Published: 20 April 2023
One year on from the publication of NIHR’s Race Equality Framework for public involvement in research, public contributors Kalsum Akhtar, Syeda Islam and Yesmin Begum reflect on why this work matters to them as Asian women, and why it should matter to organisations.
As Asian women, we have a unique, constructive, and invaluable perspective to bring to health and care research not just as a group but individually too, as mothers, daughters, workers, homemakers, carers, and so on. Unfortunately, our voice remains largely under-represented, the situation exacerbated in the health research sphere by a lack of authentic role models.
Diversity contributes to better outcomes for all
The benefits of nurturing inclusion and a diversity of voices in the workplace have been proven time and again. For staff, a culture of respect is engaging and motivating, meaning happy employees and high retention rates; for organisations, different perspectives, styles, insights, and approaches foster innovative and creative problem-solving that can put them ahead of the competition. Nor are the benefits only felt internally. They extend to customers, service users, and society generally, too -to us, in other words.
The importance of this to organisations working in health and care research is obvious. To bring about better outcomes for everyone, organisations in the fields of health and care need to understand and be trusted by everyone. Such understanding and trust can only come about if organisations recognise the contributions of diverse groups, truly listen to what they have to say and work with them as equal partners to shape the services they provide. In other words, only by building diversity and inclusion as standards in their research, can those working in health and care be confident that the services they provide are truly fit for all.
Diversity in action: co-producing the Race Equality Framework
In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of [RACE]. There is no other way, and in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.
(Harry Blackmun, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States)
To achieve racial equity, organisations must make doing so a priority at every level. Furthermore, they must work in authentic and equal partnership with people of all backgrounds, recognising that the benefits of doing so are mutual. This is something the NIHR’s Race Equality Public Action Group (REPAG), the team behind the Race Equality Framework, knows well, adopting as it did an ethos of ‘Do as I say AND as I do’ in its conception and co-creation of the Framework.
We three Asian women count ourselves fortunate to have been involved in developing the Framework - a self assessment tool to help organisations promote race equality in public involvement in research. Over the course of the past year, we contributed in various ways: taking part in consultations and workshops with diverse communities and partner organisations; as well as informing and advising on various topics, such as the need to do more to include under-represented communities and how to encourage more diverse members of the public—experts by experience—to take part in health and care research. We also experienced first-hand the importance of open and honest conversations, diplomacy, and safe spaces in facilitating learning. We were heartened to encounter pockets of allyship and the will to learn, as well as a recognition by organisations of challenges that are fuelled by resistance and denial of problems.
All in all, contributing to the Framework has been highly motivating and empowering and a great confidence-builder, not just for us personally but also in terms of inspiring us - as Asian women collectively, who have been victims of racial discrimination and treated unequally throughout our lives - to believe that racial equity in health and care services is possible.
The way ahead
Real recognition of individual differences is when every voice counts and matters. We, therefore, call on all organisations working in health and care research to adopt the Race Equality Framework. The richness of the data you will gain will help you to design services that you can be confident will meet the needs of all the communities you serve.