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Valeria Fiore talks to Rano Bains, head of equality and diversity at NHS Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust about what makes a good leader and how to build a more egalitarian NHS.
Rano Bains has always been passionate about fighting injustice. After volunteering in the Warwickshire Race Equality Partnership – now known as the Equality and Inclusion Partnership (Equip) – for just under a year, she was looking for another role that would allow her to continue fighting for what she feels really matters: equality.
It wasn’t until she got her first job in the NHS, as as race equality officer, that she realised it was possible for her to turn what used to be an ‘unpaid passion’ into a profession.
Since she first joined the NHS Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust – then the North Warwickshire Primary Care Trust (PCT) 18 years ago – Ms Bains has been an equal opportunities advocate.
Q What encouraged you to apply for your current role?
A I have always had a passion for equality and diversity but I did not know there was a role that would allow me to fight injustices and make a difference.
I have been working on equality and diversity for about 20 years in different settings. But in terms of doing it as a job in the NHS, I started about 18 years ago and am still in the same organisation – the only difference is that it was then a PCT and now it is an NHS trust.
I started as race equality officer but after two years in the role I realised that I did not want to get ‘boxed’ into race only. Race is important but so are other injustices to disabled people, for instance, and I wanted to fight for them too.
So I took an active role in changing my position to become head of equality and diversity.
Q What do you enjoy the most about your job?
A I like that every day is unique and that I can make a difference to patients and staff. I consider it a passion, not a job. So when I get up in the morning I really want to go to work.
Q Have you experienced any career challenges as a BME woman?
A Yes, and I know that as a BME woman I would have had to work harder to prove myself. When I was trying to build up my career, I could not see anyone from a BME background landing senior roles within the NHS, so I had no role models to look to. This was also reflected in wider society: there were few or no BME people in fashion magazines, TV series and the media in general.
Although I can say that the NHS has made good progress in facilitating the professional journey of BME women into senior roles, more needs to be done. How many BME chief executives are there in the NHS? There are around 1.3 million people working in the NHS and 20% of staff come from BME backgrounds. But there are only five BME chief executives and only two BME women chief executives that I can think of.
Q Women continue to be underrepresented in senior NHS roles. What can be done to address this?
A I think there should be more women in the NHS from different backgrounds, with disabilities and of different sexual orientations. The only way we can do that is to make the environment within our organisation more welcoming. If women need maternity leave, can we offer agile working? Can we have flexi-time, can we provide mentoring?
We need to change the culture within the organisation. I think that if a woman comes up with an idea and proposes it in a forthright way, it might be perceived as aggressive, whereas that would not happen to men.
It helps to change procedures, but we also need to change hearts and minds. This needs to come from the top but it should also be a bottom up approach, with women fighting to get to senior roles.
Q How are you improving conditions for women and BME staff within your trust?
A You need to listen to both groups. I have set up a BME focus group, and they told us they wanted leadership training but were not receiving it.
I worked with the National Leadership Academy to create localised leadership programmes just for BMEs. We brought the same programme that exists at a national level – the Stepping Up programme – to the local level.
We also introduced a ‘culture calendar’, which was made by our staff for our staff. It makes them aware of the dietary needs of our patients, according to their culture and religion.
We also have a culture improvement plan. I cannot change the culture of my organisation on my own, so we have diversity champions (members of staff who voluntarily offer their time) who look out for discriminative behaviour and alert me if needed.
Members of staff who are being bullied can talk to our diversity champions in confidence and they give them support and advice on how to cope with the situation.
Policies alone are not enough. We need to empower everybody to raise their voice.
Q What progress have you made on the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES)?
A BME staff sometimes think they cannot go beyond band 7 or 8, so we have introduced a BME leadership programme. For recruitment, we are going to have a panel that is as diverse as possible.
If I went to an interview and I were to find myself in front of a line of white people, I would ask myself what kind of organisation I would be joining. I would ask myself ‘do they value diversity if they are all white? Am I going to be welcome?
We also take our recruitment banners to places where [there are many] BME people. So for instance, I have been to our local temple and mosque promoting roles within our organisation. We are focusing on how to make the community aware of where to look for jobs in the NHS.
Q What are you most proud of in your career?
A That I can make a difference to staff in their day-to-day work. They don’t have to park their culture at the door before they come to work: they can bring their whole selves.
Last year, we were also recognised in the Best Employers for Race awards, the only NHS organisation to achieve that result. Winning that award made me proud, because our work was recognised outside our organisation.
Q What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
A WRES was a challenge because it was asking organisations to make changes to how they treat BME staff – to analyse their data and change their way of working.
I found it challenging because it wasn’t a stand-alone framework. It had to become everybody’s business in order[for it to fulfill] its full potential and help the whole organisation treat BME staff in a fair way.
I am pleased to say that I work for an organisation that is embracing WRES, using it as a positive framework and asking BME people how we can make our trust a great place for all.
Q What are the key qualities of a leader?
A A leader needs to be able to delegate and to say sorry when he or she is wrong. Another quality a leader should have is being able to listen to the team and know how they feel, even when they are not talking about it.
Rano Bains is head of equality and diversity at NHS Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership NHS Trust