Bobbie Petford is an organisational development practitioner at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust and a graduate of the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson programme. In her first blog for the NHS Leadership Academy, Bobbie discusses the importance of inclusive leadership in organisations, and how her participation on the two-year MSc leadership programme helped her put her own values on inclusion into action.
When it comes to inclusive leadership, what generates trust and followership (the capacity of an individual to actively follow a leader) is authenticity and visibility. Leaders need to walk the talk at all levels of the system if they are to facilitate improved equity in workplaces and services. This is why some of the ‘golden threads’ of the NHS Leadership Academy programmes are equality, diversity and inclusion. They’re not add-ons or nice-to-haves, but integral to everyday business.
Over several years, I helped coordinate lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT+) staff networks in the trusts I worked in and have been involved in a range of inclusion projects. These experiences confirmed my belief that visible and authentic leadership is an essential component of tangible, meaningful change. Think of leaders who inspire people to take up challenging and emotive work; they are always people of conviction and integrity who maintain and communicate commitment to their cause.
To demonstrate this, here are three fictitious examples of how the presence or absence of visible and authentic leadership might impact on inclusion in NHS organisations:
NHS Lacklustre paid lip service to inclusion. Diversity was seen as a box to be ticked, and resourcing was minimal. Leaders did not make any public commitment to equality. Significant discrimination was evident in staff surveys but refuted by leaders in meetings. Staff did not trust their leaders or even each other, and there were no staff networks.
NHS Fair to Middling tried some monitoring and intervention around inclusive practice and had limited success. Some policies got revised; equality impact assessments were completed half-heartedly, and good practice was developed in a few areas. Some leaders supported the efforts and there were small but active staff networks. Staff acknowledged the efforts made, but felt unconvinced by their leaders.
NHS Shinybright promoted active and visible sponsorship by executives, for example attending pride parades with staff. There was consistent and adequate resourcing of an inclusion team who co-designed events and service improvements with community groups, patients and staff. The organisation achieved national awards for equality and diversity work. Staff networks were well attended and busy. Metrics demonstrated good patient and staff experience.
Successful staff networks need sponsorship from the organisation’s executive team and adequate resourcing. They also work best where reciprocal participation, accountability and co-production involves members, the organisation and the public. The benefits for all concerned are shared expertise, critical friendship, and improved staff wellbeing and patient care.
I like to think I’ve always been a person of integrity, but The Elizabeth Garrett Anderson programme enabled me to develop new skills and insights that helped me put my values into action. I’m sure you’re a person of integrity too, so what more can you do to promote inclusive leadership?