Solace has provided specialist holistic support for women and children for 48 years. Our 2021 to 2027 organisational strategy builds on our history and growth and is underpinned by three core principles of: intersectional feminism, partnerships & collaboration, and being service-user and evidence-led.
As the largest service provider for survivors of male violence against women and girls (MVAWG) in London and one of the largest in the country, our mission to end male violence against women and girls will not be achieved without also tackling the intersecting and overlapping barriers and discrimination that women and girls from marginalised backgrounds experience. Our strategy recognises our need to more to support our staff from the global majority, as well as our 'by' and 'for' partners across the sector.
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) will focus on five key areas
- Our leadership & governance
- Our people
- Our services
- Our partnerships
- Our communications & campaigns
Our EDI priority is to implement anti-racist policy and practice across our core areas above. We will also build on the VAWG Sector Anti-Racism Charter, to which we are a signatory in a specific anti-racism strategy which we are developing.
We strive to address the multiple and intersecting experiences of discrimination, disadvantage and oppression experienced by our staff, volunteers and the women and children we work with. They are at the heart of everything we do and as we grow as an organisation we commit to listening, reflecting, and responding so that our work to end male violence against women and girls, and to support survivors is intersectional, anti-racist and anti-discriminatory.
Our progress so far
Our senior leadership team have been focused on rebuilding trust and embedding anti racist practices within the organisation. We recognise that this will be an ongoing journey and one year later that it is not over. We know this needs to be a continual work in progress.
Following feedback from staff about the changes they wanted to in the organisation have taken the following steps:
Our team said
Staff need avenues to be able to raise concerns anonymously
In April, Solace launched Tell Jane, a new, externally managed, and anonymous reporting mechanism. Tell Jane is a freephone hotline that provides a safe space to confidentially raise concerns, or can be used to report incidences of bullying, harassment, or discrimination.
This is to complement our established formal and informal reporting channels.
We also undertook a staff survey which could be completed anonymously as another mechanism for staff to give feedback including online management and leadership.
Black and minoritised staff members need access to additional support during this period and beyond
Solace launched specific debrief and clinical supervision sessions for women from the global majority with a supervisor who is a woman of colour. We have also recruited a Head of EDI, Vicki Arogundade.
Our Head of EDI has also set up EDI open sessions which are confidential 1:1 sessions, with priority access for women of colour.
We have launched a staff-led People of Colour inclusion network to enable participants to support one another as they navigate the working world together.
We have undertaken an ethnicity pay gap analysis – the findings and an action plan to be shared with staff shortly.
A People of Colour career progression group has been set up to explore additional mechanisms for women of colour in Solace, steered by our Head of EDI.
We have and will continue to provide additional support to staff from the global majority for applying to any management training and development opportunities.
Solace needs to ensure that is embedding anti-racism practice
As well as the actions above we have also:
We have pledged our support for the VAWG anti-racism charter and are looking at how we ensure its actions are embedded throughout our policies and practices, as well as incorporating it into our Anti-Racism plan which will be developed by April 2023.
In our five-year strategy and EDI Action Plan, we set out our commitment to not compete for tenders for specific services for Black and Minoritised women. We will lobby for ringfenced funding for ‘led by and for’ organisations in collaboration with our partners.
Updated our values in consultation with staff and explicitly set out that they include being anti-racist and that one of our core principles will be intersectional feminism.
Reviewed our training provision and updated our building inclusion training which is now mandatory for all staff. We will also soon introduce a courageous conversations model which has been co-designed with staff to provide practical tools to challenge microaggressions, be an effective ally and take steps to be an upstander.
We are in the process of auditing our recruitment journey to identify and remove structural barriers and achieve greater inclusivity. The audit will cover recruitment, application process, interview, onboarding, support through line managers, and appraisals. We have already mandated that a person from the global majority must sit on any interview panel, and we plan to anonymise applications for shortlisting in the near future.
The leadership team need to reflect on their own behaviours, actions, and biases
The Senior Leadership Team had two externally facilitated reflection and learning sessions guided by a leading expert in the field of anti-racism to reflect on what led to staff going to the press with their concerns and the response to this. Separately the Board of Trustees undertook a reflective session.
The revised training on building inclusion will be attended by the leadership team.
Members of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) have been attending workshops hosted by the Anti-Racism Working Group on the VAWG Anti-Racism Charter.
There needs to be a change in culture within Solace
Solace has begun taking steps towards being trauma informed as an entire organisation to ensure that staff are always treated with respect and dignity. A staff steering group has been set up and teams will undertake baseline assessments shortly.
Solace has appointed an external consultant to undertake a culture review of the organisation which will begin by or before September. The review will look at our current workplace culture and areas for improvement.
We have also finalised our terms of reference for a new Employee Engagement Network and will begin the process for electing representatives from teams shortly.
There needs to be an improvement in the relationships between frontline staff
The Inclusion Networks seek to be an opportunity for people to meet with people from other teams.
We are also organising regional picnics for the summer and will be holding another all staff away day later this year.
The new operational plans will also focus on the importance of meeting other teams.
Key policies should be reviewed such as our grievance and whistleblowing policy
We acknowledge that a number of our policies need to be reviewed – work is being done to review our confidential reporting (whistleblowing), sickness and grievance policies as a priority and will come to staff shortly for input.
We commit to all revised policies to come to staff for consultation before being finalised.
These policies will also be reviewed in light of our progress in becoming a trauma informed organisation which may lead to further changes.
An independent review of racism and discrimination at Solace
An external consultant from the global majority has now completed a thematic review of anonymised race-related grievances over an 18-month period. This review was conducted independently to identify learning from the responses to past grievances and to make recommendations for improvements. The Board HR Sub Committee and SMT will be reviewing the recommendations made and these will be incorporated into revised policies to embed into an improved approach.
We have also been cooperating with an external investigation by Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis for England and Wales.
The Senior Leadership team needs to be more transparent and visible/accessible
Our CEO has set up monthly coffee catch ups which all staff are invited to raise ideas and concerns.
Our CEO has also introduced a weekly email which updates on key developments within the organisation, including decisions made at SLT.
We have committed to ensuring that all new or revised policies come to all staff for input and feedback.
The new Employee Engagement Forum will be a mechanism for feedback from teams to SLT.
We hold monthly meetings with managers to update them on key developments and changes at Solace, with the aim of cascading that information to their teams. We also use those meetings to ask for input on developing policies or proposed changes.
Reviewing exit interviews
The HR Sub-Committee and Senior Leadership Team are undertaking a more detailed analysis of exit interview feedback from staff on a quarterly basis.
We have also expanded the ways staff can give exit interview feedback to encourage further participation, which has led to an increase in staff taking part.
Supporting staffwith their mental health and wellbeing
We have launched a new Employee Assistance Programme which has a more comprehensive offer including a helpline, online portal and health and wellbeing app.
Solace has appointed a Wellbeing Lead, who has been holding 1:1 wellbeing sessions and team reflective sessions, has developed new wellbeing training for inductions and for managers.
We have undertaken MIND’s Workplace Wellbeing Index to assess our support for staff’s wellbeing and mental health. We have received the results and will be consulting staff on an action plan shortly.
Board of trustee visibility
The board of trustees have set up an Oversight Committee to hold the senior leadership to account on key commitments to rebuild trust and embed anti-racism in the organisation.
Trustees attended our away day last November.
We are in the process of recruiting a new Chair of Trustees and have recently recruited four new trustees who we are seeking to find opportunities to meet with staff.
Solace has been in conversation with both United Voices of the World (UVW) and Unison. The Board of Trustees have now received voluntary recognition agreements from UVW (which was rejected due to UW displaying behaviour not in keeping with Solace’s values) and from Unison, which will be discussed at September board meeting.
We recognise that the need to be heard and represented by a Union is very important to some Solace staff. We also know all staff have a right to be heard, so conversations with Unions will run alongside but not replace the establishment of the new Employee forum.
Leadership and Governance: Our Senior Management Team, Executive Team and Board of Trustees
Our aim: The leadership of Solace will reflect the diversity of London, and of our staff and service users, and will put in place clear governance structures to scrutinize progress against this EDI plan.
- Representation of our leadership
There are ten members of our Board of Trustees. Our aim is for the Board to be broadly representative of women in London, at 40% Black and Minoritised women based on the 2011 Census. We took action to ensure the Board included experts by experience in its membership in 2020 and maintain this focus to recruit women who have survived male violence and usually women who have been supported through our services.
Our senior management team is made up of our CEOs, Directors, and Heads of Services. Where possible, we aim for internal recruitment to senior management and management roles to provide opportunities for internal progression and promotion for staff. Our People Strategy incorporates our plans for support and development of our staff and we are creating baseline data this year on the number and proportion of Black and Minoritised and white women promoted internally as well as looking at other protected characteristics, so that we can take additional positive action where needed.
- Oversight Committee
In response to public allegations made in July 2021 by current and former staff, the Board of Trustees set up a sub-committee comprised of the Chair and Vice Chair of the Board, and the Chairs of all the sub-Committees of the Board (finance, services, business development, and HR). Since being set up in August 2021, the Oversight Committee meets regularly to oversee and drive a plan for the way ahead, which includes this EDI action plan. At the point of disbanding the Oversight Committee, the EDI actions will be scrutinized by the relevant existing sub-Committee as part of our existing reporting structures.
- Complaints and grievances and HR policies
The Board of Trustees will continue to receive an anonymised summary of any grievances related to racism. We will also implement a policy of appointing external investigators who are woman of colour to identify themes on race and other formal grievances to enhance our internal practices.
We are reviewing our grievance and complaints policies and processes to identify and eliminate any racial or other bias as well as other HR policies including bullying and harassment to have a stronger focus on racial harassment, ensuring staff views, especially those staff affected by racism, are incorporated into the new procedures. We are also scoping the potential for an informal and anonymous process that could allow staff to raise concerns in a safe space independent from the line management structure while ensuring that anyone who wants to raise a grievance or whistleblowing report can still do so freely.
- Reflection and learning
The Senior Management Team and Board of Trustees are both (separately) planning externally facilitated reflection and learning sessions this year. These days will include reflection on our culture and communications and will also build in learning and reflection on principles of anti-racism in relation to our work as feminists in the VAWG sector, using materials collated by the sector-wide anti-racism group where available. All senior managers will also undertake anti-racism training provided by Sistah Space (see the ‘People’ section below).
Our People: Our Staff and Volunteers
Our aim: Solace staff and volunteers believe in the leadership of the organisation, feel part of a Solace family and feel able to bring constructive challenge where they see issues or opportunities to improve.
- Organisational culture review
The Board of Trustees is working with the Executive team to commission an independent organisational culture review, in recognition of the work we need to do end silos between different teams and management levels at Solace so that everyone is able to recognise and contribute to a positive and respectful organisational culture. Staff will be involved in the development of the tender and procurement of services, including as part of the interview panel.
- Ethnicity pay gap report and audit of recruitment journey
We will undertake an ethnicity pay gap analysis and publish our pay gap report, sharing the findings and subsequent action plan with staff. We anticipate that there will be disparities, knowing that we have disproportionate numbers of Black and Minoritised staff in lower grades. We are auditing the recruitment and progression journey to identify and remove any potential racial bias. We have started automating some of our recruitment processes which will enable us to remove applicants’ names at shortlisting stage, and we have implemented a policy of ensuring interview panels for recruitment and promotion always have at least one Black and Minoritised staff member on the panel. We are also planning to incorporate service user representation in our recruitment processes to increase diversity of decision-making and incorporate expertise by experience.
- Additional resources to support Black and Minoritised staff
All our services staff are offered monthly group clinical supervision and are able to access daily debrief slots with British Association of Counselling Psychotherapy or UK Council for Psychotherapy accredited supervisors. In order to increase Black and Minoritised staff members’ sense of safety to raise their experiences of racism in these sessions, we have recruited several additional clinical supervisors who are Black and Minoritised women. We are currently putting in place systems for Black and Minoritised staff members to request up to three one-to-one clinical supervisions with a clinical supervisor of colour. We have also set up additional debrief sessions specifically for Black and Minoritised staff with clinical supervisor of colour on a daily basis, in addition to our existing daily debrief sessions with a clinical supervisor (in which staff can book individual slots).
- Anti-racism training for staff
We are reviewing our current core training provision and our optional building inclusion module (which covers micro-aggressions, unconscious bias and anti-racist practice) to assess whether they meet the needs of staff and the organisation and explore the suitability of building in additional anti-racism and inclusion training modules. We have also commissioned Sistah Space (a specialist service run by and for African heritage women) to conduct anti-racism training between November and December 2021 which is compulsory for managers and senior managers and will be made available for all staff. Where we seek to commission external training or consultation on supporting staff or services users with (or working with) protected characteristics, we will look for providers with those characteristics and invite them to apply, giving additional weighting to lived experience.
- Staff inclusion networks
We are developing a new network to be run by and for Black and Minoritised staff, plan to develop our existing allies’ network and introduce new LGBT+ and Disability staff networks this year. There are several existing staff networks and groups, and we are planning to implement a clear model for all of them to feed in to one Solace-wide Inclusion Network. The new network programme takes a holistic approach to staff and aspires to offer sessions focused on career advancement, personal development and wellbeing.
In future years, we will look to work with other organisations in the sector including second tier bodies on extending and exchanging the opportunities within Solace with staff in other organisations, in line with the VAWG sector anti-racism charter actions.
- Trauma-informed accreditation
We are currently scoping out a partner to support us to become a trauma-informed organisation at every level, not just with our service users. We anticipate the process to take around six to nine months and to carry into 2022-23 but have already initiated the first steps with staff. By the end of the journey, Solace will be a safe, supportive, and inclusive place for staff, volunteers and service users. We will progress from the focus being only on trauma informed practice in our frontline work to these principles being represented throughout our organisation.
Our services and service users: Accommodation, Advice & Support, Multiple Disadvantage, Partnerships, Rape Crisis, Therapeutic Services, Children & Young People, Training
Our aim: Survivors of male violence against women and girls with protected characteristics can access our services without discrimination or barriers and are supported to choose the safest and most appropriate support for them.
- Commitment to not competing with ‘led by and for’ organisations
We respect the expertise of and need for VAWG services led by and for Black and Minoritised women and other marginalised groups and recognise our role as a large VAWG service provider in ensuring the survival and growth of these services, especially the small grassroots services which are best connected to the communities they serve. We are committed not to bid for tenders for specific services for Black and Minoritised women or for other groups such as Deaf and disabled women and LGBT+ survivors, unless to support a ‘by and for’ service as part of a partnership or where a ‘by and for’ service does not yet exist for a community where we have been commissioned to deliver the service. We will support a shared statement and vision to funders and Government that we need ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised women’s organisations.
- Local area analysis
All teams based in geographical areas are undertaking research to understand the demographics of their services' local area and to assess which other specialist services support the same area, and identify whether there are demographics who are not being supported by any service. Working with 'by and for' services working in the same area, we are developing plans to address any barriers identified and do outreach work where possible. Analysis will also be fed back to commissioners.
- Trans inclusive services
We have a trans inclusive approach and already support trans survivors in our services. We will launch new policies this year clarifying how all our services can be more explicitly trans-inclusive, and working with specialists such as Galop, we will provide guidance to staff on supporting trans survivors in their services.
- Service users
We are developing a service user involvement strategy and as part of this we will seek to identify and remove any barriers to involvement for Black and Minoritised service users, and those with other protected characteristics. We are designing new questions for our annual survey of service users to capture any experiences of bias or discrimination. We are also monitoring the data we hold on the characteristics of our service users to assess any significant changes, particularly on levels of access by Black and Minoritised service users.
- Delivering training
We are working on a statement for the training we deliver externally which defines our understanding of anti-racism and anti-oppression; intersectionality, and inclusion; what that means for our training; and how it is reflected in our development and delivery. This will be shared with all our associate trainers who deliver Solace training. We will also review all our current training packages to ensure that anti-racism and anti-discrimination is built into each of them. We have commissioned additional external training for associates who deliver our external training on how to address micro-aggressions when they are training corporates and public sector staff.
Our partnerships and collaboration: Ascent Advice & Counselling, Housing Projects, Labyrinth, the Women’s Development Unit, new partnerships.
Our aim: Our partnerships support the most hidden women, including Black and Minoritised women, those with learning disabilities, homeless women, older women, and disabled women, who are supported through tailored approaches delivered in partnership with other specialist organisations. Our partnerships strengthen smaller and 'by and for' specialist VAWG organisations and respect their expertise.
- Partnerships framework
We are developing a framework for future partnership working in collaboration with current partners, which will cover co-production and due diligence processes. Drawing on the cross-sector anti-racism charter, we will embed principles of respect and truth-telling into the framework and commit to transparency around allocation of roles and budgets. The majority of our current partnerships draw on the conflict resolution process set up by the London VAWG Consortium, and we will incorporate this as well as any updates into the framework in agreement with partners.
- Embedding EDI in our existing partnerships
In our current partnership projects we have identified specific actions which can be taken to ensure that the projects are accessible for marginalized groups. Specifically:
- Casa Project - The Casa Project enables women to move-on from refuges to high quality, self-contained accommodation with affordable rents, provided by registered landlords, for up to 2 years. We are working with the GLA to ensure an equalities impact assessment of the project is undertaken, and are ensuring the training is provided for smaller refuges and particularly those run by and for Black and Minoritised women to ensure they are able to refer into the project.
- Ascent Advice and Counselling and Ascent Advice Plus - Ascent Advice and Counselling is a pan-London partnership of 14 specialist VAWG organisations that provide specialist advice and counselling services to women and girls who have experienced, or are at risk of, sexual and/or domestic abuse. We have been working with partners to develop anti-racist reflective practice for Black and Minoritised women and white women meeting separately, and the staff involved are sharing their learning with their organisations and across the partnership. Through our MOPAC funding for Ascent Advice Plus four specialist partners provide consultancy support and training for partners working with LBT+ women, deaf and disabled women, and women with learning disabilities and/or autism to improve the accessibility and support for these specific groups.
- The Labyrinth Project - Through the Labyrinth Project, Solace has launched its first grants scheme. The Labyrinth Project Grants scheme has awarded a minimum of 30% of its grant funding to minority groups and ensured that Black and Minoritised led organisations are being specifically targeted in our communications. We have provided individual support for applicants to ensure the grant scheme is accessible for organisations run by and/or supporting marginalised groups. We will also run workshops and develop materials to support smaller organisations in attracting grant funding and evaluating projects, which will seek to build the capacity of their organisations.
Communications and Campaigns: Fundraising, Awareness-Raising, Influencing.
Our aim: Our external communications and campaigns represent the diversity of the women we work and the population of London in both their content and their aims.
Campaigning for change
In our public affairs and campaigning work we commit to ensuring that we consider the differential impacts of policy proposals on Black and Minoritised women and others facing intersecting oppressions, as well as whether their particular needs are reflected in our policy positions. Our public affairs work is using opportunities such as consultation responses, parliamentary debates, and policy campaigns to influence political decision-makers on the following this year:
- Migrant women
We will work in collaboration with 'by and for' organisations and the sector to lobby for a firewall between public services and the Home Office for people reporting domestic abuse, and for adequate funding for survivors with no recourse to public funds (NRPF), keeping pressure on the Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention.
- Commissioning and funding
We will work with partners and funders over the next five years to change to the way VAWG services are commissioned and funded, with a focus on:
- Increasing in statutory funding for women and children escaping abuse and violence to rebuild their lives
- Ensuring tenders are structured to improve pay and reduce caseloads for frontline workers
- Grant funding for specialist services for Black and Minoritised women and other marginalised groups rather than competitive tendering.
- Service User Engagement
We are creating a service user involvement five-year strategy to co-produce future campaigns and content with survivors who are representative across the protected characteristic and particularly Black and Minoritised women. A key part of the strategy is to develop an ambassador programme for current and former service users who are interested in being part of communication campaigns, doing public speaking, and engaging with politicians and media. We are developing the plan this year and will begin implementation next year.
We are reviewing all our fundraising events and materials to ensure they meet accessibility, equality and diversity standards (as well as reduce language barriers). This year we will create a “script” of questions around the nine protected characteristics, to be checked against before we sign up to any fundraising challenges run by third parties such as, for example, sponsored running events.
We want our materials to be accessible in different languages and the languages that reflect London’s vast and expansive multiculturalism. We have recently added a widget on our website so that it is accessible in more than 80 languages. Where possible we add subtitles to any videos that we use and have additional descriptions of images. We are looking into Eazy Read which is an approved format to provide accessible information for people with learning disabilities. We use RNIB approved fonts and aim to include materials in large print that are accessible to people with sight impairments.
- Older women
We are developing a toolkit in collaboration with Dewis Choice to raise awareness of older survivors’ experiences of VAWG and the barriers they face to accessing support, and to highlight best practice services and advocacy for this demographic. We aim to launch the toolkit later this this year and alongside it we will develop an anti-ageist discrimination statement to share with others in the sector.
We are actively seeking funding opportunities through grants and foundations to increase the support and expertise within our existing services for Deaf and other sensory impaired survivors and those with physical and learning disabilities. We recognise that there is huge diversity within the Deaf and disabled communities and any bids we submit will be specific to particular groups’ needs depending on the scope of the opportunity. We look to form partnerships with organisations that understand the specific needs of these communities when developing and delivering this work.