The Project

Improving BME Representation through Reciprocal Mentoring


In 2013 Sheffield Health and Social Care (SHSC) set out to address issues around workplace diversity. Specifically, the trust asked ‘How do we make meaningful change for Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BME) staff through mentoring?’ In part, this was in response to the NHS England Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES); an initiative designed to ensure employees from BME backgrounds have equal access to career opportunities and receive fair treatment in the workplace. 

To address this, SHSC devised a strategy to promote and improve BME equality, diversity and inclusion amongst its service users and staff. This strategy was to be implemented through a range of drivers; by working in partnership with health and social care commissioners and providers, by working in partnership with BME communities, by promoting equality of access experience and outcomes to services and treatment and by developing a diverse and culturally competent organisation and workforce. Implementation was to be achieved through setting up an ‘operational group’ and a ‘steering group’.

Issue to be resolved

One area in which diversity and equality could be improved was the percentage of BME staff in senior positions compared with the percentage in the overall workforce. In 2015, BME staff made up 2.07% of those employed in Bands 8-9 and Very Senior Managers, compared with 11.05% in the overall workforce. This disparity was also seen in the Agenda for Change pay bands with roughly 16% of BME staff in Band 5, but around 6% for staff in Bands 6 and 7.  In addition, data from the NHS Staff Survey (an annual survey which assesses a wide range of employee perceptions of work) reflected this inequity as the percentage of BME staff who reported that the trust provided equal opportunities in 2015 was 67%, while the score for white staff was a score of 90%.  

What they did

To start to address this disparity, SHSC commenced a mentoring programme to develop ‘cultural competence’ amongst Board members by being involved in reciprocal mentoring with senior BME members of staff.  BME staff involved then in turn provided mentoring themselves to other BME staff in the organisation. The project also involved appointing a lead role with the aim of supporting that person to develop leadership skills.  

What was the outcome?

This led to an increase of awareness of intercultural development amongst Board members, as well as an increase in awareness throughout the trust of the project itself. The project was deemed successful enough to continue its funding to expand the initiative. For BME staff involved as mentors and mentees, there were reports of improvements across a range of domains.  Qualitative feedback indicated a positive experience overall, and many who took part reported that they felt the initiative had helped them in a number of ways e.g. understanding barriers to progression, or a greater awareness of the issue of diversity. The experience was reported positively among all levels who took part (Board members, BME bands 6 – 8 and BME Bands 5 – 6). In addition, the initiative appeared to have shifted attitudes from a deficit model, i.e. one where BME staff may be perceived as requiring ‘different treatment’ to a perception of being able to give and share knowledge. Furthermore, the initiative had unforeseen consequences of increasing networking, both amongst BME staff and with different organisational staffing levels, which has led to increases in opportunities.

The Trust has agreed a business case for the project to continue in 2017/18, with a second cohort of mentors and mentees, and expansion of the project to other initiatives have been identified.  These include an annual conference, development workshops and working towards integration of good practice and learning into the new SHSC Management and Leadership development pathway and further coaching and mentoring developments across the Trust

 By 2017, specific outcomes included:

  • An increase in the percentage of BME staff saying that they believed the Trust provided equal opportunities to 82%.
  • Improvements in the percentage of BME staff in senior roles i.e. NHS Agenda for Change Bands 6 to 8d.
  • Improvements in the number of staff involved in the Trust BME staff network from 6 to 44.
  • Success in staff being accepted to take part in development opportunities offered externally.
  • Recognition of the success of the project so far by the receipt of a Healthcare People Management Award (HPMA) for the effective use of diversity to strengthen governance, recruitment or promotion (June 2017). 

Further Reading

Slides from seminar where this case study was presented

Healthcare People Management Award (HPMA)

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