I was in a role supporting victims of domestic abuse when the Helplines Advisor role at Respect came up.
I wasn't aware of the helplines, so it was good to see there were services dedicated to supporting male victims and helping perpetrators address their behaviour.
I toyed around with the idea of applying, as I didn’t think I was well equipped to work with male victims or perpetrators on a more concentrated level. Unfortunately, I missed the deadline, but some time later a friend sent me the link for the same role at Respect as they were still recruiting. It felt like this was meant to be, so I applied, and got the job.
When I started, the team was very small, and it was a new way of working for me. We had the flexibility of homeworking and some staff lived outside of London. Although I just came from an organisation that really valued diversity, it wasn’t something I really thought about going into Respect. I probably assumed that this was something the organisation never had to worry about.
As the years went by, the team at Respect grew, but diversity still wasn't something I thought much about in terms of my work colleagues. It wasn't until 2019 that I began to think about my position in the organisation. I realised I was the only Black man at Respect, and I still am to this day. Whilst there are other Black and minoritised people in the organisation, that fact was thought-provoking to me. I didn’t feel discomfort from it as I have always been in environments where no one else looked like me, whether that was my gender or the colour of my skin.
I began to think: why am I the only Black man? Are job roles not as well advertised to people like me, or perhaps I’m not the usual demographic that applies for roles like this? Was there something in the language of the job descriptions that didn’t resonate with people of different cultures?
I also began to think more about my experience on the phones. Working on helplines serving a whole nation you are bound to speak to people of all different walks of life: different values, different backgrounds. I remember a caller asking if I was a Black man, and I mentioned it to my line manager. It's something I've been asked a few times on the helplines. Although I never feel offended by it, it had always felt like an awkward question. My manager pointed out the inappropriateness of this and the significance of it began to sink in. Not only was I beginning to recognise the inappropriateness of callers asking questions like this, but I also started to recognise and feel the impact of micro-aggressions, such as “you know what women from Nigeria are like”, “this is how people from the Philippines behave”.
I was still grappling with this when George Floyd was murdered in 2020, an event that changed the way I thought about race, and started conversation and reflection across the world, including at Respect. We started a group to reflect on the Black Lives Matter movement: to learn more as a group and think about the work we needed to do to become an actively anti-racist organisation.
Some key internal strides were made: I had the privilege of taking part in an interview panel, where I thought more about my own biases, conscious or unconscious. We’ve also developed our recruitment processes: we now ask a question about anti-racism in every interview, and we’re working on diversifying our Board by sharing all our trustee vacancies with the Action on Trustee Racial Diversity network. Outside of recruitment, we’ve integrated equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) into our new strategy, launching on 31 October, and our ops team have developed a new supervision and appraisal process, with a bigger focus on power and privilege. We’ve made lots of changes, and we continue to make them.
Since I have become more aware of diversity, particularly around race, it has changed the way I manage calls on the helpline. I have become more confident in addressing micro-aggressions, not in a shaming way but by taking more of an educational approach. The challenge I have faced with this is that some callers can get embarrassed and defensive. However, this is also something that I have learned that not everyone will accept how racism works even in the most subtle way.
This approach has worked for me on the helplines, although I do recognise that day to day, it should not fall to us to educate others, and that people need to be willing to understand the nuances of racism. I've learned that some people just aren't there yet. They can't see how they're being part of the problem. Hopefully my conversations with them make them think and start that journey to understanding.
It has been incredibly useful having training around anti-racism since Respect started working on this. We have learned from external professionals who specialise in this area, with training that challenged preconceptions and privilege. This wasn’t specifically related to my work on the helplines, but it applies to all of our work in every area. Everything I learned in that training holds so much relevance for my work, especially understanding and challenging micro-aggressions.
Something I also appreciate is the consistency of integrating our anti-racism work into our meetings and away days, and generally taking every opportunity to discuss this when we can. For example, we recently had an away day where we discussed how EDI was being prioritised across all our projects: from the young people’s service to the helplines.
We still have lots of work to do around EDI, but I can certainly say so far it has been an incredibly insightful, educational, and hopeful journey. The care that Respect has been putting into this work for me is something that I know I will probably take away and continue to implement in every part of my life.
To end with some inspiration, being able to talk about my own history in this medium is something that is completely new to me, and it has been a joy to do something different to the role I do on a day-to-day basis. I hope this has given you an insight into my experience with Respect. Here’s to us continuing and building on this key area of our work.