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Towards an anti-racist culture at BYM

Paul Parker explains how staff and trustees at Britain Yearly Meeting are working together to build an anti-racist workplace culture.

Britain Yearly Meeting staff during Quaker silent worship. Photo: BYM
Britain Yearly Meeting staff during Quaker silent worship. Photo: BYM

Over the last three weeks, two former members of staff have published Twitter threads describing some of their experiences while working at BYM.

The first thread was part of #NotJustNCVO, talking about experiences of bullying and racism in the charity sector. The second thread covers the writer's perception of good and less-good aspects of working for BYM.

The Friend (26 February) ran a short news article based on the first Twitter thread, and also included comments from me.

We published a short statement at the same time.

We know many Quakers are concerned about what they have read. A letter about it was published by The Friend on 5 March, and some Quakers have asked staff for more information.

The first Twitter thread referred to three grievance procedures. We cannot discuss the details of any of these procedures, or the names of those who were involved. We are aware that they were difficult and painful for everyone involved. Public discussion of the details can be distressing, and we're committed to protecting people from further harm.

However, we can say that, because we know relationships between staff can be difficult in any organisation, we have robust HR policies and procedures in place, and these were followed properly. The investigations were all carried out professionally and by external investigators; there were no formal challenges or appeals to the findings and all concerned parties agreed to work to implement the recommendations. There were no findings which required disciplinary action against current or former staff.

Thinking about our organisation as a whole, we know people can and do experience racism in BYM. We know this from staff surveys, and feedback from individuals and the BAME staff network.

People can experience this in different ways. We're saddened that staff experience micro-aggressions and feel discriminated against; and that some work in a culture where they don't feel they belong. Trustees and senior staff are clear: we can't allow racism to be part of our culture. It's extremely important that every member of staff feels fully welcome and involved, valued and respected.

We have been working for some time to create an anti-racist culture at BYM. In 2019 all staff took part in an inclusive workplace training and development programme; work has continued in teams and departments. We have been monitoring employment decisions in this time of Covid to ensure they don't impact disproportionately on BAME staff.

Although we're already doing a lot, the different strands need to be co-ordinated, so we're working on a plan which we'll publish later in the year. This will include reviewing our policies and procedures, to make sure they remain fit for purpose.

There's much more to do: we're all on a journey, it's not always easy, and there's a lot to learn.

While it's disappointing to realise we need to address racism in BYM, it's not surprising: we live in a deeply racist society, and Quaker communities and institutions aren't immune. What we can do is recognise that racism is a burning historic and present-day injustice. Tackling it is an imperative. We may stumble along the way, but it's what we've got to do.