How will BAME healthcare staff get a seat at the leadership table?

BAME healthcare workers discussed the ways to progress in British healthcare and the barriers in their way

There’s plenty of ethnic diversity in the British healthcare workforce, yet not nearly enough are reaching leadership positions; so how can BAME talent break through?

That’s the question Fiona Daniel, CEO and Founder of FD21, an organisational diversity and inclusion consultancy and someone with professional experience in the NHS, explored in a recent roundtable session alongside alumni from The National BAME Health & Care Awards, who understand the challenges first-hand.

What’s plaguing BAME healthcare career progression?

The attendees, all BAME healthcare staff, agreed that BAME individuals could take charge of their professional development in several ways, like finding the right mentors and building interview skills. Yet, many agreed that the culture of NHS leadership needs to innovate to be more inclusive, too, with the NHS suffering from a “groupthink” culture, according to one delegate.

Another said that NHS leadership could learn lessons from the private sector and take on a more entrepreneurial style, which could open up new processes and ways of leading, encouraging greater workforce diversity and inclusion at all levels.

Self-development for BAME healthcare staff

Starting with what BAME staff can do to aid their career progression, one delegate said that having a supportive manager was essential. Even if that manager is from a non-BAME background, the upside is they will likely have the influence to drive positive change.

Attendees also agreed that a “lack of preparedness” among BAME staff for interviews and application processes is a barrier, even though many have the right skills and experience to apply for positions. Another issue is that many NHS nurses come from overseas and might not have the confidence to express themselves during recruitment stages, despite having the right profile for jobs.

They also identified that some BAME staff don’t feel comfortable asking for help with job applications and interviews, while others don’t know where to go to get help.

To change this, they agreed that networks could offer a safe space to learn interview skills and could be particularly helpful for BAME staff who have worked in one position for many years and, despite their varied experience and skills, may need help communicating this.

Professionalism is a big topic of discussion across business sectors, including what being professional looks like. For minority groups, fitting into professional ideals set by someone else can feel alienating and inauthentic. Daniel said that being professional is “not about fitting the mould of others but being both authentic and professional.”

One attendee compared fitting into professional norms for BAME talent as “playing the rules of the game” and said it’s impossible to be 100% authentic in such settings.

Gaining extra support

Gaining support from others to aid self-development in the workplace was the next discussion. One said there are two main forms of support; emotional, namely coaching, and a practical form, mentorship. They then offered advice on finding the right mentor.

They said that finding someone “as senior as possible” is important when looking for a mentor in British healthcare, even if they are outside your immediate sector.

The key is to ensure there is no competition or the chance that the mentee could surpass the mentor in their career progression. “If too similar in seniority, it’s every man for themselves, driven by the organisation’s culture to keep people divided,” they said.

From the mentor’s perspective, they need to be motivated to engage in mentorship, or else they could drop out, the speaker added.

A healthcare mentor himself, one attendee said the motivation for senior-level mentors should be “legacy building” and finding the next great talent coming up.

Daniel, a mentor to many people, added that those looking for support must understand the differences between mentoring, coaching and sponsorship and know what they’re looking for first. She also said that it’s ok to “lean in” to multiple mentors and gain different perspectives.

At an organisational level, Daniel said engaging in BAME networks and using them as a vehicle to push leadership for change is a good idea. She gained experience as a chair of a BAME network in a previous corporate role and said they can be good to “push for things like inclusive leadership and anti-bias classes.”

However, she warned that while networks can be used to push equity issues up to the board level, it’s not the sole responsibility of networks to “come up with the solutions.”

Does the NHS need a leadership mindset shift?

The conversation then turned to how the NHS should run to improve innovation and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) within it.

One attendee said NHS leadership often has a “public mindset” as many haven’t had private sector experience, which can restrict their vision. While they believe that NHS leaders need to be more “entrepreneurial” in their thinking, they admit that their public sector experience can also limit this.

This attendee also said they often speak to corporate figures on LinkedIn to gain some advice on different types of leadership, but they don’t understand the NHS market.

Takeaway thoughts

From the discussion, it’s clear that BAME healthcare workers feel that NHS leadership needs to be more innovative and open to new ways of thinking and working, which breeds better diversity and inclusion.

While we’re seeing this happen in the private sector, with many firms marching forward with new ways of encouraging diverse talent to enter and progress within sectors, it’s clear that this is still some way behind in British healthcare.

There are many things that BAME healthcare workers can to do self-develop, but it is not down to them to help diversify the sector at all levels. And they can find all the mentors and skillset building classes they like, but if the mindset of existing leadership is narrow, how can BAME talent hope to get a seat at the leadership table?

You can find out more about the National BAME Health and Care Awards, view the 2022 shortlist or book to join us at this year’s awards ceremony on 9th June 2022 by clicking here.

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