OCDO sets up action group to tackle discrimination in dentistry

In response to the growing awareness around issues of discrimination and diversity, the OCDO created the Diversity in Dentistry Action Group (DDAG)Established by the Office of the Chief Dental Officer (OCDO) England, the Diversity in Dentistry Action Group (DDAG) is a strategic oversight group.

DDAG was formed in June 2020 in light of the global raising of consciousness around race inequality ignited by BLM events.

In this article, we speak to Sophia Morris one of the founding members of DDAG on the aspirations for the group.

Why has the group been set up?

The events of the summer served as a timely reminder that racial inequality remains a societal issue and a moral issue. The various debates and discussions that were prompted by these events highlighted the fact that whilst our profession set an early benchmark for diversity, there still remains discrimination and bias in our profession as much as in society.

Our patients have always benefited from the care provided by people from different backgrounds and identities. But the question we should all ask ourselves is whether dentistry is a healthcare career truly open and welcome to all.

Do we feel like we belong? Do we feel that we can truly be ourselves? I and many of my colleagues concluded, probably not to the degree that many would like to believe.

I’m clearly not the only individual to be thinking like this. I rapidly found myself drawn into the CDO FMLM fellows discussions to reflect and understand ‘what next?’ Consequently, from this forum emerged the proposal by CDO England and the founding of the Diversity in Dentistry Action Group (DDAG).

Goals, aims and visions

Our overarching vision is to recognise the rich diversity in dentistry and create the impetus for sustainable change in attitude and opportunity. DDAG has committed to: ‘Listen and allow others to be heard; to understand and acknowledge the presence of a discriminatory problem(s); to educate others to become aware of the issues and why they require resolution; and action to help address, mitigate, prevent and reinforce positive messaging. Dentistry is a healthcare career open and welcome to all.’

However, DDAG is just one of the cogs in the wider machinery of change. We have started building partnerships with all dental professional organisations.

The common goal is to actively support equality, diversity and inclusivity. And collectively ensure that dentistry is a profession that welcomes and supports every individual to fulfil their true potential.

What does the group hope to achieve?

There is no single magic solution to discrimination and racism. Tackling these issues requires an ongoing commitment to create a culture which upholds equality, diversity and inclusion as the core guiding principles.

The group was developed with an understanding that for change to occur we need to take the first step together. The group will deliver strategic direction on EDI priorities within dental education, workforce and the delivery of dental care.

Our initial work has focused on gathering data and hearing personal experiences to try to get a measure of the extent of the problem. We recognise that for change to be sustainable, EDI principles need to be embedded. This needs to happen in both the strategic and operational practices within dentistry.

Therefore, it will be through our multi-disciplinary and cross profession organisations who, by virtue of their positional power and influence on the profession’s culture, values and ethics are the key to fostering sustainable change and inclusion.

We want individuals to reflect on their ways of working, assess and ensure their people management policies are scrutinised and revised as necessary.

What needs to happen at undergraduate level to tackle concerns and improve diversity?

Undergraduate training are the formative years of our dental professionals. We would hope that during this time students are able to develop in a supportive learning environment.

Unfortunately, we have heard recently this isn’t the case for some students from ethnic minority backgrounds. When we discuss the lack of racial diversity within speciality posts and leadership roles, we need to consider that this diversity will be dictated by how diverse our undergraduate populations are.

For example, an estimated 1% of dental undergraduates are black; it becomes a challenging task to promote diversity within the profession if entry into the profession is not diverse.

Thus, more work can be done in addressing the issues causing underrepresentation of black applicants and entrants to dental undergraduate programmes.

Students are future healthcare professionals training to deliver care to diverse populations. Therefore, they need to be supported into operating within a diverse environment.

Research shows student medics who studied within a diverse medical school had a more positive attitude to diversity-related issues. This may also have a positive effect on their preparedness to care for minority patient groups.

Why is it important a collective commitment is created for all stakeholders in dentistry to follow?

The objective of DDAG is to bring the dental profession together. This is to facilitate a profession-wide commitment to drive positive action towards the race inclusion agenda.

Whilst each dental organisation operates within their own sphere of influence, they are intrinsically connected. They all function for the greater good of the dental profession.

To build momentum to shape an inclusive dental profession, DDAG identified that first and foremost we needed a collaborative approach. This combines the strengths and resources of our organisations to shape a dental profession which respects and values inclusion.

The feedback we have received from the profession has also confirmed there are common-themed concerns which organisations are grappling with. Thus through a collective approach the profession will be able to co-design a strategy and share learning around improving diversity and inclusion.

As it has been said ‘collaboration divides the task and multiples the success’. This we have seen during the pandemic where the value of collaborative working across the whole profession was exponential.

How can dental professionals help to further the group’s aims in practice?

In order for us to shift the dial we need to support individuals to feel safe to speak up about inequalities faced in this professional space. What we have seen over the past few months, is not just the voicing of frustrations felt by professionals but active listening by dental organisations.

DDAG also aims to work with the stakeholders to encourage engagement. This is not only meaningful but also leads to actual tangible change. As a result, it helps to ensure we begin to cultivate an engaged and empowered workforce.

We have seen the profession-facing organisations BDA and FGDP step into the space. A space that has opened up to begin to develop work that addresses equality and diversity issues within dentistry.

Additionally, as we move forward, we expect to see more dental organisations engage the profession to develop solutions to issues that are raised.

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