“It would be wrong for us to say we haven’t had issues with cultural diversity,” says Jess Lievesley, deputy chief executive of St Andrew’s Healthcare. Although impressive benchmark diversity figures show a quarter of the Nottingham-based mental healthcare charity’s workforce identify as black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), compared to the national average of 12.5 per cent, and it has a clear focus on diversity, Lievesley cites historic problems with the progression of more junior ethnic minority staff, and explains there has also been an “isolated incidence” of racism that had to be addressed.
There was a particular need, he says, for understanding among the senior leadership team – 27 per cent of whom identify as BAME – to address the issues of poverty of opportunity and a lack of confidence among less experienced, younger colleagues. “It’s not good enough just to be anti-racist, we have to push beyond that to a place of equality of experience for everyone,” says Lievesley. “The drive is understanding and to unlearn what we thought we understood and try to understand it again in a way that is driven completely unhierarchicly.”
In April, St Andrew’s introduced a reverse mentoring initiative to raise awareness and understanding of the barriers faced by ethnic minority staff. The initiative, which aims to shape thinking, policy and strategy and embrace diversity to build and understand the experiences and perspectives of these staff, involves a more junior employee mentoring ‘upwards’, so a senior leader can learn from them.
Lievesley says the initiative goes “further, deeper and harder to make changes” and drives a support agenda for colleagues. “Of course we support BAME colleagues across the charity, but it needs to be more than that. You have to understand, learn and let them guide you rather than making assumptions.”
Through the initiative, Lievesley was paired with senior staff nurse Austin Omotoso, who says reverse mentoring gave him more confidence, having encountered significant barriers to progression early in his career. “It motivates you to aspire again, as there were many things I felt I couldn’t do and wouldn’t stand a chance at,” explains Omotoso.
Lievesley says it changed his outlook and understanding of barriers to progression within the industry. “Our job should now be to reach back down the ladder and help others up, not to sit at the top and say how great it is to have these opportunities,” he says. “We need to support people like Austin and others to get these opportunities too.”
Since the programme started earlier this year, five successful reverse mentorships have been put in place, and St Andrew’s has plans to expand the initiative in the future.