I was reminded recently that leadership is a bit like beauty – tricky to define, but you know it when you see it.
As the fallout from the crisis becomes clear, we’re facing the uncomfortable truth that yet again the slogan ‘we’re all in this together’ didn’t really mean all of us. COVID-19 has taken the lives of those from BAME communities disproportionately, increased the suffering of people living in poverty whose lives are already scarred by austerity and it’s predicted that unemployment will now soar. With rising tensions and a second recession in a decade looming, we desperately need leaders at all levels of society who can offer us hope and a sense that things will change.
I think that’s why I was so moved to read the reflections of Natalie Bailey, BACP’s Chair on 5 June in response to the murder of George Floyd.1 If you haven’t read it, I urge you to do so. Natalie writes frankly of her memories of school, the pain of being disliked because of her difference and the fear of being a mother to young black men. She describes the murder of George Floyd as symbolic of the systemic oppression black people face worldwide.
Two days later, I was stunned to read of the Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol and that the statue of Edward Colston had been dragged from its plinth and thrown into the river. Despite campaigners repeatedly calling for its removal, this moment of protest was a tipping point – something bigger than the statue had shifted.
I moved to Bristol in the early 90s, making it my home for 20 years and living in the streets where my maternal ancestors had lived. Both my Mum and aunt went to Colston’s Girls School in the 1940s and were proud to be ‘Colston’s girls’. Neither knew about the philanthropist’s involvement in the slave trade because that story simply wasn’t told – it was only decades later that they found out, and that former sense of pride was replaced with the shame of not knowing.
Emerging from the pandemic, Helen Kewell cautions us in ‘My workplace’ about the cracks in our society and the growing divisions between people on the basis of gender, race and age. We will hear it in the stories people tell us and Helen encourages us to ‘listen for nuanced feelings of division, tension and “otherness’’’.
Holding hope, it’s an uplifting thought that this is also a moment of possibility – one in which leaders could offer their workforce a new vision and a future direction that can unite people to find a new purpose post COVID-19. Time will tell.
Editor, BACP Workplace