian Buddhists, Asian Christians, lapsed Jews, Black Vegans. That makes me very lucky and blessed, but the point is our differences don’t fit easily into one definition of ‘diverse’. And of course, there are other considerations we need to pay increasing attention too – cognitive diversity for example; and increasingly we need people who are prepared to think differently, speak up and speak truth to power.

The thing that has struck me most this week is the concept of the lived experience and everyday inclusion. For those of you who don’t know, Prerana Issar is the NHS Chief People Officer. I heard her speak at the HPMA Conference in June when she had only been in role for a few weeks. She is a force for nature and another ‘to be followed’.  She is really proactive on talking about these concepts.

So, my tour of #nationalinclusionweek has led me to this conclusion:


  • what our organisations – and the people we serve – need
  • what it takes to enable all of our people to bring their whole selves to work
  • how best to enable our organisations to support and nurture that,

is for me, the best way of focusing my efforts in the hope that next year, our #nationalinclusionweek progress will give us cause for more celebration.”