Selvin Brown: UK must adopt 360-degree inclusion

Speakers at the WIG Diversity & Inclusion Conference 2018 spoke of the need to remove barriers for ethnic minorities

The UK and the organisations within it must adopt “360-degree inclusion”, according to Selvin Brown, director of engagement and policy at the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Speaking at the Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG) Diversity & Inclusion Conference 2018, attended exclusively by HR magazine as media partner, Brown said “360-degree inclusion means taking the prime minister up on the challenge of diversity and inclusion” and “closing the gap” among diverse groups in the workplace, in light of the recent “horrendous figures on racial inequality”.

Despite the introduction of fair admission to the civil service in 1854, Brown admitted that “no-one in the civil service would say there isn’t bias in the system”.

Brown drew on his own experiences as someone of dual heritage, as the son of an Irish mother and a Jamaican father who is second generation Windrush. He told how he “started working in the belly of the cabinet office” and has gone on to have “a lot of high-profile roles”.

“Some will say my progress is luck or tokenism, but they’d be wrong,” he said. He has focused on three things to help him succeed, he reported, including “making sure I know the subject”, “keeping my options open” and “trying to be myself irrespective of who I’m dealing with”.

He conceded, however, that he has witnessed “unconscious bias”, giving the example of not feeling comfortable having an afro when he first joined the civil service. “Unconscious bias of the brain identifies three things: colour, gender and hair,” he said.

“Diversity is for me making sure the best candidates get the best job, inclusion is about being yourself,” Brown said, adding that “diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being able to dance”.

Brown asked the audience to do three things: suspend their current set of beliefs, think about who they can and are helping, and “say 'yes' to changing your own behaviour and other people’s behaviours”.

“What can you do to make a big difference to someone in your organisation?” he asked the audience, calling on HR to “ask themselves who is your different talent?” and to sponsor or mentor others.

Also speaking at the conference was Bernadette Thompson, business partner – civil service fast stream transformation and co-chair of Race to the Top Network. She agreed that there is more work to do around ethnic diversity in the workplace.

“We’ve been talking about race for a long time – it’s time to act,” she said. Thompson pointed to the “old boys’ clubs and hidden networks” as barriers to diversity. “This hidden culture stops people progressing as they don't know jobs are there to go for,” she explained.

The civil service launched the Race to the Top Network in 2016 to try to overcome these barriers. The network matches senior government personnel with those just below senior civil service roles so they can network and shadow more senior roles.

“We want to make a difference; not just be a talking shop,” Thompson said.

However, it’s also important to look after the people running these initiatives, she added. “We also need to recharge the network chairs. The people caring for others need to also be looked after as they’re talented people and it's a hard job,” she said.