AUTHOR: Simon Arday, Lead Nurse for Mental Health at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust
Simon Arday heads up teams across two hospitals. He is a rarity. While black and minority ethnic (BAME) staff constitute 22% of all NHS staff they make up only 10% of senior leaders.
Here, Simon offers some top tips about how BAME nurses can break through the ceiling.
1 - Get out of the house
This is advice that was given to me at a key time in my career and it was really helpful. Sometimes you can get so used to being in an organisation that you forget there’s a big world out there with other opportunities.
Think about what’s happening in your team, your setting, your organisation and decide if it is helping you progress. If not then it might be time to find the courage to leave. Go somewhere new, do something different and build relationships from scratch because it could be the break your career needs.
Lots of us in the health sector do have a tendency to become attached to an organisation; a place and a way of doing things.
It breeds fear about going anywhere else. But you might not realise how much better your organisation could be when it comes to supporting and promoting BAME staff until you go somewhere else.
2 - Fill your lifeboat
In some organisations there’s a mindset that BAME nurses are lucky or should be grateful for what they have and they shouldn’t necessarily expect more opportunity - things like leadership training for example. Or they are only expected to want to do certain roles.
It can become very pervasive and it chips away at your confidence and self-esteem. This kind of insidious prejudice is far more difficult to deal with than the patient who doesn’t want to be cared for by a black or brown person. At least that can be challenged directly!
You’re left wondering if you are imagining undertones and meanings. You begin to think you’re the one at fault. It can take you to dark places.
To counter this you need to think about who is in your life-boat. Again this was important advice given to me at a crucial time by the same wise person.
Who are the people who are vested in you and want you to succeed? Who are the people who can be trusted to listen earnestly and not dismiss you? To give you honest feedback when you sound off about these situations and comments, helping you to sense check them?
These are the people who will be happy to help you identify your strengths and skills and give advice on how to frame it in a job application or interview.
Make sure you have a full lifeboat. If it’s not, then fill it with mentors, coaches, support networks and friends. Use social media or professional networks and forums, like those at the RCN, to find others who inspire you and get in touch with them.
‘Paying it forward’ is something that has become more important as my career has progressed. I’ve also seen it in other nurses too. All of us have usually had someone go out of their way to help us and we want to repay that by doing the same for others.
I certainly feel that I’ve broken through a glass ceiling and it was only possible because others went before me and weakened it. I’d like to help others so it becomes less and less painful for those coming up behind.
3 - Throw your hat into the ring
This is one of my own! You can never be considered if you don’t apply for jobs. There’s been a few times in my career when I’ve not known if I was ready for a particular role or opportunity. But I’ve always had a mantra of just throwing my hat into the ring and seeing what happens.
Even though it’s scary it means your name is there and in front of senior leaders for consideration. Even if you don’t get this job there’s a chance they will keep you in mind when something else comes up because you’ve made it clear you want to progress and demonstrated your talent.
And it’s only by doing lots of job interviews and job applications that you become more comfortable and confident with the process.
4 - Push for detailed feedback
Always ask for feedback and don’t be fobbed off. There was a job I went for that I felt I would have been a good fit for. When I didn’t get it, I wanted to know why. The feedback I got was quite generic which I didn’t find helpful, so I just kept pushing for more.
I pushed two or three times until I got a conversation with the hiring manager and was able to get some really helpful and granular feedback. It meant I could do something about plugging the gaps in my CV.
And by doing this I actually ended up building a relationship with her and she became another person in my network. A month later a new role came my way through her.
5 - Be you and find the career that fits you the best
At times I’ve ended up making sideways career moves and sometimes even downward moves in terms of pay progression because it felt a better fit with what I wanted to achieve as a mental health professional.
I think it’s important to hold onto a sense of authenticity and continually reflect on what you want to achieve and which roles align with your passions, values and beliefs. It’s the only way you can bring your best to a role.
Believing in your choices and being clear on what you need to work at your best also helps you develop a better sense of self-worth and confidence.
6 - Embrace your BAME superpower
The negative experiences associated with being a BAME nurse can often be the focus, but we should also recognise the gift that comes from such vibrance and diversity.
The inherent understanding that comes with trying to thrive in a system that isn’t always set up for us to, cannot and should not be underestimated.
For example, in mental health we face some serious population health challenges related to race. Young black men are heavily overrepresented in the mental health system. They are more likely to be subject to restrictive practices, like restraint and less likely to access psychological services.
My background and this understanding means I’ve been able to help some people where others could not. For example, I recently worked with someone who I was aware colleagues avoided.
They found him ‘threatening’ and ‘aggressive’ because of the way he looked, and the way he talked. I was able to connect with him because I understood not all, but some of his experience, and the way he had developed growing up black and male in South London.
From there we built a relationship that was therapeutic and he was able to make significant changes in his mental and physical health.
We need to table and celebrate these kinds of moments because it shows the power of a diverse workforce to contribute to solving the health problems the UK is facing.
After all, every single one of us just wants to feel understood.