Review: BAME into Leadership Birmingham

Mon 04 Apr 2022

Review: BAME into Leadership Birmingham

A warm spring-like day saw BAME into Leadership return to Birmingham for the first in-person conference of the series post-pandemic. The event drew to a close on 24 March, having welcomed more than 250 civil servants. Held at the NEC, delegates from Birmingham and surrounding cities attended the conference for the chance to network with peers face-to-face and gain hands-on advice and coaching on adapting to new environments and utilising opportunities effectively to further their careers in times of change. 

Sal Naseem, Regional Director for London at the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), chaired the event. In his opening remarks, Naseem encouraged delegates to make the most of the day. “Today is a great opportunity to check back in with your goals and aspirations and identify what you’d like to focus on. We have some brilliant speakers lined up to inspire and empower you,” he said.  

His words were followed suit by a keynote address from Grace Ononiwu, Director of Legal Services, Crown Prosecution Service, who set the scene for what BAME into Leadership is all about: a gathering of leaders from within and outside the civil service, coming together to share lived experiences and reflect on how it is possible to make it to the top ranks of the civil service despite facing the same challenges other colleagues from Black, Asian & Minority Ethnic backgrounds encounter in their careers.  

Ononiwu’s presentation highlighted some of the qualities she had and some traits she had to develop to overcome the barriers she faced as she progressed into the Senior Civil Service. She left the audience in awe when she described episodes of race and gender discrimination and how she managed to take control of the situation with determination and resilience. Grace Ononiwu

The breakout sessions that followed echoed the theme of the day and were presented by leading trainers in communication, public speaking, and professional coaching. These sessions covered the skills required to overcome self-imposed barriers, guidance for laying the ground to communicate with impact, and recommendations for getting ready for a promotion.  

The morning address by Bernadette Kelly, Permanent Secretary of the Department for Transport and Civil Service Social Mobility Champion, got everyone reflecting on the challenges but also on the strategy to foster diversity and inclusion in the civil service. Kelly admitted that her immediate leadership team is not as diverse as she would like it to be but said that she hopes the new approach to instil diversity and inclusion in the civil service to reflect the community it serves will be fruitful before the end of her tenure.  

BAME into Leadership continued with an interactive panel discussion entitled ‘Being the only one in the room: from imposter to empowered’ with three leaders in their fields:  

  • Justin Placide, Head of Home Energy Retrofit Enablers, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and co-chair of the FAME Network & the Civil Service Race Forum.  
  • Mel Nebhrajani CB, Director General, Employment with Economic Recovery and UK Governance, Government Legal Department   
  • Cheryl Samuels, Deputy Director of Workforce Transformation – London Region, NHS England and NHS Improvement  

There were many takeaway messages from the discussion, including specific calls to action. For example, Placide encouraged delegates to volunteer to mentor, whether peers or seniors. He talked about the need for bringing others into the room, whether through work experience, job shadowing or sponsorship.  

Placide also argued that BAME colleagues need to intervene when micro-aggressive behaviours are being demonstrated within the room, especially to people with protected characteristics. “We need to hold leaders to account, especially those who make decisions which do not include us,” he said.  

Nebhrajani echoed Placide’s words as she reflected on her journey within the civil service, sharing some of the things she learned along the way. She was recently appointed Director General and has been the D&I champion for the department leading the charge. Some of the takeaway messages were keys to career progression and building up confidence in your merits, skills, and experience. 

Also sharing her views, Samuels reflected on what BAME colleagues can do to pave their way into leadership and outlined five specific ways to take proactive action. For Samuels, taking control of your own destiny is key. She encouraged colleagues to be intentional when planning their next career move.  

Samuels also talked about the importance of taking risks and being resilient. She suggested that people need to build a brand for themselves, tracking success and contributions to highlight them when necessary. 

The buzz of the day was evident at every coffee break and during lunch. One could see delegates sharing impressions and exchanging contact details, proving that every presentation and every answer to questions that called the importance of building networks of like-minded individuals resonated with them.  

The closing address by Elliott Rae, a former civil servant and founder of MusicFootballFatherhood, wrapped up the event with a sense of achievement. In sharing his story, including the life-changing experience of becoming a father, Rae discussed why having a purpose in life is so critical. “Believing in yourself is the first secret to success,” he concluded.  

There is nothing better than experiencing BAME into Leadership, and the next event is coming to a location near you. Gather your colleagues and join us!  

Upcoming events:

BAME into Leadership Online on 9 June 

BAME into Leadership Leeds on 6 July  

BAME into Leadership London on 20 October 

Visit the event website to view the agenda and book your place

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