Skills for Care

#SalutingOurSisters: Francesca Darby shares her career story this Black History Month

27 Oct 2023

3 min read

Francesca Darby

  • Culture and diversity
  • Good news story

October is Black History Month, and this year’s focus is on #SalutingOurSisters – celebrating the achievements of Black women. In honour of this we’re dedicating our #GoodNewsFriday in October to sharing the stories of Black women working in social care. This week we hear from Francesca Darby, Head of Service for Learning Disabilities, Worcestershire County Council.

I'm currently Head of Learning Disabilities at Worcestershire County Council.

I’ve been working in social care since 2008 and have done a range of roles including support work, a learning mentor and working for the probation service. I have done a Batchelor of Arts degree in criminal justice and social care, and a Master in social work. I am currently studying for my Leadership Masters.

My first role paid role in social care after university was in a home for young people preparing to leave care. I found this role really rewarding, and after that, I got my first social work role which was working with people with a learning disability.

I’ve always been interested in working in the field of social care since I was a young child. I remember at primary school completing a questionnaire to find out what your future career should be, and my result was a probation officer.

What I love most about working in social care, is being able to change people's lives for the better and working with likeminded people who want to do the same.

I think as a social worker you also go on your own journey through your career too and develop as a person. I noticed when studying for social work it starting to really change the way I looked at the world.

I started to move into management seven years ago now, starting as an Advanced Practitioner, and then progressing to Team Manager. I have also been a manager within a hospital social work team, which is where I was working through the COVID-19 pandemic. It was a real learning experience.

From there I went on to become a service manager, and now I am in my current role as Head of Service.

Progression hasn’t always been easy, and I have had some bumps along the way. There have been barriers for me, some I could see and have worked out, but some that you can’t see and are more subtle. You wonder to yourself why you can’t progress with so much experience, and think ‘What’s stopping me from progressing?’ Then you realise there are other factors at play.

There have been times when I’ve applied for roles and the feedback about why I haven’t got the role hasn’t been very transparent. But I haven't let that stop me from wanting to progress.

There's a real lack of diversity at a senior level and it's quite staggering actually. When I go to a conference or a presentation, I notice there are not a lot of people who look like me in those positions.

I sit on the advisory board for the Social Care Workforce Race Equality Standards (SC-WRES) and I think that provides a really useful metric to assess some of the key issues that are impacting Black, Asian and minority ethnic people at work and causing obstacles to progression. This is a way to gain real data and evidence about the experiences of this group of staff so that solutions can be put in place.

They say you don’t make it on your own, and I’ve certainly had some people who’ve inspired me throughout my career, and given me really helpful feedback. I took part in some reverse mentoring with a Director from one of the local authorities I have worked for. She mentored me around my career aspirations, and I mentored her around equality, diversity, and inclusion. It was very powerful. I have also applied for senior jobs and had some really robust feedback from another Director, he saw I had potential and gave some really helpful advice to help me. He didn’t have to, but taking the time to do that has really helped me.

I also worked with a team manager in another local authority who was a really good role model and showed me what compassionate leadership means and how to have those challenging conversations. I think she brought the authentic leader out of me, so I definitely credit her for that.

I hope that I can be a role model for others, and inspire people not to give up on their dreams or ambitions. There is a plethora of very talented professionals from all backgrounds, everyone deserves a seat at the table!


Visit our Black History Month webpage to find a range of resources to support you and your teams in achieving equality, diversity and inclusivity in the workplace.

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