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So, what is it like to work for us?

Sally York, one of our Clinical Lead for Physiotherapy talks below about her expeience in discussing race and diversity with her colleagues.

Can everyone really bring their whole selves to work?

I was honoured and a little surprised to be approached last year by a friend in another Trust to ask me to be their friend and advocate in regard to a meeting they were having with their manager.

That is their story to tell. However, in conversation I quickly became aware that my mandatory, one-hour, on-line, annual training on diversity just didn’t cut it. I started reading, I started listening and they held my hand along the way.

My realisation was that within my own organisation – the Sussex MSK Partnership Central where I am the physiotherapy lead, I had no idea how my BAME staff felt about working with us. Was there an issue? Were we the model employer? Did they feel valued? Could they bring their whole selves to work? Did they face discrimination at work? On the way to work? From their colleagues? From our patients? I had no idea.

Reaching out to colleagues for help

So, I approached Zahra – with a mysterious email – can I have an hour of your time? I need your help.

I chose Zahra, who came to the UK to train as a physio from the paradise island of Mauritius and luckily for us, fell in love and stayed on.

She is currently working as an MSK band 7 in Crawley. I knew she was doing the NHS Stepping Up Program so she seemed a good place to start.

I’ll let her tell her story of our first meeting, suffice it to say I was deeply touched, moved, embarrassed and knew we had work to do.

My mission as a leader seemed three-fold

  1. Work with Zahra as an individual to be interested, involved and an enabler in her career progression.
  2. Reach out with her to our other BAME staff – anyone who considered themselves to be from a BAME background and find out what if any issues there were. What was their experience of working for our organisation?
  3. Finally, and arguably the most important aspect, if we managed to move forwards with how we treated and supported our staff then hopefully those same principles would apply to how we treated and supported our patients from BAME backgrounds.

My goal is that Sussex MSK Partnership Central and Sussex Community Foundation Trust, our partner organisation, are considered organisations of choice for staff from BAME backgrounds to work in. It is well documented that having a diverse workforce improves productivity and innovation within a team, but it seems more human than that, it is the right thing to do.

We invited all BAME staff to an inaugural gathering. Zahra invited everyone face to face, we explained the story so far and were delighted that 16 staff attended; physios, advanced practitioners, administration staff.

Everyone told their story – I learnt more about my staff in that two-hour session than I had done working with them for the previous 3 years – not wanting to ask about their cultural backgrounds for fear of my clumsiness of language or causing offence.

Zahra has since reached out to individuals and used the skills she has learnt on the Stepping Up Program to explore barriers and challenges in the workplace that staff have identified. We are setting up a training program for all staff to start the conversations. It’s going to be a journey, but we feel we have taken an important first step.

Excluded from the conversation

To share one insight, when English isn’t your first language, even when you have fluent language skills, understanding the nuances and outright weirdness of English humour can be enormously isolating – in the staff room – everyone’s laughing – you have no idea. Shared historical jokes – it isn’t hardwired in all of us to know about Fawlty Towers or Gavin and Stacey – again you’re excluded from the conversation, the gang.

And so, the 3rd part – our patients. We are lucky enough to have patient partners within our organisation, again a mysterious reaching out, this time to Jacinta, in a car park, an extraordinary young woman with an extraordinary story to tell.

Where do we go from here?

Zahra and Jacinta have now met and we now have a mission to take forwards, to break down the barriers and unconscious bias’s that are common place I believe within every NHS organisation – the national and local staff surveys bear witness to this.

The United Nations He for She campaign recognised that until men started standing up for womens’ rights we would not move forwards, my feeling is that until white, middle class people like me start standing up for the rights of our BAME colleagues, then we are in danger of not even recognising the issues.

We are happy to share our work going forwards, undoubtedly, we will make mistakes along the way, but we have a passion and a drive to improve our organisation

  • For individuals
  • For our staff
  • And for our patients

If you do nothing else on the back of reading this – be brave and ask your BAME staff “So, what’s it like to work for us?” You may be surprised.

Sally York, Physiotherapy and FCP Lead, Sussex MSK Partnership Central

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