‘Clear basis for change’ on social justice

Ella Rhodes reports on a British Psychological Society audit.

There has been an increasing groundswell of social justice movements within psychology in recent years, as well as more focus on diversity and inclusivity. Recently, British Psychological Society members audited the current state of social justice work among its Member Networks.

The Society’s Strategic Plan explicitly reflects that social justice, inclusivity and diversity is integral to the work of members. It is notable, then, that in its 116-year history only 13 of the 95 BPS Presidents have been women, not including current President Elect Nicola Gale. Whilst there are currently 645 Fellows only 148 are women. In terms of race and disability the membership does not adequately reflect either the wider national demographic or that of the service user groups that many psychologists work with.

In June 2014, in recognition of the importance of social justice, inclusion and diversity, the Society’s Board of Trustees asked the Membership and Standards Board to explore this further.  A task-and-finish group was created to consider how to promote social justice and inclusion values, and enhance communication and influence in this area. Led by the chair of the Ethics Committee, Professor Kate Bullen, and with representation from the Society’s Divisions, the group sought to assess and understand how social justice is incorporated into the work of Society members.

The agreed starting point was a baseline assessment of social justice activity within the BPS. This, in turn, inspired a group audit project developed and carried out by participants of the BPS Leadership Development Programme, Tasim Martin-Berg, Neha Malhotra and Simon Toms. A questionnaire of six open-ended questions was developed and sent to 39 BPS Member Networks (Divisions, Sections, etc.) of whom 23 responded. After a thematic analysis eight themes emerged: policy, broad aims, specific activities, motivation and rationale for activity, obstacles, success, awareness of other groups, and perceptions of the audit.

The most notable finding in relation to policy was that two thirds of Member Networks did not possess their own specific policies; rather, participants frequently discussed how overarching BPS policy and values were often applied to various ‘network-specific’ aims around social justice, inclusivity and diversity. Many specific activities were also reported in the audit, often conducted within or between Member Networks. Some examples included members’ efforts to raise awareness through dialogue and social media campaigns, public engagement, development of an inclusivity strategy, through consultancy work with the government and commissioners. However, the audit also recorded a number of Member Networks are not currently engaged in social justice work specifically.

What motivated social justice work? The audit found values, principles and professional purpose as core motivational factors and a desire to address and improve knowledge, participation, and awareness also came up frequently.  Work was often in alignment with the specific area of focus of the member network. One of the networks said in its response: ‘The motivation [for social justice work] is built into our professional purpose.’

The audit also revealed obstacles, with participants pointing to limited time and resources, BPS bureaucracy, a lack of member or societal awareness, and differences in priorities perceived by individuals as standing between themselves and social justice work. Respondents were also asked to describe the successes, impact and future aims of their social justice, equality, diversity and inclusion work. A positive message emerged: broadly speaking Member Networks saw such work as a successful and something to expand and build upon in the future.

The team said the audit provided a basis for further exploration into social justice, equality, diversity and inclusion work. They also suggest the development of an Inclusivity Officer position within the Society, to address obstacles outlined within the audit and investigate how social justice is supported in training. Simon Toms told us: ‘This audit provides clear and up-to-date evidence of social justice work within the Society as well as examples of good practice. At the same time the audit confirms the absence of work and explicit policies in this area for certain Member Networks, which is just as valid to acknowledge. There is a great deal to celebrate and build on, and there is a clear basis for change within the Society.’

The project team will present a summary of the audit at the BPS Annual Conference in Brighton on Thursday 4 May, alongside the Social Justice Task Force.

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