DJM's D&I Officer Tzeitel Degiovanni had the pleasure of speaking to Leah Slater-Radway, EDI Lead at St John Ambulance, a few weeks ago about the diversity and inclusion work that St John have been doing since early 2020. The interview was also to celebrate the collaboration between St John Ambulance and DiverseJobsMatter, with St John featuring their vacancies on the new job board that connects job seekers from underrepresented communities to live vacancies, ensuring a more representative shortlist at the onset of the hiring process
What motivated you to work at St John Ambulance?
I wanted to work somewhere really focused on doing good and helping people. I trained as a youth first aider with St John when I was around 13 and really enjoyed it, so when I saw the opportunity it seemed to fit perfectly!
What was the approach to EDI when you joined St John Ambulance?
As an organisation, we were very much trying to understand the direction of conversation and to think about our key priorities when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI). 2020 was obviously a momentous year for navigating those conversations around traditionally difficult topics like race, identity and belonging. St John had put together a steering group to think about these things and the direction to take. Progress was impacted by COVID-19, the need to re-deploy resources and focus on supporting the NHS with the pandemic response. Following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and conversations that spun out of that, there was a renewed energy to get things up and running and create a specific role for Diversity and Inclusion (which previously didn’t exist), and an EDI strategy was written, receiving approval by our People Committee in September 2020.
There’s a lot of momentum within St John and we’re very much at that really important foundational stage where we’re thoughtfully building our own understanding so we can learn from others and eventually lead on this.
So you were essentially able to shape this new role, which is really exciting!
Yeah definitely. From the moment I joined I had people reaching out which really helped me paint a picture of where things were at. St John Ambulance has such a great mix of employees and a really large, committed volunteer base - so many people were just reaching out to say, “it’s so great that we’ve finally got an EDI lead!” and sharing their interests from different angles and experiences. Where I come in is really being able to pull all that resource, experience and enthusiasm together and essentially steer the conversation in the right direction.
What are some of the key initiatives that are on the forefront of St John Ambulance’s mission at the moment?
We are setting up a number of people networks focused on particular marginalised or underrepresented groups. They are really about us creating safe spaces, pooling together the experiences of people across the organisation and thinking about those topics with an intersectional lense. We’re also building our network within the sector to collaborate, learn and share best practice. Recruiting a Volunteer EDI Lead has also been top of the agenda - which is really exciting for me to be able to grow my team!
Have you seen any inequalities in the medical and first responder sector exasperated by Covid-19 that perhaps you weren’t expecting?
That’s an interesting question. I’ve seen inequalities on a community level in the way that different groups are engaging with the information they’re getting on the pandemic, on the vaccinations and so on. Its opened my eyes more acutely to some of those nuanced concerns and hesitancies. Aside from that, I think the biggest barrier has been engaging with people who are quietly struggling and perhaps don’t feel that sense of community anymore because the pandemic has affected us in so many different ways. The idea of togetherness and belonging has definitely taken a hit and required adaptation. On that, the use of technology - although super beneficial throughout the pandemic - has been difficult for some people depending on their existing digital proficiency. There’s a risk that we leave certain people behind unless we include them and take the time to explain how things work and how they can use the technologies to their benefit.
I think you touched on a really important point there and about how, even though D&I work has taken a backseat to the COVID-19 response, they are actually very much interlinked.
What we’re seeing is that EDI penetrates everything, and I think that’s a wider lesson for us, not just regarding COVID-19 but that EDI is not an ‘add-on’. It’s very much involved in everything that we do.
Obviously recruitment is a big part of which EDI should be embedded within an organisation. I wondered whether there have been any challenges in diversifying recruitment processes within St John Ambulance?
We’re doing a lot of work to think about how we can simplify our recruitment processes for all roles. So we’re thinking about how accessible we are from the moment someone has an interest in applying, right through to interviews and then onboarding. That means us thinking about the range of candidates we attract and about what our interview panels look like. We’re also making improvements to our applicant diversity monitoring data capture, which will help us create a clearer picture on some of the gaps we need to address.
The enthusiasm we’ve had so far has been great. As an organisation we’re focused on plugging the holes in our processes so that they run smoothly and effectively – and DJM is a great aid to that!