White children’s leaders ‘must play bigger role’ in tackling racial inequalities in management

Staff College head makes call after ADCS release data showing just 6% of directors of children's services are from black, Asian or ethnic minority groups

A white and a Black woman talking in the workplace
Photo: olly/Adobe Stock

White children’s services leaders must take greater responsibility for tackling racial inequalities in management posts, the head of the sector’s leadership development organisation has said.

Jo Davidson, principal of the Staff College, made the comments after the Association of Directors of Children’s Services released data showing that 6% of directors were from black or ethnic minority groups in 2021, based on figures from two-thirds of authorities.

This compares with 14% of the population in England and Wales (as of the 2011 census) and 23% of statutory children’s social workers, according to Department for Education data.

Since 2012, the Staff College has run a three-day leadership programme for Black and ethnic minority staff, the Black and Asian Leadership Initiative, which has so far supported 250 children’s services managers to prepare for more senior roles.

Davidson said that while she was pleased that “quite a number” of this group had progressed into more senior roles, quite a few had moved outside of children’s services or local government to do so, for example, by becoming voluntary sector chief executives.

‘White leaders must play bigger role’

“We’ve seen some progress in the middle leader levels but what remains frustratingly low is the proportion of black and Asian leaders who make it to DCS or chief executive level,” Davidson said.

She added “We’ve had a look at that and we are now expanding what we are doing, not just in relation to building the confidence and skills of black and Asian leaders, but also looking at issues relating to white leaders who support and develop their teams and who also make recruiting decisions in the early stages of careers.

“What we’ve been really clear about is that, in common with a lot of other organisations, we’ve fallen by default into saying that this is an issue for black and Asian leaders to deal with but that’s far from the case. Progression of people into middle and senior leadership positions is something for everyone to focus on….We’ve found there are barriers in the way of black and Asian leaders and barriers in the way white leaders think about diversity.”

She said the college would be publishing a report shortly into what white leaders could do to develop more diverse senior management teams.

“To create diverse teams, the white leaders play a fundamental role so the first thing is confronting that truth – it’s not someone else’s responsibility, it’s all white leaders’ responsibility to look at their own perspectives on people’s skills,” she said. “We know that black and Asian staff feature more prominently in failing probation periods, disciplinaries and grievances, so we are asking white leaders to look at all that data.”

Davidson said the college was also looking to widen representation on its other programmes, notably its aspirant directors’ scheme, to which it is currently recruiting for a second time. Fifty managers with the potential to become a DCS within the next three years are due to start the programme in September.

This is a widening of the entry criteria from the first round of the programme, which was for those with the potential to rise to DCS within 18 months. In that round, while about 20% of applicants were from black or ethnic minority groups, this fell to just 10% of those accepted to the programme.

Davidson said this drop-off was due to the fact that it had been looking for people “on the brink of becoming directors”, for example, those in head of service or assistant director roles, which black and ethnic minority managers also faced barriers in attaining.

The DCS’s annual data showed that, of 12 permanent director appointments made in 2020-21, nine were promotions from assistant director or equivalent level within the same authority, and three came from this second tier of management from different authorities.

“What we are trying to do is fast-track people through these leadership roles,” Davidson added. “For the next cohort we will be looking at people who will be ready to be a director within the next three years, which will make it more of a level-playing field.”

Need for ‘honest conversations’

“Black and Asian leaders are reporting that they don’t see development opportunities as white staff do, there are issues around how people access development opportunities and how organisations, and white leaders within them, ensure there’s a real fairness and equity about how people are identified for development opportunities,” Davidson said.

“These are tough things for people to confront and people need to have honest conversations with themselves and others – and that will involve, in some organisations, confronting some unpalatable truths.

“One of the things we hear is that white leaders find it more difficult to have performance conversations with black leaders because they are worried about saying the wrong thing. But black leaders say, ‘I really need those honest conversations’, but people get stuck about how to have those conversations. So there is some really fundamental work that needs to happen.”

‘Better pathways into leadership needed’

In response to its data, ADCS president Charlotte Ramsden said: “There are unfortunately not enough black and minority ethnic directors across the country. The DCS role is one of the best in local government and although ethnicity, gender or disability is irrelevant to a person’s capability to do the job, it is important that our workforce reflect our local communities.”

The association referred to the work of the Staff College and the workforce race equality standard, which is being overseen by the chief social workers and has been adopted in 18 local authorities, as key to tackling the issue.

A British Association of Social Workers spokesperson said: “BASW recognises the importance of diversity data and we welcome ADCS’ conclusion that there are not enough black and minority ethnic directors across the country. The disparity in makeup between leadership and workforce is clear and has been for some time, which is why the entire social work sector needs to create better pathways for black and ethnic minority social workers to step up into leadership positions.”

The spokesperson pointed to BASW’s establishment of an equality, diversity and inclusion group, “to head our strategy in raising awareness, creating opportunities for social workers and promoting an anti-racist agenda”.

DCS turnover down

The ADCS data showed that 91 directors were women and 59 men in 2021, a similar figure to last year. However, the proportion of women at senior level (two-thirds) is far lower than the proportion of female social workers (86%).

The data also revealed that turnover among directors fell to its lowest level since 2011-12, with 39 changes in role in 2020-21, down from 57 changes in 2019-20 and below the average of 47 moves per year since 2007-8.

These changes happened across 34 authorities, meaning 77% councils did not undergo a change during 2020-21. The increased stability is reflected in the fact that the average tenure of a DCS in post is now 32 months, up from 29 months last year.

The number of DCSs also responsible for adults’ services fell to 26, down from 31 last year and the lowest level since 2010. Government statutory guidance on the DCS role warns councils to give serious consideration before giving DCSs additional responsibilities, given the demands of the role.

Ramsden said it was “up to councils to decide how they design local systems for the benefit of communities”, but added: “As local needs change as will roles, however, there must be a clear and ultimate line of accountability for children’s outcomes in a local area.”

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16 Responses to White children’s leaders ‘must play bigger role’ in tackling racial inequalities in management

  1. Wayne Reid May 7, 2021 at 3:59 pm #

    Excellent article, Jo Davidson and colleague at the Staff College.

    I’d be keen to have a conversation with you about the points you raise in this article and exploring potential solutions – so please do contact me if this is of interest.

  2. Pondaza Murray May 8, 2021 at 2:26 pm #

    Why do White leaders always look at the confidence and skills of Black and Asian staff as if there isn’t enough confident and skilled individuals from these groups. The approach is always deficit model. It’s so condescending to always think training and support is a prerequisite to promotion when they are capable of taking on senior roles. There are so many Black and Asian staff with under graduate, postgraduate degrees and relevant experience sidelined when it comes to promotions. Its the very reason why they leave. I hate it when organisations feel the need to have specific mentoring and training programs for Black and Asian staff when they dont do the same for white majority staff. These roles are usually granted because of white networks which automatically excludes Black and Asian staff. White folks really need to examine their actions, responsibility and contributions to exclusions of Black and Asian people in Senior roles and change what they are currently doing if we need equality and diversity in the work place.

  3. Eboni May 8, 2021 at 8:11 pm #

    White leaders don’t want to lose their inherited white privilege. That includes statutory white employed council government institutions.

  4. Margaret Brown May 8, 2021 at 11:55 pm #

    The gender inequality in Children’s services is massive given how many women work in Children’s Services and versus how many men reach the most senior jobs! No one seems to want to talk about that!

    • Andy May 17, 2021 at 6:28 pm #

      I suspect that’s because women have been pushed down the growing hierarchy of disadvantaged cohorts.

  5. Shola Hampton May 10, 2021 at 9:04 am #

    Same old prejudices disguised as enabling opportunity. I am surprised that Wayne Reid regards careerism as a strategy to tackle racism. I have an MBA from Univesity of Oxford paid for from my own meager finances. I do not need my ‘confidence’ boosted, nor to be shown how to be a capable leader by virtue signaling White Managers. I have my own pearls of wisdom, I do not need to be formed. Sounds like another period of history when we were told colonialism was for civilising us. If you want more managers who don’t look like you, step down and give one of us the job now. We have the knowledge, the skills, the aptitude, the resilience and the towering intellect. Mind, we might be a bit more challenging than the meekness displayed by this patronising hand wringing. No need for reports and consultations, no need for funding “experts” to tell you what you want to hear and what you undoubtedly already know. Co-opting the polite requests of BASW for better ‘diversity’ doesn’t legitimise the same old rehashed strategies. It’s not creating opportunity nor is it anti-racist. Who is still needing their awareness raising I wonder? Step aside, get the numbers up and then tell me you and BASW have my and my comrades interests and development as your priority. Bureaucrats never deliver meaningful change. I don’t expect this to anytime soon either.

  6. Marrianna May 10, 2021 at 9:44 am #

    Congratulations Wayne Reid and BASW, well done Staff College. Great to know promoting diversity and being anti-racist is about creating elitist routes to better remunerated jobs for some. Meanwhile the rest of us not so privileged many continue to work in oppressive environments. In 18 years as a social worker I have been subject to a disciplinary once. The manager who victimised me was black. Not much solidarity shown to a black woman there. Not that difficult
    to see my experience through the prism of power hierarchies rather than skin pigmentation. The system is rotten, a few more non-white Directors will not change that. Elites bigging up other Elites means nothing to me. I have more in common with a bullied white worker than a black manager grifting to promote their own career prospects. Play the game for your own self interest all you want but don’t insult us by pretending you are doing it on our behalf.

  7. Fed Up May 10, 2021 at 11:40 am #

    If someone can get me a Senior job I will take whatever route they are offering me. Frontline social work is dead anyway. I’ll take any alternative for more money if it’s going thanks.

  8. Sid May 10, 2021 at 2:21 pm #

    How refreshing to have Fed Up tell it as it is. Personally I pay no attention to BASW or anyone else talking their nonsense. Social work is a dog eat dog business now and some of us want to be top dog.

  9. Kieran May 10, 2021 at 4:44 pm #

    In the local authority I work in the Heads of Adults and Children’s Services both earn £198.804 per annum. This excludes bonuses and private health care allowances. Undoubtedly there are other perks. What I resent and what alienates me isn’t the skin colour of such executive’s but the collosal pay differentials between them, us workers and how distant this makes them from the realities of the communities they are supposedly serving. As mentioned earlier it’s the system that is rotten. An increase in managers and executives of colour may be good for the ego of some but doesn’t really address and change this. Elites of colour are still privileged elities whichever window dresser gets a go this time.

  10. Christine May 10, 2021 at 10:22 pm #

    If this half chewed soggy biscuit is what we are meant to enthuse over, I’m afraid I don’t buy the anti-racism visionary claim. I prefer an advocate that talks directly to us workers than one who sits at the high table with managers quick to congratulate themselves about not much. Google as an example of how to build a perfect team? Can’t see how that sits well with a proud socialist. Trust is earned by being on the right side of the barricades. Wait 3 years for perhaps an improvement in appointments? That’s just aspiration without the delivery. Pondaza Murray says it more articulatey than I can manage.

  11. Kenneth May 12, 2021 at 10:09 am #

    Dig beyond the stuff about empathy, trust, dependability, psychological safety, and so on, Project Aristotle, the team effectiveness research by Google, is about finding traits to turn into an algorithm. That’s why amongst other things they tracked where and with whom their employees eat, socialise and have ‘personal’ relations with. So surprised that spying on the private lives of workers by their paymasters is an enthusiasm of BASW. And algorithms, we know how well that works for persons of colour now don’t we? Personally, I don’t want to be profiled to become a better paid statistic to showcase supposed “progress”.

  12. Olu May 12, 2021 at 10:11 pm #

    How dispiriting that status quo managerialism is regarded as empowering and anti-racist. Radicalism used to mean the struggle to tear down Neo-Liberal ideology and confronting power hierarchies. You validating the politics of the individual over the collective is where we part company Wayne.

  13. Robert May 14, 2021 at 12:08 pm #

    For most black people being conned with a? no longer works. White saviours massaging the egos of compliant black careerists is the sham we see. The road to an Empire medal has to start somewhere I suppose.

  14. Selena May 14, 2021 at 12:36 pm #

    If Community Care is serious about challenging white supremacy than you need to start using the right terminology
    It’s not white people it’s people with no colour. The content of this article is the usual we must to better blather. I appreciate it’s the contributers who are responsible for that and not Community Care.

  15. Claire May 27, 2021 at 9:09 am #

    Apparently redistribution of management privilege is the answer to underfunding, exhaustion, poor working conditions, abuse, low pay, lack of supervision, bullying and a useless regulator. “Tackling racism”, the fig leaf that does nothing of the sort but enables victimisation and denigration of black social workers to be. Deal with aggressive and blatantly racist managers, sanction them or sack them rather than co-opt a few more black managers into the same cultures. A rotten profession isn’t made more fragrant by a few worthy ambitions.