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Nursing director ‘reverse mentored’ by BME staff as part of strategy

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The director of nursing at North East London and Essex NHS Foundation Trust will be “mentored” by a junior member of staff from an ethnic minority background, as part of efforts to tackle discrimination.

The concept is just one of the ground-breaking ideas in an ongoing campaign to promote inclusion and opportunities for black and minority ethnic (BME) nurses and other staff.

“This is also about matching an exec with someone who has that desire to make a difference”

Wellington Makala

In 2012 the trust, which has one of the largest concentrations of BME workers in the country, launched a three-year drive to address a lack of BME staff in senior positions at the organisation.

At the outset there were only three BME staff at band 8c or above but now there are 13 with one very senior manager at board level.

The strategy also ensured all interview panels for senior nursing roles at 8a and above included an ethnic minority representative.

North East London and Essex Foundation Trust

Nursing director ‘reverse mentored’ by BME staff

Wellington Makala

“That has changed the experience of BME people who apply for jobs because when they walk in now the can identify with the organisation,” said senior mental health nurse Wellington Makala, who is deputy director for inpatients and acute, and chairs the trust’s ethnic minority network.

“Before the panel would be made up of people from a white background and the message they were getting was ‘I don’t belong’.”

Nurse consultant Joan Myers, who serves on the chief nursing officer for England’s advisory group on BME issues, said this move had personally made a big difference to her

“I joined the trust in 2014 and when I went for my interview there were six people on the panel and for the first time one of them was a BME person,” she said. “It did make a difference to me. I felt reassured straight away and felt I was going to be welcomed.”

“They have a fear they might be considered to be racist or the race card might be thrown”

Joan Myers

Other strands of the strategy have seen senior BME nurses mentoring junior staff and efforts to tackle the disproportionate number of BME staff undergoing formal processes, such as performance management and disciplinary procedures.

Mr Makala said one issue was the fact white managers were sometimes afraid to address performance issues informally at an earlier stage with BME staff, for fear of being branded racist.

“If I am late for work my manager should be able to say ‘you are late for work today this is not right’,” he said. “But we found there was an issue with managers not feeling confident to address issues with BME staff.”

Managers can now get advice from a BME staff ambassador. “White senior staff can come and talk to me about any issues or concerns they have got and I am able to advise them on the right way of dealing with it,” said Ms Myers.

“They have a fear they might be considered to be racist or the race card might be thrown. By talking it through they can see it is a management issue and nothing to do with race,” she said.

Earlier this year, the trust launched a revised version of the strategy, which includes “reverse mentoring”, where each member of the trust’s board will be paired with a junior BME staff member.

North East London and Essex Foundation Trust

Nursing director ‘reverse mentored’ by BME staff

Stephanie Dawe

This will involve Stephanie Dawe, trust chief nurse and executive director of integrated care, being matched with a band 5 nurse.

Mr Makala said the idea was to give senior managers genuine insight into what it was like for frontline BME staff.

“We’re hoping reverse mentoring will tell the real story, so band 5 working on an acute ward who is mentoring an exec can say ‘this is my experience’ – how it feels to be in their shoes,” he said.

“Sometimes execs are so senior they can become a bit distanced from the floor where it is all happening,” he said. “The reverse mentoring will bridge that gap and bring the exec closer to the patient experience.

“Your new band 5s are quite sure about what has led them to be a nurse and we want to keep that fire, so this is also about matching an exec with someone who has that desire to make a difference,” said Mr Makala.

“Manager also can share their experience of how they got to where they are meaning both can see things in a different light,” he said.

The trust has been advising others on devising BME programmes and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens paid a visit to find out more in March.

The trust’s updated Stronger Together 2020 strategy includes exploring in more detail how BME staff end up in formal processes. It will also focus on developing the aspirations of band 5 and 6 nurses who have been in the job for a long time.

“Some have been doing the same role for the last 20 years,” said Mr Makala. “That may simply be because they are happy to be a band 5 nurse and we’ll support them around that but some have been band 5 for this long because they are stuck. They have given up and think ‘I’m just here to do my nine to five’.”

“I want our patients to be treated by a staff group with a profile that represents their background”

John Brouder

The trust will be hosting a national conference on BME staff in the NHS in November – white people attending will be asked to bring a BME colleague and vice versa to ensure the audience is mixed.

Its efforts have won it national and international recognition. Last year, the trust won the Employee, Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage Network of the Year award at the Inclusive Network Awards and made it into the top 10 of The Economist’s Global Diversity List, which recognises organisations across the world with an outstanding commitment to diversity.

Chief executive John Brouder, a mental health nurse by background, said work to promote diversity had huge benefits for staff and patients and could help bring down nurse vacancy rates.

North East London and Essex Foundation Trust

Nursing director ‘reverse mentored’ by BME staff

John Brouder

“I want our patients to be treated by a staff group with a profile that represents their background culturally and the community they come from,” he said.

“If we create an organisation that is friendly for everyone and welcomes people of every colour, creed or sexual orientation we will be one of the few organisations in the country that don’t have a recruitment issue,” said Mr Brouder.

He said there was evidence staff who used to work for the trust were coming back and more people from BME communities were joining the trust.

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