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Diverse Leadership

June 25, 2019
Aftab & Javed

I was recently invited to the Barnardo’s Eid Celebration dinner at the House of Lords, hosted by Baroness Warsi.  This was a gathering of 30 of the most eminent Muslim leaders from across the country….at this stage, you may be wondering, and what was I doing there? I was Councillor Waseem Zafar’s + 1.  Now that we’ve cleared that up, I can get on with the blog.

The evening was opened with Quran recitation from Hassen Rasool. This was the most beautiful recitation I have ever heard. This was followed by Baroness Warsi and then Javed Khan the CEO of Barnardo’s. Let’s take a moment here, I’m at the House of Lords and we have a display of diversity in the most English establishment designed by Augustus Pugjn, the son of a French immigrant – that’s a story for another day.

My focus is on the diverse leadership and the man in question is Javed Khan, another son of an immigrant, this time from Pakistan. He grew up in small heath in the 70’s. I first came across him in 1990’s when he was the Assistant Director for the Youth Service with Birmingham City Council and I was leading the Bangladeshi Youth Forum. I came to ask for resources to employ a youth worker and he turned me down.  He later moved to a job in Harrow Council as the Chief Education Officer then Executive Director to the London Serious Youth Violence Board, at the Government Office for London followed by becoming the Chief Executive of Victim Support. He is now the CEO of Barnardo’s.

In Javed’s speech he talked about the variety of services that they offer to the most marginalised in our society. He discussed the role that Muslim’s had in supporting a charity like Barnardo’s. Through his leadership he has been able to increase the funding year on year and tap into the Muslim community and their generosity. This is the potential of a diverse leader, who can utilise networks that go beyond the usual suspects. I’m not sure that a pale, male, stale leader could have done the same. Diverse leadership is good for business.  This is widely documented and the evidence is clear to see here.

Given Birmingham and it’s diversity you would imagine that we would have many like Javed…sadly not. The only person that comes close is Waheed Nazir who is the Director for Inclusive Growth with Birmingham City Council.  Besides that I am not aware of any other leaders from a BAME background in the public sector. This is shameful, given the city that we live in. There are some diverse leaders in the third sector and businesses… however, there is a common thread that goes through all of them.  They lead organisations that they established themselves. What does this say about the city that we live in?

If you unpack all the major public, private and third sector institutions you will find that they are led by pale, male and stale individuals and their boards are similar. Research shows that your white counterparts get jobs over BAME people even when they are less qualified and people recruit in their own image. So it’s no surprise that we have what we have in this city. Cllr Ian Ward the Leader of Birmingham City Council went out of his way to ensure that he has a diverse cabinet and this is serving him well.

The Mayor Andy Street, is grappling with leadership challenges and has commissioned a report and a working group. Whilst this is commendable, much more can be done to have a diverse workforce at all levels, not just at junior levels. There are lessons that we can learn from the West Midlands Police who are undertaking positive action to develop a diverse workforce. 

BAME people are systematically denied opportunities to develop themselves and become the leaders that they could be. It’s clear to see what they can achieve given half the opportunity. And opportunities are few and far in this time of austerity, so we have to embrace them when they come. The Commonwealth Games are here and one of the core themes for the games being awarded is the diversity and youthful city that we have. However, an opportunity has been missed with the appointment of the entire Senior Management Team who are white. This is a picture of regeneration that the city has seen over the decades. When these initiatives come to town, all the senior jobs are filled by the usual suspects and BAME people are employed in junior roles. 

It doesn’t have to be that way; you can see what happens when we invest in the likes of Javed and Waheed.  It’s good for business and more inclusive of the society that we live in. So let’s really invest in diversity…not commission another report.

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  1. insidehandsworth permalink

    That comes across well – only two or three tiny details that I think would improve it.

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