Maria Martins’ job is to develop a more inclusive workplace. Here she talks about the initiatives and challenges involved in creating an equitable environment for staff and stakeholders.
“Without diversity and inclusion there is unfairness,” says Maria Martins, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Lead at the Nursing & Midwifery Council.
“We need, for example, to make sure that the outcomes of the fitness to practise process is the same for all, and that staff can progress in their careers regardless of their protected characteristics. It is giving everyone the same opportunities but also equipping them with the tools to have the same opportunities.”
The Nursing & Midwifery Council is the regulator for all nurses and midwives in the UK, and nursing associates in England. It sets the educational standards required for all related courses and establishes the rules for those entering the profession.
There are two strands to registration: one for nurses and midwives trained in the UK and nursing associates who trained in England, and one for everyone else who trained in another country but want to work in the UK. The Council also handles the process for dealing with complaints of malpractice.
Maria’s role in the Nursing & Midwifery Council is relatively new. She joined in April 2018, bringing a strong background in tackling discrimination and workplace exclusion, having worked as an Account Manager for Stonewall. This involved advising government departments and public sector organisations on LGBT inclusion.
Different approaches at the Nursing & Midwifery Council
While, at the time of her joining, the Nursing & Midwifery Council had a team for diversity, quality and inclusion, it focused on the 700,000 registrants and other stakeholders. There was nothing similar in place for the council’s 800 internal employees. What it did and continues to have is very good data on the make-up of both registrants and staff by ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion, age and gender identity.
But Maria points out there is a difference between the external and internal approaches because the needs are not the same.
She explains: “In terms of external stakeholders, we look at things like reasonable adjustments when people come to a hearing, for example. We’ll look at the make-up of our registrants by all protected characteristics; and as we set the standards for education, diversity and inclusion must be embedded so that professionals have those principles in mind once they are practising. We also work with other organisations that register healthcare professionals, including the General Medical Council and the General Dental Council, so it is a different approach.
>See also: How an inclusive culture enables diversity to thrive at RBA
“Internally, it’s monitoring protected characteristics, obviously, but then looking for any barriers to specific groups and how we can overcome them. It’s about raising awareness so that people feel more included and training them so that they don’t discriminate. Because, a lot of the time, people discriminate not because they are mean, but because they don’t know better and they don’t understand they are discriminating.”
Communication is key to understanding
Maria has implemented several initiatives aimed at improving diversity and inclusion among staff. Fundamental to all of this was good communication – engaging with people to find out how they felt. This included changing the questions on the regular staff survey to enable employees to give their views on wellbeing and support.
Another change of question involves the personal details form where people are asked to declare any disability. This was because the percentage of those declaring was believed to be much lower than the actual number. Maria felt that this was down to people being asked to just indicate yes or no to the question about disability, with no opportunity to explain further. She has since had one-to-one meetings with the 22 people who had declared a disability, to discover any barriers they faced and whether they needed more support.
“We know we have more than 22, but it gave us an idea of what the issues were,” Maria reveals. “There was such a range of disabilities, so it was good to understand where we were failing.
“For example, some of the issues involved the time it takes to make reasonable adjustments. We identified that our occupational health provider was taking up to a month to give us feedback from an assessment, which is unacceptable. So, we changed provider who now commits to give us the report within 48 hours.”
Mental health awareness training is being organised for managers who will also benefit from training around people management. As Maria points out: “Our managers are very good at achieving their KPIs but we want to give them the specific tools for the people side of management, how to build diversity and to support people. We think that will have a big impact because it’s on the back of what people told us that was needed.”
It builds on the work of the LGBT+ and Culture networks that were set up before Maria joined and which had organised several awareness-raising events, all of which has helped to improve communication by providing the channels for collecting feedback from staff and making better decisions.
The two networks meet with the head of HR, while the Equality and Diversity Leadership Group enables senior managers to discuss and resolve any issues within their departments. In addition, there’s an employee forum made up of representatives from each department.
Maria cites the example of a director who, on being made aware of an ethnicity-related issue, invited all staff from ethnic minority backgrounds to attend a meeting. She says this was a very open meeting that enabled people to mention the issues they face, including negative attitudes. It also constructively helped people to understand why they may have been turned down for an internal appointment and what they need to do to be successful next time.
>See also: Managing workplace mental health: the power of high-quality training
Mentor and monitor
She is also launching a mentoring scheme, which will be piloted with people from ethnic minority backgrounds who have applied unsuccessfully for jobs within the organisation. They will be mentored by senior staff over six months to assess how they feel and whether they can progress.
“Our data shows that we do have a glass ceiling and we want to break it,” Maria states. “We can and are changing procedures but we need to be sure that unconscious bias doesn’t play a role.
“One of the things we are doing is recruiting internally first up to a certain band, and which will increase the possibilities of people [from ethnic backgrounds] progressing. We are also going to try and have diverse panels, wherever possible, plus we will have a new recruitment platform that will allow us to anonymise CVs and redact certain information (eg. university names). This will benefit ethnicity and social mobility.”
Monitoring is another of Maria’s key initiatives and covers career progression, leavers and absence. It has helped to highlight an area that had a higher turnover than other departments. In response, the staff in that department are being surveyed to understand why people have been leaving and what improvements could be made. Monitoring for social mobility is another new initiative being introduced this year and aims to understand people’s backgrounds.
Summing up her first year in the job, what she is particularly proud of is encouraging people to be open with her: “Because I’m not their direct manager, I have that point in favour. I assure them in all conversations that, unless a safeguarding issue is raised, anything they tell me is confidential. The fact that I’m giving that reassurance has helped people to let me know what they feel and any issues that they have been facing.”
“Because people need to understand that they are listened to and that we are acting on what they are telling us.”
>See also: The importance of mentorship to get women into leadership roles