This is the second in a series of episodes which we will be releasing in 2022 which will look at anti-racism in the speech and language therapy profession.
In this episode leaders of the network group 'SLTs of Colour' (Angela Whiteley, Heeral Davda and Dorett Davis) chat with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists' chair, Mary Heritage, and consultant Kiki Maurey OBE MBA. In 2020 RCSLT commissioned Kiki to undertake an independent review of how it might move towards a more diverse board. In this episode we look at what Kiki's findings and recommendations and what RCSLT is doing and has done in response. There is a link to the report and actions in the Useful links below.
About SLTs of Colour:
SLTs of Colour is an inclusive network supporting Speech & Language Therapists in the UK, posting SLT profiles on Instagram. Find SLTs of Colour on Twitter and Instagram:
Useful links from RCSLT:
The interview was produced by Jacques Strauss, freelance digital producer.
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JACQUES: Welcome to the RCSLT podcast. My name is Jacques Strauss. This episode is the second in the series about racism in the NHS and the profession at RCSLT and what RCSLT is doing to tackle it. It is hosted by Heeral Davda and Dorett Davis of SLTs of Colour, who are talking to Mary Heritage, chair of RCSLT, and Kiki Maurey who was commissioned to produce a report about the issue of race within the college. In the show notes, you can find a link to updates on RCSLT’S EDI work, and for members-only, a link to Kiki Maurey’s report, which is discussed in this podcast.
HOST 1: Our first podcast reflected on the drivers for the inception of our platform, SLTs of Colour, and RCLST’s anti-racism work. May 2020 was a seminal moment; there was the murder of George Floyd that brought the Black Lives Matter movement to global attention. It was also COVID-19 that was highlighting health inequalities, as we saw so many black, Asian and ethnic minority people being disproportionately affected from COVID and dying. We found ourselves very much in a space where norms were being questioned and massive biases challenged.
Black, Asian and ethnic minority speech and language therapists and speech and language therapy students and our allies were calling out about the lack of diversity in the profession. Therapists of colour and students of colour were sharing their lived experiences of the challenges of getting onto courses, navigating our way through the course and in placements and in the place of work. RCSLT, although slow to respond to members’ requests about what was happening in America and the UK, did eventually respond and started to listen to the lived experiences of members of colour.
In response, there were a number of initiatives that we saw emerge over 2020 and to date. There was a development of an anti-racism reference group. There were materials linked to CPD around anti-racist practice, and also a conference and a workshop around making the profession more diverse and challenging racism. For the first time ever, RCSLT is embarking on a five-year strategic direction where equality, diversity and inclusion is threaded through. This work has been very much influenced by a report that has been commissioned by RCSLT. So, Mary, what were your reflections on podcast one?
MARY: My first reflection is how courageous yourself and Heeral and Angela were in sharing such sensitive and painful stories from going back through your careers. What I heard very powerfully from the three of you and your lived experiences is that in order to enter the profession, in order to study, in order to practice and progress your careers, you have faced barriers to progression created by racism and daily microaggressions. From that, in my reflection, I need to acknowledge that not only is racism built into our society and our systems, but that includes speech language therapy, our profession.
HOST 1: And Kiki, have you had a chance to listen to the podcast?
KIKI: I did listen to it and was quite moved. It was a very poignant reminder in a way that there’s still so much to do in terms of equality, diversity and inclusion. It did remind me of the black civil rights movement of the early 60s right the way through to the anti-apartheid movement and having all those conversations and frankly battles and protests.
The murder of George Floyd and what emerged from the summer of the Black Lives Matter movement really galvanised me and reminded me that there is still an awful lot of work to be done. RCSLT is no different from most of the institutions in this country where there is still significant inequality, poor access to opportunities. The whole gamut applies as much to the college as it does to many other organisations, so it was a reminder, really. That first podcast was good, so everybody please do listen to it.
HOST 1: Mary, can you tell us a bit more about what RCSLT is doing to become an anti-racist organisation?
MARY: Our first step was commissioned, Kiki, to undertake a report and some recommendations to us. We wanted to have [an external 0:04:55] person to give us a really fresh look, some robust feedback on where was RCSLT needing to put our efforts to address these issues? We didn’t feel we could do that from within, so we commissioned Kiki to talk to a small number of members, I think it was 19, Kiki, wasn’t it, about their experiences and their perceptions of leadership within RCSLT board and committees. Kiki’s report was [recording scrambled 0:05:24] towards a more diverse board. Kiki, do you want to say some more about your initial impressions at that point?
KIKI: I looked at the initial brief and I have to say to listeners, I was one of a number of people approached, but I was the consultant that was finally chosen to do the piece of work. I was very clear that the original brief didn’t really cut it and that we needed to look very, very closely at barriers to engagement – what’s stopping involvement in terms of membership? What are the barriers in terms of developing a more diverse board? Also, what are the cultural changes and the practical changes that the organisation needs to make to move towards being a more inclusive organisation?
I took a much more strategic as well as action... what they call action research perspective, in wanting to give voice to people who had something to say about their experiences. It was fascinating, and it was a piece of work that I’d done many research reports like this in the past, but not for many years, but this did grab me and that’s why I put my pitch forward.
MARY: One of the reasons that we chose Kiki, in fact, she would give us what we needed, was her robust and candid approach, calling it out as it is, and she doesn’t pull any punches in her reports. That’s been really helpful to us to really identify the actions that we needed to start to take. The board discussed Kiki’s report back in March and July, had a workshop and agreed some immediate actions and some longer term actions. As we approach the birthday of receiving that report and discussing it, I’m proud of some of the actions that we’ve started to take, but I’m also very conscious of some of those actions that still need a lot of work.
HOST 1: We’re really interested to find out why it’s taken so long for the report to be shared wider with members.
MARY: I think that’s a very valid challenge, Dorett. The report was initially for myself and Kamini Gadhok and the board to take a long, hard look at ourselves and the RCSLT, and we were galvanised into action quite quickly. Maybe that was a strength, maybe that was a weakness to not take a little bit more time to share and discuss it, but we moved into action. There were some actions we took immediately, like scrapping the skills matrix, which was part of the old process for selecting board members. That happened overnight. We adopted the suggested values and behaviours that Kiki put in her report as our values for board meetings, and by which we would appoint and appraise board members.
We started work on a new selection process that would replace the old all-member elections, and that was passed at the AGM in October. Why has it taken so long for Kiki’s report to be shared? Because I think we focused on action rather than engaging all members in it. Rightly or wrongly, that’s where we are now, and I acknowledge that it’d be really helpful to be sharing that now, sharing that report, as a point in history where we were in late-2020, and sitting alongside that the actions and the plans that are in place now.
HOST 1: Before we hear a bit more about that, I’m really interested, and I’m sure our listeners will be, about what your response was when you first read that report.
MARY: Sometimes you look in the mirror and you like what you see and other times you look in the mirror and say, is that really true? There was a point of reflection, is that us? Is that really our beloved profession that we’re so proud of? Is that really RCSLT and our board and how we work? Because when you sit in the midst of something, and I’ve been on the board as a trustee, as deputy and as chair totalling many years, it’s hard to hear that. You’re proud of what you do, you’re proud of what you are. But looking at it, there was nothing in that report that we could say that’s untrue. We couldn’t say it was untrue because we had reported what Kiki heard and our peers had as well. There was a point of thinking this is very hard to hear, but we acknowledge it’s true.
HOST 1: I must say, when I was reading it, I was reminded of a quote from Ida B. Wells, who’s an American investigative journalist, and an early lead in the civil rights movement. The quote says: the way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them. Kiki, you also made reference to a point about light in your report around the hill we climb.
KIKI: Wasn’t that amazing? I think it was at Biden’s inauguration and hearing that young poet laureate, Amanda Gorman. It’s just literature like that that comes out of the fight for civil rights that is so inspiring to us all that, in a sense, light casts a disinfecting view over everything and allows everything to shine through. In defence of Mary and the board, I was pushing them to take action now. There’s stuff that you can do right now, no more chat, no more discussion. For those of you who have read my report, you know I’m fairly action-orientated because frankly I’ve written a hill of reports like this that never see the light of day.
I was only willing to take on this, and I think Mary was certainly aware of this, if they took action as a result. Even though my recommendations were recommended, they were suggested actions, I didn’t want to press too hard, but that they could take action right now if I provided the rationale for why they should do it. I think literature and black poets writing to us down through the ages of their experience is a really powerful reminder and impetus for taking action.
HOST 1: I agree. It could have been so easy for your report, Kiki, to have been caught up in various committees to go through to be analysed. We have to say it was, in many ways, a good call to do some of those quick wins and take actions. As members, we start to see some of those benefits, even if we don’t quite know how we’ve arrived at that because what we want is meaningful change.
Mary, as you’re saying, it is very much about leaning into the discomfort, which is a quote that Brene Brown talks about, that it’s important about making oneself vulnerable. Through that process, one rises up strong. I can appreciate just how difficult the reading might well have made for yourself and fellow board members. As somebody who has read it, it is in some ways difficult reading to see it.
HOST 2: I wonder if that’s a good opportunity, then, to start thinking more about some of the key themes that come out from the report because as a member of College reading it, some of it rang true to the gist of what I was experiencing anyway, my feeling. Some of the things that really struck me were around the lack of values-based leadership that working in a big organisation one might expect, and in particular how you can influence culture if it’s not linked back to values and behaviour.
The other thing that really struck me was around the recruitment process, and how that made it very difficult for people, in particular people of colour, to access College and opportunities at the College. What I was seeing is that not only within the wider world are we seeing injustices and inequalities, but it’s almost on a... in my small world, I was then seeing it replicated within college. I felt that really struck me when I was reading through the report and something that I wanted to highlight.
The points around the process for appointment around elitism and nepotism and how recommendations are made to the board were all things that made me, in some way, have a mistrust for College, and I saw a lot of that being echoed through the report. I think as a member that’s important to highlight. I want to be engaged with College. I want College to reflect me and ultimately, the goal there is about a better quality of service for the families that I work with, the children I work with, and across the UK about how other therapists are engaging with diverse communities, and it’s about creating a better profession. That’s one of the reasons why I really wanted to highlight that.
I just wondered what your feeling was, Dorett, when you read the report and if you saw similar themes, or if there are other things that struck you because obviously, we’ve got different experiences that we’re bringing to the profession?
HOST 1: I would echo; I saw very similar themes and having been in the profession for over 30 years, it’s not a surprise to me. When there were opportunities to become board members, I would look and think it was a voting system and think, well, I’m a person of colour. I know three other black speech and language therapists, so they might vote for me, but who else would?
Therefore, the report for me shows that there were systems or structures or procedures that were in place that really disadvantaged anybody from a minority group. We’re talking from race, but that’s people with disabilities, LGBTQ groups, all the protective characteristics were effectively excluded.
For me, there is that element of systemic racism that’s sitting there, was what came through for me and I wondered, Kiki, as somebody who had the conversations with various people, what your thoughts were.
KIKI: You can see my thoughts in the report. The report’s fairly lengthy, it’s fairly sophisticated in its writing, because I wanted to take this more strategic view, which was what makes organisations change? What I found with the RCSLT was a College that I would recognise from the 1980s or 1970s, the 1980s, 1990s, but it wasn’t a College I would recognise as being fit for purpose for the 21st Century. Does that make sense?
A lot of direct and indirect racism or systemic racism comes from not only as Heeral talked about, which is all about the organisational culture – who fits, who doesn’t, who’s in, who’s out, who are our pals, who do we have the important discussions with? – it’s also about its governance structures. It’s all about the structures and the procedures that feed in, that support a particular culture. That’s why I took a much bigger strategic view of this issue rather than just looking at, what are other boards like ours doing around diversity? Provide us a bit of feedback on that. Can you ever look at the board skills matrix and give us some feedback? It took me about five minutes to decide after speaking to all the respondents about the skills matrix that that needed to be dumped straight away, just get rid of it because it is so excluding.
I tried to take that holistic view of not only is it about leadership culture, the values around the organisation, the social purpose of the organisation, which one various important respondent talked about, is about social purpose for the organisation – what is that bigger social purpose, what is the role within the world of the College? – but also looking at a whole range of governance procedures, as well as the culture of leadership and appointment processes to the board. I took a bigger holistic view not only because I’ve done a lot of research like this in the past, but I’ve also been in many organisations, a non-executive director and chairman of the board. I understand how these structures work to either exclude or include, depending on who is considered the right person for the role.
HOST 2: Mary, could I bring you in at this point? You’ve talked a little bit about the report, why it was needed, but what were the key themes that you were picking up on and felt these are the immediate actions that need to be taken as a result.
MARY: There was a big message about the barriers for members attaining positions and engaging, in terms of governance at committee and board level. That was the big one, that we need to take away those barriers. There was something about the way that RCSLT board is viewed by members and how distant and hidden we are, and that obviously creates some suspicion. Something about the way we communicate or don’t communicate, perhaps the stuffiness of that, doesn’t represent the way speech and language therapist members of RCSLT talk to one another, so those were some of the highlights. I think the detailed work really addresses those mainly.
HOST 2: One of the things I’m really pleased that Kiki has done is this detailed piece of work. Is there now an awareness within the board of being able to recognise where systems are not working so that we can be reassured as a membership, and myself as a member, that moving forward that these things will be seen and that we can start to change some of these systemic things?
MARY: During my term of office starting in December 2020, issues around equality, diversity and inclusion in RCSLT have dominated all of our meetings. During that period of time, we decided to move away from our previous three-year strategic planning cycle, partly because the pandemic had shown us you can’t plan for three years ahead. Instead, we’ve agreed at high level, five-year strategic vision and equality, diversity and inclusion, with a specific reference to anti-racism embedded in that not just as a separate issue, but all the way through every other work stream.
The responsibility of the new board that comes in in October, under Sean Pert’s leadership, the new CEO, who will hopefully be appointed to pick up the baton from Kamini next spring, and boards after that until 2027, are mandated to prioritise equality, diversity and inclusion.
HOST 2: How do we ensure that, much like Dorett was referring to in episode one, that things do change, and how do we embed it so that it’s not relying on a group of people, that it’s not just one person, and it’s not about an individual, but it’s about making sure that there is that shift for long-term change, as opposed to just five years when there’s a group of people who are aligned?
MARY: Now we have a set of values and behaviours for RCSLT board members and committee members. We’re all recruited, appraised and hold each other accountable to upholding and behaving in alignment with those values. We’re required to and will be accountable for that work. We share that, not just every board member and committee member and future board members and committee members but also every member of senior management team. The new CEO, and every member of staff at RCSLT has this threaded all the way through expectations about their job role and job performance.
When we have a more diverse board, which I’m confident we’re going to have by the end of the year, this sits on the shoulders of every single trustee and the chair and the deputy chair. This isn’t the responsibility of people who are put into place as tokens of diversity.
HOST 1: Mary is absolutely right, so hopefully taking a culture change approach, managing the change process, then making it stick so that it’s sustainable, is at a high level within the SLT and the board and is owned and led by the chair, not just a DNI workgroup somewhere or somebody on the board that has a DNI hat on; it’s everybody’s responsibility. But I have to say, as a loud and proud black woman all my life, very old now but still battling, it’s for the membership as well to be equally engaged and to be pushing forward, and I want to see members going forward to sit on the board, to support the board, so it’s for that as well.
The other thing that I was really taken with that was missing within the RCSLT, and I now work almost purely in the private sector and with corporates, is what was so old school was the lack of diversity in all the communication and College touchpoints that faces of colour were nowhere to be seen. That was such an obvious thing to get to grips with and thinking of a more nuanced way of communicating, being open, being accessible, engaging the voices of people of colour or people of difference. Having a communication strategy behind this is really important too, and you’ve only got to sit in front of the TV at night, my dears, to see the difference in approach in advertising and marketing now in the private sector.
When I was living in Brixton and Clapham, 30, 40 years ago, if there was somebody of colour on an advert, everybody would jump up in the room and pump the air and say, yeah, and you’d have to come in and look at that particular advert because we were so rare. It’s overcoming all that kind of stuff as well, so communications, member engagement and involvement and member action. It’s about the Board of Trustees, it’s about the SLT and everybody taking ownership for taking this agenda forward.
HOST 2: Absolutely. I have to say, it has been a shock to see so much comms with people of colour. We welcome it, I welcome it but given that there was nothing for so long, it hasn’t gone unnoticed to see the change. Knowing that it’s coming from this in depth report, that there’s an action plan, that there’s been actions going on, makes it feel less performative and that it is going to be part of something that is ongoing. I think that’s really important because seeing it come from nowhere made me feel like, what’s going on here? Why am I seeing so many people of colour in the bulletin? And so looking back and trying to feel some of where this has come from is very, very helpful.
KIKI: I just wanted to say it loud and proud for Mary because she chose a gobby person like me to do the report, her and Sean. She needn’t have, and she could have appointed somebody who stuck to the brief, to the letter, and skated over this issue. It’s a huge legacy left by her, and a huge baton for Sean to pick up that they actually chose me who would tell it like it is because I’m too old to waste any more time flimflamming.
HOST 1: I was going to agree and say, seeing... as I said, having been qualified for so many years and not seeing a brown face, or very rarely, in the bulletin, to see so many, and also people beginning to think about their clinical practice and how diverse they need to make their resources, the materials and exploring their communities, it’s been a powerful driver to remind people we need to recognise that not all of our members are in urban areas. They will be across the country where you may only have small pockets of black and brown people in the community.
I was going to come to you, Mary, because it couldn’t have been very easy for you to be beating the drum in a culture, to paraphrase Kiki, that was stuck in the past compared to some other organisations, so what have been some of your challenges? You’ve had your office at rocky points of the world; we had COVID, and we had the Black Lives Matter. What has been your journey so far, and how did you navigate getting some of these recommendations past the board into practice?
MARY: My first conversations with Kiki came very soon after I came into office, or just before, and it became very clear that this was my gift, to make a change, to lead transformative work and to leave a legacy in less than two years. All of us are on... we say it so often, don’t we, all on a journey. That’s me, that’s Sean, that’s Kamini, that’s all of you, and that’s also every single trustee. My job as leader has to be guiding each one of them as they undertake their own insights into the size and scale of the problem that we might have preferred to have looked away from, and the enormity of the opportunity, and the burden of responsibility that sits on those who are in positions of leadership and governance in an organisation as awesome as RCSLT.
It’s been a journey of guiding each person through. Challenging sometimes and lots of support and signposting people to development opportunities, and sometimes just exposing people to conversations with individuals, or encouraging people to listen to the first podcast so that none of us could deny there’s a huge problem. But equally, Kiki’s report gave us the tools to get moving and get changing and do something about it long last.
HOST 1: Perhaps is a good time now to think about what’s happened since Kiki’s report.
MARY: Firstly, we have overhauled the process by which new trustees and committee members come into post, taken away the old member elections and we now have a new selection process. We’ve got a mission and vision and set of values and behaviours, as we’ve referred to, that the board are appointed, appraised and held to account for in every meeting. Our vacancy adverts for board and committee places now include statements that encourage applications from under-represented groups. We’ve been able to support five members from those under-represented groups to complete the Allied Health Professions Federation Future Leaders Programme and another four have started. Each of those people are encouraged to attend a board meeting and to observe. I brief them before the meeting, and I sit back and listen to their feedback at the end of the day.
We scrapped the dreaded skills matrix because it was felt by all of us not to add any value and put all of us off in many cases, applying. Now the application process that’s in place is based on the values and behaviours, and new applicants have to apply via a 400-word written statement or by a video or audio recording, if they prefer. So we’re removing some of those barriers that Kiki made us aware of. The website is being revised so that it’s more transparent, especially around governance and what board members, what trustees and what committees do, who we are and what we do and how we can make them more accessible and friendly and more inviting to people who might consider joining us.
Following the agreement by the board to overhaul the governance recruitment processes, so this month we’re beginning with an ambitious programme of recruitment, there will be more than 20 vacancies on our board and its supporting committees. Taking on board everything we’ve learned in the last 12 months from our members, from Kiki’s report, we’ve got a real opportunity to create a much more inclusive and certainly more diverse set of board and committees.
KIKI: Having met you and done the report and seen how you’ve grown into it as chair during that time, I wondered whether you’d learnt anything particular about this whole experience and how it has not only impacted you, but what you’ll take forward into your professional life about equality and diversity and inclusion.
MARY: I’d have said at every point in my career that inclusion is really important in its value. I think what I’m learning is, there’s always blind spots. You dig deeper, you dig deeper. I can read books, I can watch webinars and podcasts and look at stats, but it’s a conversation with individual colleagues and peers and members of RCSLT that really bring it home. We talk about lived experience, but it is in conversation that 90% of my learning has come from, and I hope to continue that because I’m only just starting.
HOST 1: That’s really inspiring to hear Mary, and for the members who are listening, in particular our white members, there’s a lot that they can take away from what you’ve just described there about the reading. There’s lots of TED talks, not just relying on people of colour to be the ones to educate; they have to own it and educate themselves. My best hopes are that people will look to the World College and draw that down into their work within their organisations. Many of us who work in the NHS can hook into wider EDI work, that’s their networks, because it’s all about our clients, be they adults, be they children, and also our colleagues. It’s inspiring to hear you talk about how you’ve navigated your way through this and in doing this, also you’ve taken others along with you.
MARY: I’d echo that, Dorett, in terms of majority SLTs, who are white and very likely to have privilege attached to that, understanding more about how we can be effective allies, particularly those of us in leadership positions. There is a responsibility, not just an opportunity. I’ve benefited a lot from the anti-racism resources and training events at RCSLT. They are not threatening. They gave me confidence that there was something I could do. There’s also something about celebration; it’s not just about beating ourselves up. There’s plenty of opportunity for that.
It’s about celebrating the diverse profession we are. We can go a lot further, but there’s so much that we can offer to one another and to our service users. It’s about making sure that what we’ve learnt from this process that we’ve described today informs our plans for the future, whether those are RCSLT plans, or our local plans led by leaders and members everywhere.
HOST 2: My hopes are that moving forward we can remain action-focused, and that we don’t take our foot off the gas in a way and the work continues. Obviously, that happens at the board level but from my point of view as a member looking in, I want to know how far we’ve come along on the action plan and how I’m able to monitor the progress. Is there progress, or things are just staying the same even though there is an action plan? How can I as a member be keeping a check on how things are going and how plans are progressing?
MARY: Keep your eyes like hawks on RCSLT’s communications, whether that’s the weekly E-newsletter, whether that’s the bulletin. The trustees annual report is coming out later on in the summer, I think. That’s your opportunity to really scrutinise and say, is the board that represents me and all other members moving this forward? Are we satisfied with the progress being made, and can I see that happening? Is that just words, or can I see evidence of that?
Come along to the Annual General Meeting, which will be at the beginning of October. That’s going to be online, probably from now on because that makes it much more accessible to all members. There’s an opportunity for every single member to come and hear us present what we’ve done and to ask questions and to pose challenges if you feel that there’s not enough being done, or we’ve slowed down on that.
Those mechanisms of communications and the AGM have always been there. That’s the way that the board is held to account by members. But perhaps there’s an opportunity to be more active in terms of your membership and your engagement in RCLST, to make sure that that foot isn’t taken off the gas.
KIKI: I was just thinking in a way what you’re asking – what’s the real litmus test here that we know this change is sticking? It is a fairly medium to longer term strategy because it’s not only dealing with the College itself and its membership, but it’s that social purpose over a period of time – how powerful and influential is the College over education resources and education providers to also provide the right careers guidance and the right educational materials that are able then to attract, retain and bring minority ethnic people, people of colour, people of difference, into the profession? Now, that’s the longer term litmus test. Is that beginning to happen?
I’m always interested in bigger strategies as well as turning the various taps on within an organisation, on and off. For me, when I was working on this, I thought that that’s the real vision, that there won’t just be these tiny pockets of educational excellence, maybe in London or somewhere else, but it’s right across the board that people of colour feel that they can access the profession through phenomenal education entry points. I know that that’s down the line from the College, but the College should be an absolute, unequivocal providing leadership for that kind of development.
HOST 1: I’d agree with that, Kiki. This whole discussion about race and how we make services anti-racist, it’s broad, isn’t it? There’s the element that RCSLT has as a profession but, as you say, how it also links with our education settings and beyond. It’s really pleasing that we are having these conversations. Seventy-one years of existence, and it’s probably only been in the last three years that we are using what I call the R-word, the race word, and having these conversations and the spin off for the other protected characteristic groups as well.
Our time has drawn to an end now, and it’s been really lovely to meet you again, Kiki, and to have your insights and also yourself, Mary. As we often say in SLTs of Colour land, it’s really important to not just talk about it, but to be about it.
Take care everybody, see you again soon.
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