Fri 10 Jan 2020
Peter Green, Former Convenor, Ofsted & FDA Executive Committee Member summarises the key learning points from December's BAME into Leadership event in Cardiff.
Last month, the BAME into Leadership conference took place in Cardiff, exploring what can be done to support and help BAME staff navigate the path to leadership.
Morning sessions covered The Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, which is in place to tackle the systemic barriers to leadership. Proposed actions include performance objectives and targets for senior managers, diversity champions, challenging unwelcome behaviours and positive action programmes. Central to achieving equality of opportunity and a genuinely diverse workforce is tackling unconscious bias. However, there is also much more to be done in empowering individuals to take control of their career paths and influence others.
The speakers gave examples of how BAME colleagues can achieve success in leadership. Practical tips included saying ‘yes’ to taking on projects, gaining recognition by going the extra mile, and not being afraid to ask questions or for feedback when unsuccessful. Get to know and show you understand the ‘big picture’ whilst having a grasp of the details. Talk in the language your audience understands. Crucially, strive to be a role model in order to dispel myths and prejudice about intelligence and capabilities of BAME colleagues. Being trusted, having the confidence of others, and being known for acting with integrity and honesty are all desirable and respected qualities in leaders.
All the speakers offered sound advice about developing and preparing oneself for leadership. They explained their backgrounds and gave honest accounts of the difficulties faced in reaching their current senior positions. By drawing on the lessons they learned and their experiences of facing age, disability, gender, race and religious prejudice and discrimination, they gave a clear message of the importance of personal development. They particularly emphasised developing resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity and setbacks.
There is no ‘magic’ to being resilient. The quality derives from the type of life we choose to lead, finding personal coping mechanisms - friendship, relationships, exercise, relaxing, for example - and knowing what ‘makes us tick’. When we accept we will make mistakes and recover from them, how we view and learn from these mistakes helps us to have perspective and not give up. A mistake or error may be yours but the fault is not necessarily in you: don’t internalise failure - it can become a habit, just as success. One speaker’s message of ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try another way’ resonated with the audience as did the message of being optimistic and positive in spite of our own perceived shortcomings and disabilities. There is power in envisioning your next steps and adopting the attitude that there is always another way.
The correlation between resilience and self-confidence is strong. The diversity of our life experiences, our own background and different personal characteristics can be factors pushing us forward or holding us back. How we view and use them influences how well and capably we respond to challenges and confrontation. Our self-confidence derives from being comfortable with ourselves and being ready to challenge ourselves: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?” Good leaders are confident and inspire confidence and hope.
There are extrinsic elements to being resilient that we should recognise and cultivate. These elements also support career development ambitions. A common factor identified by speakers at this and other BAME into Leadership Conferences is the importance of making connections: Having a mentor, having an advocate, being coached, shadowing others, networking, and using staff networks. Optimism can be learned. We should not underestimate the value of friends and family, positive relationships and giving and receiving encouraging feedback in building resilience and good mental health.
To attend a BAME into Leadership event in 2020, please visit the website
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