The West Country Women Awards – where recognition is key! From all walks of life, every corner of our communities, our goal is to celebrate the achievements & triumphs of women across the region.
It is being run by Alexis Bowater OBE, journalist, broadcaster and women’s campaigner, and award-winning businesswoman Tess Stuber. They have now a new mission, and they want you on board, because this time it’s not just about business, it’s about everybody’s business!
We interviewed one of our finalists, Ana Barbosa Richards, from Devon County Council, on what Diversity and Equality means to her and who:
Participated in the Reverse Mentoring ‘Let’s Explore Race Programme’, mentoring the Chief Executive
Worked with Head of Integrated Health and Social Care on how to implement the recommendations on the Race Equality Audit
Is a primary school Governor
Is a Project Coordinator for Ethnically Diverse Communities
Advocates for Diversity and Equality
What does diversity and equality mean to you?
Diversity and Equality mean a lot to me at different levels and capacities. Emotionally, Diversity and Equality means “being”. Being in its fullness and totality without reservation. Unapologetically being. History shows that Diversity and Equality is about “being allowed to be”. Unfortunately, my whole being was conditioned to others’ expectations of what I should look like or what should sound like. It was the hair type, the skin colour, the shape of my nose. For 25 years, being me was being subjected to expectations imposed by an oppressive, colonialist mentality and racist Brazilian society. Moving into UK such expectations were less evident, more subtle and covert but equally damaging. It is harder to pinpoint and to address. Here, there is an extra layer of expectations due to my nationality, my accent sent others in directions to doubt my abilities constantly. My ascribed identity is likely to be associated with deficit, indebtedness, insufficiency, and shortage. No matter what I do, the obstacles placed on my way to achieve what I believe I can achieve are numerous and usually unjustifiable and unfair. Advocating for Diversity and Equality allows me to be me.
Socially, diversity and equality also means survival. Surviving despite the challenges, disadvantages, obstacles, unfairness, and disparities. Politically, diversity and equality mean to be mindful that there are voices that are not in the room and not heard, views that are not considered, perspectives that are disregarded and needs that are unmet. Diversity and Equality is to look for that, it is not go with the flow as the flow tends to follow a white, able bodied, male, and heterosexual stereotype. Diversity and Equality is about amplifying all voices even more so of those individuals who are not occupying decision making spaces.
Morally, diversity and equality is to be mindful that there are people who face many adversities just for not fall into the expected stereotype. Linguistically, Equality means ensuring everyone in your setting has equal opportunities, regardless of their abilities, their background or their lifestyle. Diversity means appreciating the differences between people and treating people's values, beliefs, cultures and lifestyles with respect. However, actions are what will rely define Diversity and Equality into reality and practice, actions would bring those meaning to life. To summarise, once I read somewhere that talent is everywhere, but opportunities are not. Thus, Equality and Diversity means creating those opportunities for diverse talents to flourish.
Why do you think it is important to celebrate and champion diversity and equality?
I think it is important to celebrate and champion diversity and equality because it is the foundation of humankind, people are beings, they should be allowed to live the plenitude of their lives irrespective of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy, race, religion, employment status, location, educational background, belief, sex, etc. it is important to celebrate who we are.
Diversity and Equality is who we are as society and communities. Societies are made of human beings who are different from one another which contributes for our existence to be more dynamic, fruitful, and diverse. Our identity is to be if we respected one’s identity and if that identity was not turn people into targets instead. Ensuring individuals are treated with respect, dignity and that differences are not used as excuse to hinder their opportunities. Celebrating is not about big events, or huge promotional actions it is about everything we do. That is the real championing, that is the real support, the authentic way of making every opportunity count because every interaction is an intervention. Let’s make it count in all we do, say, and behave. Celebrating and Championing Diversity and Equality is not a trend that should be spoken about because it is in evidence, that is the foundation of what a society is about. Not one human being is the same as another, let’s look at that with the lens of respect, appreciation, tolerance and celebrate the differences. Our responsibility with Diversity and Equality is about what you say but also about what we do not say. Same applies to the actions we do and actions we chose not to do and the implications of not celebrating and championing Diversity and Equality.
Authentic “Championing” Diversity and Equality refers to ambitious, advancing our knowledge and respect to others who are different from ourselves. It is acting respectfully towards others and our differences. Raising awareness is the basic anyone can do nowadays, it is the bare minimum we can to is to keep people with protected characteristics safe. We must be reflective about how people’s safety can be improved and that would show through commitment to champion our differences and similarities. Champion Diversity and Equality is to be comfortable with what is not the norm, with what is not expected but still appreciate how enriching that is. Champion diversity and equality is to truly incorporate Diversity and Equality to your core values and principles and it will naturally lead into anti- oppressive, anti-racist and anti-discriminatory behaviours. Genuine championing “burst bubbles” of inequality and unfairness do not perpetuate them.
Celebrating and champion diversity and equality are only worth if actions are meaningful and compassionate. Not a tokenistic exercise without any interest or understanding of people’s identity.
What had been your experience in advocating for diversity and equality in your professional and personal life?
The experience of advocating for diversity started as a matter of safety. Primarily, advocating for diversity and equality was my way to be safe and keep my family safe Additionally, it helped me to be seen, heard, respected, and protected. My way of advocating included studying a lot to be able to prepare robust challenges to oppressive practices, unfair systems and racist behaviour.
In my personal life, I had to advocate for diversity in various stages especially when I moved from London to Devon. The advocacy involved challenging systems, processes, rules, and policies which fail to identify the disparity imposed on people from a non-White British background. These are my lived experiences, I experienced disadvantages for being a black non-British woman. Such experiences afforded me an accurate radar to identify prejudice, racism and discrimination. For instance, when I required support from services the fact that I had “No recourse to Public Funds” which meant I could not receive any financial support from any statutory agencies, leaving me and my family in a very precarious situation. I formally challenged statutory and non-statutory agencies in North Devon who finally acknowledged that such status did not discharge their statutory duties to myself and my family. I have faced significant adversity and judgement due to assumptions being made about me. Many responses were judgemental, accusatory, unsupportive, and unfair.
The racism, sexism, linguicism, misogynism, prejudice and discrimination I experienced motivated me to ensure I would advocate for Diversity and Equality to ensure no one else felt as lonely, de-valued, disrespected, unappreciated and displaced as I felt.
As a social worker, advocating for Diversity and Equality goes beyond a job it is a mission. A mission I am committed to for myself, for my children, for may family and for anyone who may experience unfair and unequal treatment due to their identity, age, class, sexual orientation, religion, disability, gender reassignment, marital status, pregnancy, sex, race, socio- economic inequalities, location, employment status (not an exhaustive list).
I believe it is my full responsibility as a social worker, a woman, a citizen and a mother to focus on the impact on individuals rather than focus on intentionality. I am interested in fairness to human beings, the law itself fails to identify intersectionality but it should not stop anyone from doing and acting like so, by understanding and advocating for the multiple forms of inequality both within and outside protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.
Professionally, advocating for Diversity and Equality is the foundation of the social work profession. Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility, and respect for diversities are central to social work. I take pride and moral responsibility in being a leader of my own actions and setting myself high expectations on challenging discrimination. It is not about who, how or status it is about be the difference I want to make. Leading and inspiring by example. I hear a lot from many people saying that “I cannot change the world” and my answer to that is “I know but I would like to try”. Therefore, I am vigilant about turning my empathy into compassion and being able to challenge and eliminate discrimination and inequalities faced by others.
I reflect about my actions to ensure I continue to evaluate how I practice, how I behave and act towards others. I often try to eloquently challenge disparities and inequalities in society. Every interaction is an intervention, act Diversity and Equality can be exercised in different manners and settings. Some examples of leading and influencing by actions within my employer, Devon County Council, and beyond are:
I have made a presentation to the Community Mental Health Social Care Team in Barnstaple about the derogatory language used in the sector which included “ black humour” , from that meeting the team agreed to change the name to “ morbid humour”.
I actively participate in the feedback forum promoted by the consultants who wrote Devon County Council’s Race Equality Audit. Some of my disclosure made to the final document which has been published.
I have volunteered to the first Reverse Mentoring Programme “ Let’s Explore Race” in Devon County Council where Black, Asian and Ethnically Diverse mentored senior leaders about anti-racism. I mentored former DCC Chief Executive , Phil Norrey, who described the experience as “ the most important in his professional career”. As a result of the mentoring programme there has been a video reiterating the message of anti-racism, a public statement and a joint video describing the mentoring experience. Some of these were published publicly others within DCC that has 5000 employees.
I initiated an internal campaign for a review of the Lone Working Policy to recognise the extra risks individuals face due to their identity, gender, disability etc. Lone Working Policy currently under review.
I have contributed for the re-evaluation of Diversity and Equality Training as it used to be dismissive of groups and their challenges. Training currently being reviewed to give individuals and their challenges due time, respect and understanding of the disadvantages they face.
I have been invited to record a video in celebration of Women’s International Day by SEETEC Plus. The theme was “Break the bias”. Video has been published. In the video I described my experiences of challenging the racism, discrimination and disadvantages I faced in the UK system.
I have gone through an internal process in DCC that resulted to review of organisational policies and procedures. I am involved in several activities that relate to review organization training, recruitment and support that recognises Diversity and Equality as foundation of how the organisation relates to its employees and the community.
I have constructively challenged a senior leader about his comments about “ being proud of the organization” in light of the findings of the audit. From that reflective dialog a video has been filmed featuring myself and others to reiterate the message of anti-racism in practice.
I have contributed to challenge Senior Leadership Team to add Diversity and Equality as a standing item agenda to their weekly meetings.
I have persistently approached a Staff Forum leader to add Diversity and Equality as a standing agenda item to the monthly meetings and it has been implemented.
I have written reflective articles to the Organisation Newsletter ( published) that encourage discussion about anti-racism, anti-discrimination and anti-oppression in practice.
My Assisted Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) portfolio has been evaluated by the moderation panel within Devon County Council as “A focus on anti-racism and anti-oppressive practice is a “golden thread” that runs through this portfolio. This portfolio evidence social work practice, that is legally literate, empathetic, genuinely person-centred and emancipatory”. As a result, I was asked if my portfolio could be used as an exemplar for future Social Work Students.
I have secured a job as a Project Coordinator for Ethnically Diverse Communities focusing on resettlement.
I am a volunteer/member of the Devon and Cornwall Police Scrutiny Panel to monitor police practices in relation to Stop and Search and Use of Force.
I am part of a Primary School Governing Board in North Devon and I have been chosen as the Lead Governor for Parent & the Community.
I have formally challenged statutory and non-statutory organisation Diversity and Equality Objectives as, currently, most initiatives around Devon are focus on Exeter schools amplifying regional disparity.
In the community, in my social work role, I have supported some of my elderly, disabled and disadvantaged clients to challenge organisations which treated them unfairly, it included banks, care provides and Devon County Council itself.
Why do you think it is vital for employers to prioritise diversity and equality in the workplace?
Prioritising Diversity and Equality must not be a trend or a tokenistic exercise. Diversity and Equality is the pilar of any human relationship irrespective of the setting and it includes workplaces.
Organisations are about people and people are diverse and deserve to be welcome with fair opportunities to be themselves, to contribute, to upskill and to progress in their workplace. There are social, economical, and moral reasons why it is vital for employers to prioritise diversity and equality in the workplace.
Socially, employers have a social responsibility to embrace diversity and provide equality. It goes a long way in promoting a work culture which values talent beyond stereotypes and helps people reach their potential by contributing their best beyond any prejudice. Moreover, an inclusive workplace fosters better productivity, efficiency, dynamism and creativity. It goes beyond compliance with the law, it is about taking an intersectional approach to that, contributing to a hospitable and welcoming workplace. It contributes to a safer working environment, promoting people’s wellbeing, equality of outcomes and equality of impact on all employees. It would improve reputation.
Economically, employers must prioritise Diversity and Equality to survive in any market. Several researches evidence that diverse work environment where everyone regardless of who they are or what they do for the business, feel equally involved in, appreciated, valued and supported in all areas of the workplace. These are important aspects to retention. Employers that prioritise Diversity and equality would also reach a wider and more diverse range of clients/consumers which is likely to increase their revenue and profits.
Morally, employers must include diversity, equity, and inclusion because it shows consumers, clients and employees that are practicing fairness, giving opportunities to all people. Everyone deserves an opportunity to show their work skills, and having Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in an organisation business gives everyone a chance. CIPD states that “Regardless of our identity or background, we all deserve the opportunity to develop our skills and talents to our full potential, work in a safe, supportive and inclusive environment, be fairly rewarded and recognised for our work and have a meaningful voice on matters that affect us”.
Why do you think awards like the West County Women Awards are important?
The importance of awards like the West County Women Awards is the recognition of women valuable contribution to society in different sectors. The value in event commemorations is to showcase authentic respect and appreciation. I believe it motivates people to continue to work hard with commitment, it increases representation and strengthen network.
Awards ceremonies make people feel that their work is valued, appreciated and recognized. It shows admiration, gratitude and respect for each person's good work. It increases visibility, making people aware that good work will be rewarded. It shows others, such as the general public , voluntary organizations, private sector companies businesses and employers that there are great accomplishments being achieved.
I feel very honoured to have been nominated. I am confident it will expand professional visibility and increase the number of people interested in what I have to say. Invariably increasing the responsibility about sending clear messages promoting Diversity and Equality.
Reading the reasons for my nomination was a motivational boost and a great reminder of what I have been and why I have been advocating for Diversity and Equality in any platform I occupy. It is vital to remain focused and humble about such events and not forgetting the reason to be there in the first place. Awards must never be bigger than the cause or what has been achieved. Certainly, Diversity and Equality requires everyone’s efforts and commitment to challenge discrimination, prejudice and racism. Diversity and Equality require a humble attitude with a robust approach to achieve positive change in society.