Royal Pharmaceutical Society

The importance of being an ally

By Paul Bennett, RPS Chief Executive 

I have lived and worked in multicultural environments all my life. I grew up in Leicester and went to Bradford to study pharmacy. Both locations are recognised for their multiculturism and simply being around people from many different backgrounds has helped me recognise how this enriches our cultural experience. However, I recognise that I was never walking in the shoes of my Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic friends and colleagues who would have had a different experience to me.

I come from a hard-working family who created a safe and comfortable home life for my brother and I and my parents gave up a lot so that we could both go to university and establish ourselves in the world. Working hard is something that was instilled in us both and so I never really thought of myself as privileged, just someone who benefited from hard work, but I did recognise that many around us had it much harder. What I don’t think I recognised until much later was that a lot of the cause of this hardship was because those around me were a different colour and had to contend with prejudices day in and day out that I did not because I am white and male.

I now recognise my privilege. In all honesty and somewhat naïvely, I didn’t see myself as privileged until I started to learn more about prejudice, the overt and the unconscious bias that people experience. I had my eyes opened again by recent tragic events; the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the USA and the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. The Macpherson Inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence in April 1993 sparked the debate about policing and racism in the UK and the phrase ‘institutional racism’ featured strongly in the language used at the time. Macpherson described it as the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”. Today we talk more openly about ‘unconscious bias’ and institutional racism which is a positive step forward, however it is saddening to hear that organisations might have an ingrained element of racism that leads to discrimination and denial of service. That is why organisations that are serious about fighting racism need to be anti-racist and not just state they are against racism.

For me, being antiracist means to take actions and demonstrate behaviours that actively work to dismantle systems that perpetuate discrimination and inequality. I want to help in what way I can and have said before that I would like to be considered an ally and to shape our organisation so that all my colleagues feel enabled to act in the way you would expect an ally to act.

An ally is someone who isn’t a member of a community but supports them. Being an ally matters because every person who recognises their privilege and actively promotes a culture of inclusion and belonging through positive action makes a difference to that community and wider society. An ally ‘walks the talk’, owns up to mistakes, listens to, and adapts to, the needs of the communities they support.

Allyship means we should speak out and speak up when we witness racism or identify systemic bias and discrimination within our organisations. We can use our voices to amplify the voices of marginalised communities. As leaders, we need to create more equitable organisations, which requires a thorough understanding of our individual blind spots and privileges.  Systemic changes will not occur until we fix the structures from which racism is able to thrive. This involves reviewing the policies, practices and procedures implemented in our workplaces to create and foster antiracist organisations. 

That’s also why I believe our I&D strategy has resonated so strongly with our membership.

Our race microaggressions work launched today and our recent anti-racist statement is one expression of being an ally – recognising the systemic biases in our organisation and in individuals that can cause race inequalities and taking action to address them to benefit both our employees at RPS and our profession.

Our inclusion and diversity strategy has been a catalyst for change. We have gone through a period of significant reflection and worked with the profession to hear and understand their experiences as part of that. We want to learn, proactively challenge and create positive change to make sure how we work is fair for everyone. Allyship is an intensely personal journey – I’m learning and making mistakes on the way, as we all do – but RPS is committed to help, support, advocate and deliver on our anti-racist actions outlined in our statement. 

I would like to think of myself as having strong moral values, a sense of what is right and wrong, and an instinctive abhorrence to unfairness and injustice. As a healthcare practitioner, I want to do what’s best for those I care for, serve them, and lead colleagues just like our members do. To put real effort into understanding what the problems are and listening to the concerns of others is really important. Taking a more informed position and a proactive stance against inequality and discrimination is a responsibility we all feel here at RPS.

Many allies can change organisations and cultures.  It is important we all play a proactive part in being anti-racist and lead the profession by example.

Please join us, become an ally and help create a better profession through our ABCD group.

We want to encourage voices that express the diversity of lived experiences in the profession as part of our inclusion and diversity work. If you’d like to share your story, contact [email protected] or get involved through our ABCD group