Why NHS Board Diversity & Inclusive Leadership Drives Success

Why Board Diversity and Inclusive Leadership in the NHS Drives Success

15 January 2020

Badenoch + Clark partnered with Jagtar Singh, Chair of Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust, and Sue Harris, Director of Leadership for West Midlands Leadership Academy, in support of our work with the NHS to promote and realise the benefits of Board Diversity for the third ‘Going Beyond the Conversation’ inclusive leadership event.

As outlined in the full report, four main challenges were identified:

  • Strategy – embedding Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) as a key driver in an organisation’s business strategy.
  • Capabilities – appointing Board members who demonstrate the highest of standards and embrace an inclusive workforce.
  • Process – senior leaders being accountable and visible in all EDI activity.
  • Measures – having EDI data that is understood, communicated and outcome-focused.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is at the heart of our work at Badenoch + Clark and we are constantly challenged by Trusts to provide diverse outcomes for their Board recruitment. In return we often challenge Boards to look beyond the rhetoric of diversity and focus on measurable outcomes. We know that progress has stalled and even gone into reverse in recent years, so this event was a well-timed opportunity to get us all back on track in the West Midlands. The commitment to this vital agenda was demonstrated on the day by the number of delegates, the range of organisations represented and most importantly the input and passion shown by everyone in the room.

Trusts always impress upon us the need to address their diversity challenges within the work that we deliver for their Boards. Most take a skills-led approach and bolt on a diversity imperative, which misses an opportunity and risks crossing the line into tokenism. It was so refreshing to hear such commitment in the room to true diversity, with Chairs and Chief Executives sharing personal stories and lived experiences as well as successful outcomes founded upon measurable actions to create a more engaged, productive and diverse workforce. Open dialogue such as this removes all hiding places and challenges us to be flexible and open-minded when it comes to the skillset and background of potential candidates.

Diversity, in its broadest sense, underpins all the work that we do – Diversity by Characteristic, Skill Set and Cognitive Diversity. Whenever we meet with Trusts, we ask the question, ‘Why do you want Board diversity?’. It still surprises us how often we are directed to the Board of Directors pictures on the Trust website as a key driver and end in itself. We have a moral and public duty to have diverse leaders at all levels within the NHS; leaders who represent their workforce and population, so we at Badenoch + Clark feel that there is an opportunity to go so much further than simply addressing the “stale, pale, male” stereotype.

We are all beginning to redress some of the inequalities around gender, ethnicity (e.g. WRES) and now disability (e.g. WDES) however this can often be to the detriment of those who hold one of the six other non-visible protected characteristics. So much more needs to be done here. Diversity by skill set is commonplace around an NHS Board Table and looks at how a blend of skills and background perhaps within healthcare and clinical expertise are often coupled with sound financial knowledge, good governance and corporate assurance. Should we not also be including Diversity as a skill set? A passion for diversity isn’t a skill (and neither is being diverse!) we should be looking for evidence from potential candidates of their experience of shifting the dial on EDI.

Finally, we should not ignore Cognitive Diversity; having a network which includes candidates who have a range of intellectual heritage – those whose education, upbringing and culture is varied and therefore increasing the chance of opposing views, sharing a broad range of ideas and decreasing the likelihood of unconscious bias.

So, we would ask Trusts to ensure that their recruitment partner has a rigorous and evidence-based approach, that when role descriptions are being written that they aren’t a generic cut and paste, that the message to the market is clear about the reasons for EDI being at the heart of the exercise. Some simple steps to make sure that we don’t stumble on our journey towards a diverse workforce delivering improved outcomes for patients.

James McLeod
Lead – NHS Board Practice, Badenoch + Clark.

Read the full post-event report: ‘Going beyond the Conversation’, 3rd October 2019.