Building Leadership for Inclusion

Across health and care, the workforce is increasingly diverse, reflecting the diversity of the communities it serves.  For example, nearly 20% of the 1.3 million people that work in the NHS are from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, yet the same people are significantly underrepresented in senior management roles. Evidence shows us that those organisations and systems with better cultures of diversity and inclusion serve their patients and communities better. 

Building Leadership for Inclusion (BLFI) is a new and radical programme of work, led by the NHS Leadership Academy, that aims to fundamentally shift the ways in which we work to develop truly inclusive leadership, organisations and health and care systems. This work comes from the premise that the traditional approaches to improving diversity and inclusion, many of which have been implemented in the NHS over the past seventy years, have simply not worked.

BLFI is built on the founding principle that the voices of employees who are most negatively affected by discrimination and exclusion must be heard, acknowledged and acted upon. These groups of employees offer unique and valuable insights into how progress on inclusion can be achieved and sustained because of their lived experience. Through BLFI, hearing these voices will help us identify, challenge and transform many of the assumptions, beliefs and behaviours of leaders, which have remained obstacles to achieving greater levels of equality.

Some progress has been made on race through the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES), introduced in April 2015, and on empowering BAME NHS staff through positive action programmes such as Ready Now and Stepping Up.  But there is much further to go to secure equal access to career opportunities and fair workplace treatment for BAME staff and others with protected characteristics.  BLFI will initially focus upon the leadership and learning from four employee groups, including those who are:

  • BAME
  • LGBT+
  • Those living with a disability
  • Women

In parallel, we will engage with national and international experts and academics in the field of leadership development, diversity, inclusion and change. We will draw upon the wisdom and experience of leading practitioners across health and care and build on the learning and insight generated by other key stakeholders, such as the Equality and Diversity Council and NHS England’s Workforce Race Equality and Disability Standard teams.  And we will build alliances with a broader range of organisations and networks, including Arms-Length Bodies, with diverse professional bodies, unions; and the broader public, voluntary and commercial sectors.

The overarching methodological framework of BLFI is ‘Action Research’.  Working through pilot sites and partners the project will seek understanding and knowledge through collaboration and action.  As the work progresses, the learning – successes and setbacks – will be shared openly.  No organisation, academic or representative group has all the answers because the causes of inequality are complex and dynamic and will not be transformed by simplistic, mechanistic, transactional, and reflexive responses. The ‘deeper truths’ that will create the type of changes required will need to be ‘found’ and ‘created’.  This requires leadership across the wider system of health and care that is willing to be courageous, innovative and purposeful in creating cultures that are truly inclusive.

Register your interest in Building Leadership for Inclusion

To find out more about Building Leadership for Inclusion, please email