Racism, the Royal Family and Governance

December 5, 2022

Trudi Stevens

Senior Tutor for Promethean Executive

“Governance is a system that provides a framework for managing organisations. It identifies who can make decisions, who has the authority to act on behalf of the organisation and who is accountable for how an organisation and its people behave and perform.

Governance enables the management team and the board to run organisations legally, ethically, sustainably, and successfully, for the benefit of stakeholders, including shareholders, staff, clients and customers, and for the good of wider society.”

Chartered Governance Institute UK & Ireland

Effective governance is not easy and neither is it well understood. However, it is fundamental to the viability of any organisation because it encompasses the functions that underpin the very purpose of that organisation. Governance covers how decisions are made and by whom; how those decision makers report the process and how they are held accountable. Governance requires that all stakeholders are considered because they feel the impact of organisations’ activities.

The recent row engulfing the British Royal Family (Buckingham Palace race row raises awkward questions – BBC News)  sheds a light on the role of Governance in one of Britain’s most revered institutions. It occurs in the context of inferred claims of institutional racism by Prince Harry and his wife and in the initiation of ‘modernising’ the institution by the new King, Charles.

Looking at this situation through the lens of governance gives an interesting insight into the culture of the Royal Institution and into how it justifies its place in a modern 21st Century developed nation.

The individual who caused offence accompanied the Queen Consort to the event as ‘a lady of the household’, a role of official recognition. As such, she represents the Royal Institution to the outside world, along with every other employee and member of the Royal Household. By quickly sanctioning her very public behaviour, governance was seen to be rapidly applied. The message to the outside world is that, if you are a British national, then you are to be recognised as such by the Royal Institution whatever your ancestry. This is critical to an institution that exists because Britain exists and it exists because of the support and acceptance of the British citizenship, in all its diversity.

The governance of the Royal Institution is directly connected to the way civic society in Britain applies governance to itself. Civic society is not a single mind and neither does it behave with consistent values. It is a honeycomb of interconnected value systems and social norms, each of which have high and low standards and which have their own governance arrangements. The particular ‘cell’ that connected with the Royal Institution at that event was one whose highest standards address the protection of women from harm. For a Royal representative to make a woman (who protects other women) feel unrecognised and of less worth (because her ancestry was not British) at that event was deeply and unpleasantly ironic even if it was unintentional.

The civic expectations of the Royal Institution are that they support, both publicly and privately, the highest standards of the external stakeholders that they interact with. This is the unwritten pact British citizenry has with its Royal Institution in the modern age. Those standards, amongst many, include the protecting of women from harm originating both within and without the Royal Institution and from implied racism originating both within and without the Royal Institution.

Effective governance is not easy – but it is fundamental to the continued viability of any organisation in ever changing times.

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