Council chiefs have been urged to remove a glass ceiling holding back black and Asian social care workers from promotion after it emerged just 2.5% of social services directors are from ethnic minorities.
Just four of the 152 directors of adult social services in England are believed to be from ethnic minority backgrounds, compared to 17% of registered social workers, according to Association of Directors of Social Services statistics. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said it kept no data on the issue.
People from ethnic minorities make up 12% of the population in England, according to the Office of National Statistics, showing how frontline social work is over-represented by people from non-white backgrounds.
But the Race Equality Foundation, which works to promote racial equality in health and social care, said the under-representation at senior management level dated back to the 1970s.
Despite efforts over the last 10-15 years, many councils have lost the impetus to promote equality through senior appointments, according to Jabeer Butt, deputy chief executive of the foundation.
“Councillors and directors need to change their mindsets when hiring people to senior positions,” he added.
A national programme supporting ethnic minority staff in social care to gain promotions, Get Ahead, delivered by the Improvement and Development Agency, closed in 2010 after four years when funding ran out.
Former social care director Roy Taylor, who is leading Adass’s response to the issue, admitted local authorities were in danger of appearing out of touch with service users from different cultures. He is planning an event later this year to discuss solutions, bringing together recruitment agencies and managers.
“If you have a senior management team which is overwhelmingly white, BME service users will not feel full of confidence that their needs will be met,” he said.
Butt added that a lack of leadership in promoting diversity in social care was resulting in a poor standard of care for some people from ethnic minorities. “You get pockets of good practice but this is dependent on individuals and teams, rather than across the local authority – but this picture was identified as far back as 1977.”
Barriers for progression include diversity falling off the agenda in the current round of public spending cuts, and a lack of “champions” raising awareness of the issue, according to Taylor.
Butt added that BME managers were being excluded from networks of senior councillors and executives responsible for appointments.
To read about Neelam Bhardwaja’s career journey to become director of social services at Cardiff Council visit the Social Work Blog
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