Please find below the response from Diane Cox, RCOT Chair of Council, and Julia Scott, RCOT Chief Executive.
Thank you for taking the time to write to us. Your letter and feedback are welcomed and received with open ears and a willing heart.
We’re sorry for any hurt and disappointment that our statement caused, both in the choice of words and its timing. We are committed to fully supporting, representing and advocating for our BAME communities and hope our future actions will demonstrate this.
As a membership organisation and a profession we are not where we need to be in relation to equality, diversity and inclusion. It is not acceptable that members of the BAME community continue to experience structural racism, discrimination, health inequalities, social challenges and injustices.
The occupational therapy profession that RCOT represents has a significant underrepresentation of people from the BAME community in general, and in senior pay bands specifically. RCOT’s governing body is drawn from our membership and as a result, reflects this lack of diversity. This situation needs to change; this is a business objective and we are committed to taking action.
In response to the questions within your letter, and those of other members who have contacted us, the Black Lives Matter movement and the issue of increasing diversity are priorities for RCOT. We apologise if our statement did not make that clear enough.
Making changes to stamp out racism in our profession is of paramount importance. The truth is that this has been a wake-up call. We know that we need honest reflection and that this will not be a comfortable process.
We want RCOT’s actions to create lasting change for the profession. This isn’t about just making sure that the right words are on our website and social media feeds. We want our response to be meaningful, long lasting and impactful for the profession.
We know that first we need to educate ourselves, and yes, we agree, there is much to learn from external resources. The open letter resource list is a helpful start and we will use it and other sources to help us learn, both as an organisation and as individuals. We will publish the recommended resources on our website so that other members can also access them.
As well as learning from external resources, as a member organisation we also want to learn by actively listening and hearing directly from you, our members. We need to better understand your lived experience to help recognise and acknowledge how white privilege and systemic racism has impacted our profession, in professional practice and the occupational therapy process itself.
We are hearing first-hand from members how racism in the form of unconscious bias and microaggressions are prevalent in society and are a daily occurrence for our members of the BAME community. As a membership organisation and a professional body we need to use this knowledge to help influence behaviours, increase levels of understanding and inform practice.
The RCOT Code of Ethics in itself has not prevented the situation that we are now facing, so clearly we need to do more and do things differently.
Please find below answers to the specific question included in the open letter:
- With regards to the signing off process, the statement followed our usual processes for sign off for a key RCOT statement, which includes Julia Scott and ultimately the Chair of Council.
- We regret that the timing was not more responsive.
- When we released the statement we promoted it widely to our members. It was posted on our website as a news item, shared on social media, pinned as the top post on Twitter and Facebook, and emailed direct to all members via our e-newsletter Highlight, where it was the top featured item. These promotional steps made it the most viewed news item of the month.
- Our partner UNISON has a section on its website dedicated to equality, diversity and inclusion issues, which is available to all RCOT members. While RCOT does not currently have an Equality and Diversity Lead Officer, we will consider this as one of the steps we could take to improve diversity in our profession. We will not discount any options while we develop our strategy.
- The professional body does have a role in promoting occupational therapy as a career. We have contracted with an agency to develop resources for us to use and part of this brief was to look at developing a narrative around the profession that BAME students could identify with. This is in its early stages as COVID-19 disrupted plans, but is still very much a live project.
- We do not underestimate that diversity in the workforce is a complex issue. There are many questions that need addressing: how occupational therapy is perceived as a profession by different ethnic groups; promotion of the profession; and recruitment and retention. Each of these will need to be tackled, and where and how we can best influence identified.
- The brand activity has been very much a member-focused initiative, with consultations with our membership over the past year. Equality, diversity and inclusion consideration was very much a part of the brief.
We fully acknowledge that we can and have to do more. We are in the process of identifying the steps that we can take now, and our long-term strategy for the future. We are committed to working with our members to ensure that we take the right steps and firmly believe that we need their guidance and ideas on how best to respond.
We are creating a dedicated section on the RCOT website, which will help to publicise and raise the prominence of BAME and equality, diversity and inclusivity issues and our improvement plans. We would like this webpage to act as a conduit for stimulating thoughts and discussion within our profession, from us, and very importantly from our members.
We hope that this letter, with further information about our approach, is helpful and demonstrates our commitment. We know that the activities we’ve mentioned are very small steps, but they are just the start. We are committed to change and to leading the way to improve diversity, equality and inclusion for our profession and to play our part in stamping our racism and creating a truly equitable profession.
Chair of Council
Royal College of Occupational Therapists
Royal College of Occupational Therapists
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