Early thoughts on talent development & management of BAME staff in Libraries and Archives

Lately, I have been thinking on the topic of talent development and management in Libraries and Archives. I have also been learning and discovering further the issues that BAME staff face in having a support model for career progression within Libraries and Archives. It would be fair to say that BAME staff are, generally speaking, frustrated with: lack of support; micro-aggressions; inequalities in recruitment; job descriptions that disadvantages them in a systematic fashion; lack of opportunities to develop relevant experience; lack of acknowledgement of potential; and higher expectations from them than that of white colleagues. In some cases, this frustration is growing in anger and most importantly in activism that is generating positive debate and change. Particularly organisations like DILON and individuals have played a critical role in shifting the conversation from discussion to action, and driving CILIP, SCONUL, RLUK, TNA and other organisations to take a strong note and think strategically and operationally about the core issues that led to this lack of diversity and support in the first place.

I am extremely pleased that there is an active debate in the sector, and that this has brought this topic to senior leaders attention, but I am also worried about a few things. I will highlight these below.

There is still a very diverse landscape institutionally on how openly the topic of race equality is discussed. Some institutions are positively tackling this topic by having open debates with their students, staff, and signing up to Race Equality Charter, which forces an institutional action plan. Other institutions are not interested in this at the moment and simply do not have this in their priority list. This is a big shame. Without an institutional mandate, Libraries and Archives also do not have this high in their priority lists. This is a bigger shame.

Library leaders have a role to play in this debate. We need to be open to these conversations and we need to let go of the insecurities that come with ‘what if something goes wrong’? We need to develop our awareness, our knowledge, and a positive approach towards this topic. We need to set the direction for our departments and for our teams, areas which are under our influence and therefore we can do something about it. However, we also need to ensure that we empower our staff to take action, compensate them for that effort, and consistently highlight the importance of diversity in our conversations. Most importantly, we need to acknowledge that without this conversation, we can’t simply state that there is no problem in my Library or Archive.

There is also a danger of losing sight of what we can do now, practically speaking, because the leaders are all absorbed in what we can do strategically in the long run. Both elements of change need to happen simultaneously. As most of the Library and Archives leadership is currently white, it is really important to engage BAME staff, compensate them, and champion them. Develop a combined approach to avoid the feelings of white saviourism in BAME staff. The BAME staff are highly talented, very engaged, and want to make a difference. Allow them to do so and give them the support and budgets to do so.

Don’t assume things. I was recently challenged by other BAME members about my own thinking on BAME staff development. Being in a leadership position, my focus of conversation was about their strategic leadership development. They challenged me back and said that most of them are not even able to apply successfully for a management role, let alone a strategic leadership role. They are all in diverse areas and roles, from customer services to digital developments, and each of them require a different level of talent development.

This then leads me to the value of mentoring, coaching, or reverse mentoring. There is value in doing these with BAME staff and if you can or are already doing it, please continue to do so. However, my personal preference is towards championing. For me championing is about working closely with one or more BAME staff member(s), getting to know them well, understanding and listening to their views, and then working with them to build their profile in the institution. Work with them to help them develop and improve their job applications, do mock interviews, talk about their talent in the right committees, and realise that the BAME staff most likely also suffer from imposter syndrome. Approach positive criticism with those feelings in mind. Change the traditional talent management frameworks and add the element of “Amplification” in there. Amplify the good qualities of marginalised staff more and help them navigate their own personal career pathway more effectively.

There are lots of smaller practical things we can do. We can start a conversation with our staff on this topic. We can understand our current situation better through open conversations and understanding our data on diversity. We can look at how we form interview panels. We can look at what we say at the beginning of interview panels (highlighting both conscious and unconscious bias, neurodiversity, objectiveness regardless of race and colour of the person, etc). We can allocate budgets to support EDI initiatives. We can develop strong statements on supporting EDI in everything we do. We can stop asking for degrees in Librarianship or Archives, Chartership, or paid membership of organisations for every job that we advertise (as they implicitly limit us to hire broadly). We can ask for potential or adaptability instead of experience in most of our Job advertisements. We can use positive action statements more. We can champion our BAME staff now.

I am sure there is a lot more that I want to say which I have forgotten to say now. There is a real momentum behind supporting BAME staff more in our Libraries and Archives. The real question is how long this will take us and where it will sit in our priority lists.

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