Challenging Ourselves to THINK, LISTEN, ACT & most of all let THEM OTHERS in

Some more ramblings from an Ex NHS Board lead on Equality and Diversity
It’s a few weeks since I last blogged on the theme of diversity and I thought it was timely given it is NHS Equality Diversity and Human Rights Week to discuss the issues again.
My initial blog was prompted by Rogers Kline’s report:
“The snowy white peaks of the NHS: a survey of discrimination in governance and leadership and the potential impact on patient care in London and England.” Middlesex University.
The report left me troubled at the situation we find ourselves in, with data going the wrong way on numbers of Black and minority ethnic staff (BME) and women leaders in the NHS. It not just the NHS either. Statistics tell us in the top teams of the Whitehall civil servants, those who chair national committees and MPs in Parliament numbers of black and ethnic minority staff and women are reducing not increasing. This is all happening at the same time as our country becomes more diverse and dynamic.
I am really pleased that Rogers report has had air time at senior levels in the NHS, in national media and has been taken seriously by the NHS Leadership Academy. Meanwhile Clive Efford MP spoke to the BBC about the FA and Mr Scudamore’s attitude to women:
“They either mean it when they talk about discrimination or they do not.”
This is a really important challenge for all of us, as the things we talk about as leaders get focused on. The things leaders focus on in big organisations usually get delivered on by their staff or in terms of culture get modelled by them. So, we need to now move beyond the talking about it.
In this blog for the leaders of the NHS I think more about the challenges we face in the lack of diversity in top teams and suggest it needs us to THINK, LISTEN, ACT & most of all let THEM OTHERS in.
As, if you talk quietly and off the record to those who lead board development and undertake executive coaching in the NHS they will tell you the sad facts. Women who apply for CEO roles are taking 4 times longer than men to get their first post and for the rest of the board appointments look at the pictures on websites. 80% of the time you will guess the ethnicity and its mostly white, middle aged and male. We need action and its urgent now and Rogers work puts a loud hailer to the problem.
This issue is fundamentally about the sort of NHS we are growing and developing. Can this NHS that we have been so proud of for 66 years survive the future if it does not reflect the population it serves?
A number of you will know the story of the man walking on the beach. In the distance another man is throwing things into the sea, as he draws nearer he sees the man is surrounded by thousands of star fish gasping their last breath. He asks the man what he is doing as the man throws another back in.
“I’m saving one at a time,” says the man.
This reminds me that no challenge is ever too big for organisations and their leaders if we start with one starfish at a time. It’s about a mind-set, a culture, a willingness to act and to change.
THINK, leaders when you are in your Board meeting or Executive team could you take some time to review Roger Kline’s report and consider the challenges in your own organisation. Look at your own stats your HR team will have a mine of info on workforce demographics and you are likely to have info on patient data elsewhere. Look at who goes on leadership courses, who is and isn’t getting coaching, mentoring or getting promoted.
Reflect for a while on when you staff look up who do they see? Do they believe it could be them? Do they see people like them sitting around the table? People with the skills and talent they possess being valued and celebrated.
But, when you think about these issues don’t beat yourselves up, start to imagine what little things you might do to better understand the blocks, barriers and the organisational behaviours that limit diversity. Use an appreciative enquiry approach and think of your starfish.
I have been thinking on this issue a bit since my last blog. And, over the weekend I finally got around to watching Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom. As I watched it I was struck by the very tangibly different way that Mandela acted from prison to his earlier life. When from prison he responded to the apartheid government newer thinking and that tentative reaching out to him. I thought for the first time about the governing leaders and how they needed to initiate the change, letting him in. They had begun to THINK and in small ways admit they needed to change.
What did Mandela do? Well he went and met them and spent lots of time listening to them and their concerns. So, trusts boards I bet your stats will not be very reassuring on diversity in your top teams. Don’t kid yourselves its better than it is, and it’s ok to say we need to do much more. You might be starting from a weak place but it’s a place. All you now need to do is begin to LISTEN to your staff.
If you don’t have one already then I suggest you get yourself a coach as you will be challenged. You will need to take time to work through what you hear. Some of it will be uncomfortable and difficult to resolve easily.
Then go listen some more find your body of staff, talk individually and in forums about equality and diversity. As in the crowd will be women who have been identified as potential leaders, the black and minority ethnic staff, the gay, the straight, the disabled, those with faith, those without, the carers of children and elderly relatives and the older and younger workforce themselves. Go find them and seek to listen to the issues from your workforce perspective.
I can guarantee that if you are genuine and authentic in your inquiry you will find out what this place is like to work in? The good, the bad and the ugly. You will discover what the organisation does that helps staff from diverse backgrounds get on and what hinders. You will also get suggestions from the front line of how you might make it better. That’s gold dust as we know unhappy staff equate to poorer care outcomes. So this is never just about the Equality Act .It is the core of what we need to do and its mainstream.
Then it’s time to ACT. That might mean more thinking, more listening, going back with more questions. That is all ACTION and all is valid. It probably will involve feedback to your board on what you found. You will not fix this quickly and it requires a leadership investment. Like with starfish the most powerful action can be a small thing that really tells your organisation you have listened, heard and are trying to be a better leader. Be honest about what you do not know, what makes you uncomfortable and do ask for help. Your staff want dialogue and to be listened to and they will value that.
My experience is you will need support so looking to NHS Employers is a good place to start. They provide regular briefings on equality and diversity, run events and they are very high profile on twitter. I found their support invaluable when I was leading this agenda.
Some suggestions for further on going work. You might commit to meet regularly with one of your BME staff to check progress on the issues. What about shadowing a senior working mum or older member of your workforce who has to organise their fathers care and support for his dementia before they come to work in the mornings? All of this will begin the slow and difficult journey of LETTING THEM OTHERS IN.
What struck me about Mandela was the way he sought to let the others in, he changed his mind-set on the challenges. They were not an easy group to trust or for him to meet with. I suspect without being let in and letting them in he could not have built the trust to then put his perspective and his people’s perspective over. And we would have probably never have seen the end of apartheid.
I urge us as leaders to do what we can to change this situation. Challenge ourselves, challenge our teams, and challenge our organisations to let others in.
As “It always seems impossible until it is done.” Nelson Mandela.
I hope you all have a productive week and give some time to creating a fairer more inclusive place for your staff, your patients and their families.

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