"Talking about Black history also means we need to talk about Black futures."

This year’s theme for Black History Month is ‘Time for change: action not words’. Carol Pryce, head of nurse recruitment and co-chair of our multicultural staff network, tells us what Black History Month means to her, how to be a better ally in tackling racism with actions not words, and the importance of highlighting the influence of Black communities in shaping the NHS. 

Carol PryceWhat does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is an opportunity for me to celebrate the achievements of Black and other marginalised people from the past and those around me - whether they are colleagues, people in the public eye, or faces in my local community. Black History Month rejuvenates me and makes me more determined to influence change wherever I have that influence.

For me, this month also serves as a reminder of the resilience of my parents and others of their generation who, like their predecessors, were fundamental in laying the groundwork so that their descendants – people like me – could continue bearing the torch for racial equality.  

Perhaps more than any other month in the UK, Black History Month actively invites people to educate themselves on Black history and Black communities – to educate themselves on a narrative and a history that has, for centuries, been papered over by white stories.

Be genuine in your curiosity. Be brave. Be committed to learning about the lived experiences of members of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities around you - the people in your team, in your office, on your ward, where you live. 

This year’s Black History Month theme is ‘Time for change: action not words’, calling support from allies to tackle racism with actions, not words. What does that mean to you?

We need to get more white people saying what steps they have taken or will be taking to fight racism and promote race equality, so that the mic isn’t constantly on Black people to voice what should be done.

We should be asking majority groups what Black History Month means to them, why it’s important to recognise Black history, and what steps they’ve taken to move the inclusion agenda forward since Black History Month from the previous year. Given we’ve been celebrating Black History Month in the UK every year since 1987, people should be able to vocalise how they have contributed to being effective allies for Black people, and other marginalised groups. And if you can’t, ask yourself why.

For too long, efforts to correct inequalities have been relegated to us. Take Black History Month, for example. In the workplace, it often falls on the shoulders of Black people to ensure it’s a roaring success, and adequately celebrated through a rich programme of events and activities – a labour-intensive, and emotionally heavy task that we have to undertake in our own time – and on top of our regular jobs.

Privileged groups, particularly those who have the power to change the status quo, need to stand with us, shoulder to shoulder, and work with us to find solutions that will improve the experiences of people of colour.

What can organisations do to tackle the barriers facing race equality in the workplace? 

It begins with education. The manager’s ‘toolbox’ of skills needs to include knowledge and awareness of issues surrounding race, and the role that institutional factors – like organisational culture and falsehoods (like: ‘we hire and promote based on merit’) – play in fuelling race inequality in the workplace. We need better recruitment practices, succession planning and staff development so that recruitment efforts go beyond promoting leaders from within the organisation, and towards actively finding diverse talent. If your recruitment pool is not diverse, then do not move forward until it is.

In organisations that have leadership development programmes, we need to question what results they have achieved, – if and how these programmes have supported the progress of staff from Black and marginalised backgrounds, and if they have improved the number of seats these staff occupy at the leadership table.

A ‘commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion’ is not evidence of an organisation’s progress towards racial equality. Leaving your Black and marginalised staff to ‘solve the problem’ is not a commitment. Commitment to racial equality may begin with a willingness to act, but it needs to be followed by the planning and delivery of meaningful strategies, and working to change institutional culture and attitudes. Importantly, it should not fall on the already burdened shoulders of Black and marginalised colleagues to move the agenda forward. Workplaces need to be judged and held accountable on EDI progress in the same way as their financial performance.

The history of Black staff working in the NHS dates back to 1948, the year the NHS was born. Why is it important to highlight the influence of Black communities in shaping the NHS? 

The contribution that Black people have made to the NHS is woven deeply in our cultural fabric – perhaps too deeply, as these contributions are all too often minimised and overlooked. Throughout the history of the NHS, we have worked side by side with our white counterparts, caring for patients so they can look forward to better futures, yet we remain waiting for ours – to see Black and other marginalised people represented in senior leadership and reflect the diversity of staff across other levels of the NHS workforce, to have equal opportunity, reward and respect, and to finally be able to stop fighting for the privileges that are automatically afforded to our counterparts.

Talking about Black history also means we need to talk about Black futures. Casting a month-long spotlight on ethnic minority communities is only effective if the issues and awareness raised remain in people’s consciousness long after the month is over – until we have greater diversity across all levels of society, until anti-racism is an essential agenda item for all organisations, and until all leaders are willing and committed to be agents for change.  

“Justice [or equity] will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are” - Benjamin Franklin