Race and Equality in 2020 and Beyond: Cross-Sector Challenges with Trevor Phillips, Chair, Green Park

During a WIG webinar on race and equality in 2020 and beyond, you posed some of your questions to Trevor Phillips, Chair at Green Park Interim and Executive Recruitment, and Chair at Index on Censorship

Answering in written form, Trevor has shared his insight into what organisations can do to address race in 2020.

How might the current crisis improve a sense of community, empathy and understanding across ethnic boundaries - or will the sense of common cause buckle under a normal business or be amplified by economics?

I’m afraid the honest answer to this is that your guess is as good as mine. I tried to tackle the question in a lecture I gave to Selwyn College, Cambridge last week, which you can see on the College’s website, or, because life’s really too short to sit through another hour of me talking, you can read here.

My take may seem a bit pessimistic; but my intention is to ask people to think how best we can avoid the consequences of ignoring the very important question you ask.

I chair Cultureand.org a small charity changing who makes and accesses culture and heritage. Any tips for us on surviving as a small organisation during this period?

I’m afraid this genuinely is not an area in which I can pretend to any expertise. I know that organisations such as the NCVO have been offering advice on their website. I chair a small charity myself, and we have focused on suppressing our costs and essentially “tunnelling through”this period. This may not be possible for everyone - many charities depend on a monthly throughput of funds. We were not able to take advantage of the government programmes since there would be no advantage in reducing our activity, but we hope to get some leniency from our landlords and our bank. In the end the last resort remains our most loyal supporters, who have been generous in bringing forward their grants and fees a little. 

What actions should individuals working closely in BAME networks take away from this session?

I think that might be a question for others to answer. But I’d draw your attention to my answer to the question below. I regret to say that in respect of COVID, everyone seems to be willing to be guided by science except when it comes to people of colour; at which point politics and sociology seem to hold sway. If there is one lesson that we can learn from the puzzle of COVID and ethnicity, it is that the intellectual and organisational tools we apply to all other problems should not be abandoned in favour of ideology when it comes to preserving the lives of people of colour. We should, first of all, follow the evidence, both of people’s experience, but also of the objective data, before we decide what the problem is, or what remedies we need to apply.

How do we properly navigate investigating the impact of COVID on race in a credible fashion? (i.e. impact on NHS staff from minority backgrounds, business etc.)

An astonishingly difficult question to answer. I suggest that we all wait for a week or two until we see what the PHE review on this topic has discovered. Since this lecture, several studies have emerged, one or two of them with counter intuitive findings; I suspect it may be some time before we can genuinely understand what the impact of COVID on different ethnocultural groups might be. 

Several things are starting to look clear, however. 

First, the virus has almost certainly followed a different pathway and had different impact for some minorities - both from the majority population group and from each other. It is important not to consider this as a"BAME vs not-BAME” issue - not least because we suspect that collapsing all non-white groups into one will probably mask or minimise the true impact on some ethnic minority communities.

Second that there is almost certain to be a mix of factors driving those differences - biological, cultural, social and economic. The hard question will be which of these factors contributes most strongly to disparities and which of the stronger contributors can be mitigated by health interventions. 

Third, that we will have to wait some time before we understand whether this is an epiphenomenon or not - for example, that the disparity is caused, not by some specific characteristic of ethnic groups, but by where they are located, or when the virus occurred in specific cities.  If the disparities change over time (and there is already some evidence that the varying results of the studies which have been published might owe something to when and where the data was gathered) then the conclusions we draw about what is causing any disparities could be very different. For example, if in six months time we discover that in fact there was little true difference in overall vulnerability other than how quickly the virus spread in different groups, we will draw very different conclusions than if we find that there was a sustained difference for some groups. 

Finally what we conclude - and this may the most difficult issue of all - will depend on which groups are most strongly affected; depending on the ranking we may conclude that the cause of any disparities were age, or occupational or pre-existing conditions or co-morbidities. The elevated risk of African Caribbeans for example, may be a consequence of their being the minority ethnic group with the oldest age profile - about one in seven of this group is over 65 compared to one in forty amongst Black Africans.

I’m afraid, the real answer has to be: we all have to wait and see!


WIG members can watch Trevor's presentation and watch other webinar recordings in our resource library.
  • Trevor Phillips

    Chair at Green Park Interim and Executive Recruitment, Chair at Index on Censorship

    Trevor Phillips is Chairman of the Board at Green Park, having served as Non-Executive Director advising the Board since April 2017. Trevor brings a breadth of strategic business leadership and a proven track record of accomplishments across multiple industries. The founding Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and the first elected Chair of the Greater London Authority, Trevor’s expertise in diversity and inclusion complements Green Park’s core business values. A writer and broadcaster, Trevor is also co-founder of Webber Phillips Ltd a leading data analytics provider and has served as President of the Partnership Council of the John Lewis Partnership.  Additionally, Trevor is currently Chair of Index on Censorship, the international campaigning and publishing group promoting freedom of expression, and a Senior Fellow at the influential think-tank Policy Exchange.  A former ITV executive, he remains active in the creative industries, writing regularly for several national newspapers and serving as a board member of London’s Barbican Centre and of Headlong Theatre. Trevor has been the recipient of several honorary doctorates, an OBE and was awarded the Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur by the French Government.