The Racial Equity in Social Work Conference: LESS TALK, MORE ACTION

The recent Racial Equity in Social Work Conference, organised by researchers from University of East London, London Metropolitan University and Kingston University gathered social workers from across and beyond North-East London. Drawing on the results of Department for Education research, conference attendees worked collaboratively to develop a framework for eliminating inequality in social work career advancement. 

The event, like the research itself, focused on shifting to action-based initiatives to  develop fairer progression mechanisms and eliminate practices that hinder the career progression of social work professionals who identify as part of Black, Asian and/or minoritised communities.

The event, held at the University of East London, Docklands Campus, consisted of interactive discussions and drew on meaningful questions, insights and possibilities, to capture diverse perspectives and experiences. Social work professionals, academics, and students were joined by representatives of the Department for Education and Social Work England.

Catherine Schumann, Senior Lecturer in Social Work from London Met and a research team member, stated: “The day provided us with the opportunity to come together, to talk, debate and to deliberate over solutions that will be actioned. I had survived, I am surviving and I will survive.”

The crowd heard keynote speech from the leading figure, Shantel Thomas, a course lead for the MA in Social Work at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, the first UK Anti-Racism Lead at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and an Independent Training Consultant. 

Shantel said: “Racial inequities and barriers to progression in social work, is not a new phenomenon. As a woman from a black and global majority community, I speak about my own personal and painful journey into social work leadership, as a way to highlight the fundamental flaws within our systems and also to spell out what needs to change and how. The time for silence is OVER. Systemic, structural and institutional racism is a dis-ease and each and every one of us has a responsibility to eradicate it. We must work together in co-production and not division. We must not place this responsibility on individuals or small groups. Just like safeguarding, it is everyone’s responsibility. The time for change is NOW”.  

Co-production in Partnership

Following the main motif of the conference ‘LESS TALK, MORE ACTION’ and the main presentation about the research, including a Q&A led by researchers, participants were guided to work together in cross-organisational workshops. Each workshop capitalised on one of the themes of the research and served as a confidential space where people were encouraged to share their ideas. 

“I was sceptical at first and had not planned to stay for the whole day, but so glad I did. All the speakers were interesting – engaging, encouraging and inspiring. I felt an overwhelming sense of solidarity and allyship.” Anonymous feedback

Mark Wheeler, Senior Lecturer from University of East London and leader of the research project, said afterwards: We recognise these issues are not new and, in fact, have been present for decades. Our focus has therefore been on identifying ways to directly apply the research in everyday practice at leadership, structural, and behavioural levels. Co-production, as undertaken today, is central to this and essential for achieving transformational change.”

The research team looks forward to using this platform to echo these ideas and establish a collaborative framework that partner local authorities and universities can implement. The event not only directs the researchers’ efforts but brings a significant shift in partnership work. This research project represents an important opportunity to establish a new level of responsibility to ensure genuine equality for career opportunities.