'We've been too slow on diversity issues' admits Citizens Advice

30 Aug 2019 News

Citizens Advice admitted that it has been too slow to address diversity and inclusion issues and said it will implement the findings of an investigation into how racist content was published its website. 

Racist training documents uncovered on its website and posted on Twitter on 9 August and prompted widespread condemnation.  

The report, published today, says the investigation included interviews of the members of staff involved in the production of the training material.

It says the author of the documents was a Black, Asian and minority ethnic individual (BAME), who had experience of working with a range of BAME client groups and had personal experience of some particular communities. 

But it adds that: “This experience, although valuable, does not equate to being a subject matter expert in matters of race equality or equality issues in general. 

“Overall, too much reliance was placed on the lived and other experience of the individual as a proxy for specialist equality input.”

'Too slow in our progress on inclusivity and diversity'

The report reaffirms that the training materials “were unacceptable” and Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice said she was working with her executive team to implement its recommendations in full and as a matter of urgency.

She said: “It’s now clear that several failings led to this unacceptable material being on our website. I apologise unreservedly for this. 

“We are acting quickly to make sure this can’t happen again.

“I don’t want us to stop there. 

“I believe this incident, and the debate it led to, highlights important wider issues. 

“We’ve been too slow in our progress on inclusivity and diversity - when as an organisation, and as a sector, we should be leading the way.

“We’ll therefore accelerate our plans to become a more diverse and inclusive organisation - confronting and addressing inequalities, investing resources and setting bold targets, and better reflecting the huge value diversity brings to our work.”

She added: “We’ve been too cautious on diversity and will now act to put this right.”

Support for staff to understand equality 

Guy committed to acting on the recommendations coming out of the investigation, including:

  • Providing greater support for staff to understand what constitutes equality expertise, and how they should use such expertise in their work.
  • Requiring such input as standard as part of the development of related content.
  • Producing all training materials in line with our process for advice content development, with best practice shared between teams.
  • Tightening the technical controls around the editing and publication of online materials.
  • Building the skills of the organisation in engaging on social media, and ensuring clear escalation protocols and accountabilities.

A 'missed opportunity' to look at root causes

Fatima Iftikhar, who uncovered the Citizens Advice training slide, from the #CharitySoWhite campaign told Civil Society News: “While process is important this investigation missed an opportunity to look at the root causes of why this training was produced rather than the technical processes that led it to being published. 

“We welcome the acknowledgement that this training indicates a wider issue at the organisation, though they do not go as far as to name this as institutional racism unfortunately. 

“We have heard numerous testimonials that an approach centred on diversity and inclusion rather than power and privilege only addresses the optics of inclusion, not the core issues which for example are causing [people of colour] talent to leave the sector.”

She added: “We can share some initial concerns about the outcomes of the investigation: it does not seem to address or even acknowledge the impact that the training has had on service users in the years that it has been running. 

“The report does not highlight whether the BAME network group were involved in the investigation, endorse the approach, its findings and recommendations. 

“The outlined next steps regarding the organisational change that needs to take place lack specifics. 

“We would urge Citizens Advice to be completely transparent about what these plans are, who is overseeing their implementation, and how success will be measured. 

“We believe this is pertinent given the particular dearth of diversity on Citizens Advice senior team and board.”

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