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In focus: BME Staff Network

For the annual NHS Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Week (10-14 May 2021) Luke Whewall chatted with Desree Richards, a member of our BME Staff Network.

Luke Whewall, who predominantly works in System and Transformation support, has been at SCW for four years and is an active ally of the Black and Minority Ethnic Staff Network. He spoke with Desree Richards who is a Project Manager in Strategy and Transformation as well as a Network Lead in the BME Staff Network. They discussed the value of the Network, what can be done to ensure a more inclusive organisation, and how the Network has supported Desree in her time at SCW so far.

A key objective of the Network is to develop – and raise awareness of – a representative workforce, and to highlight the contribution that BME members make. As an SCW ally, Luke wanted to gain more insight into the Network’s role in the organisation, the value it brings, and the steps we can all take to ensure SCW is representative of an organisation built on equality, diversity and inclusivity. Studies have shown that these are key components of a fairer, stronger, and more dynamic organisation.

Desree, tell me why you decided to join the BME Network

DR: I’d never been a part of a Network and wanted to know more. A colleague encouraged me to join, and he advised me that it presented opportunities that may not come through my service line. I was the first graduate to join the Network and it was beneficial (as a graduate) to have an extra support Network. Joining meant there was better representation from the Reading office and more colleagues in Reading joined as a result. The Network is also a good place to share experiences.

What value does the BME Network bring to SCW?

DR: It creates a safe space for diversity and inclusion initiatives to be discussed and to get first-hand experience of these initiatives that are rolled out across SCW. Diverse interview panels was a topic that was discussed at the BME Network and the Network was approached to get members to sit on some interview panels. The network can help to directly support the organisation’s business processes. The Network adds value generally by helping to rollout diversity and inclusion initiatives across SCW.

How has the BME Network supported your journey so far at SCW?

DR: The Network has supported my additional leadership journey. Through the BME Network, I had the opportunity to mentor someone very senior and develop my skills in coaching. It provided me with opportunities outside SCW, and as an aspiring leader, it’s really helped. It’s given me additional opportunities beyond my assignments.

As an organisation, how can we make employees feel welcomed, valued, and respected?

DR: In terms of diverse interview panels, I would like to see more of them. From the start, we could make sure that all interview panels are diverse. There could also be more interaction with the Network. Lots of work could be done between SCW allies and the BME Network to present more opportunities to members. Allies need to be active in order to help build confidence between the Network and the rest of the organisation. We could have useful interactions between the network and allies as well as each service line. Generally, people are happier in the Network when someone from the service line comes to the Network and tries to understand the issues that exist. Sometimes there is an imbalance between service lines (in terms of feeling welcomed, valued and respected).

What are you most proud of, personally or professionally, in the last 12 months?

DR: I would say getting my promotion (to the role of Project Manager in March 2021). I’m also proud of my coaching and mentoring support. I have four coachees, who are BME members, and I support them with their career transition and progression. I also provide reverse mentoring to a senior member of staff who is non-BME. This provides a safe space for him to discuss diversity and inclusion-related topics to gain greater understanding. It’s a place where he can better understand the experience of those from a BME background. He can look at things from a senior leadership perspective and can see the difficulties I personally face –we discuss the possible ways we can overcome these issues, and explore knowledge-building and being prepared in work situations.

How can SCW become a more inclusive organisation?

DR: Through the BME Staff Network and others (such as the Disability Network), which provide lived experience. Interaction with these networks is the best way to make things more inclusive. It is also good to look at what other organisations are doing and their approach. Also, we should look at national programmes across the NHS – there are a lot of programmes being rolled out nationally especially leadership ones for BME staff. We should look at BME representation and inclusion within these initiatives.

What more can be done to promote the BME Network within SCW?

DR: I think engagement across the organisation. We could have content on platforms such as Join the Conversation and it could be promoted through Lunch and Learns. I think the BME Network and allyship should be promoted through the induction pack when colleagues join SCW. The Network is currently rolling out a diversity calendar on The Nest to bring attention to BME-related days. We could maybe have a monthly networking café – open to all – to discuss BME-related initiatives and raise issues with senior leadership? We could cover schemes such as mentorship, and a networking café is another way we could promote diversity and inclusion. It would be great if we had everyone involved.