"A collective's voice is stronger": Creating change in the Royal Navy

25 October 2019 -

Ships in the seaCreating change sometimes means re-writing words in stone. In Black History Month, meet those taking on the challenges of diversity in the oldest of the UK’s armed services

Rosie Gailor

You may not have heard of the MOD Race Network or the Naval Service Commonwealth Network. Their aim is to create a more inclusive workplace within Defence and the Royal Navy, the oldest of the UK’s armed services – both at sea and at home. In such a large-scale organisation, it’s an incredibly challenging task, but they’re effecting change through two official networks. These not only support individuals and groups, but they also mobilise organisation-wide solutions.

So it begins…

Janine Potts is one of the women leading the efforts through the Commonwealth Network. Janine is a Chief Petty Officer and co-chair of the Commonwealth Network, working on policy cohesion between the network and the Royal Navy as a whole.

The Commonwealth Network was started five years ago, when a group of Caribbean sailors were working for a Commander who identified a need for more support from Senior Officers.

“[The Commander] realised the complexity of the sailors’ journey from the recruitment pathway to leaving the Royal Navy,” says Janine Potts. “So, she started vocalising that, and challenged her senior colleagues to address the disparity.”

The Caribbean Network later evolved into the Commonwealth Network. They recognised the need to shift from a social group celebrating recruits’ culture into a formal, focused group which reveals the realities of the lived experience to the policy stakeholders – but also acts as the focal point for peer support and sign-posting.

“Quite quickly, the voice became a collective,” says Janine. “We started to understand that there were a number of challenges that needed addressing in a more formal way, such as streamlining the immigration and employment journey, and understanding the unique impact of changing UK immigration policies on serving personnel and their families from the Commonwealth.”

Over time, the community has grown and now offers support to all sailors who join with families across all corners of the world – not just Commonwealth countries. With the support from the Royal Navy’s D&I team and Senior Officers, the group is now in a better place to influence.

The Commonwealth Network has already seen positive wins, and the Royal Navy is open and receptive to change now that “unique challenges of Commonwealth personnel joining the British military are better understood,” says Potts. “The Home Office’s cap on how many Commonwealth personnel can join the Royal Navy has increased from 50 recruits per year to 300 per year, so we need to build a sustainable support mechanism and ensure emerging service policies align with the unique lived experience of this cohort.”

Raising awareness and driving the need for a cultural change in theory and practice amongst the ranks will in the end promote behavioral change.

“Recognition is the biggest thing,” says Potts. “The fact that MOD recruit from outside the UK and MOD policies don’t often align to the lived experience of all our people, is something we’re trying to change. MOD Policy-makers will need to continue the work that is currently being done to influence long-term change for Commonwealth serving personnel and their families. It won’t be easy, but we are determined.”

The MOD Race Network

The MOD Race Network helps with the everyday issues facing BAME civil servants across the UK, and was set up after it became clear that employees from BAME or ethnic minority backgrounds needed extra support. Their Race Champion is the touchpoint between the network and the senior officers that have the power to influence policy changes; with one voice through which the network communicates, their message is clearer. The network has volunteers across the UK – some 400 locations – so having one person to be the face of the network amplifies their voices clearly.

One of their big challenges is getting the MOD Race Network talked about in local offices. Although the team have put in hard work to spread the word about their tools, resources and events, many colleagues simply don’t know that the MOD Race Network exists. One way they are trying to combat this is by organising events all over the UK that are not only informative but informal. The network runs mentoring and personal development opportunities that are open to all races. It aims to support everyone by identifying their different pressures and issues and providing extra support. They have previously run speed networking, cross-organisation mentoring, and reverse mentoring, as well as talks, events, and socials, and in Black History Month they host a dinner where the network reflects on the previous year and what they’ve achieved.

Looking to the future

The biggest takeaways from the implementation of these two networks? There’s power in numbers. Together, when they identify shortcomings and concerns in their places of work, these networks can talk with a diverse group of people to figure out a solution. The voice of an official network carries weight and legitimacy. One voice may be easy to ignore, but many can realise real change.

Are you looking to make change in your company? Read our articles on how to actually be inclusive, or how to update your mental health plan.

Image: Unsplash

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