RCN congress

Senior BME staff should support others to help improve representation

Black and minority ethnic (BME) staff in the NHS who work as managers and directors need to support other BME staff to reach leadership positions, an RCNi event has heard.

Wellington Makala John Houlihan  

Speaking at the fringe RCN congress event in Bournemouth, Wellington Makala said his organisation, North East London NHS Foundation Trust (NELFT), is pushing to improve BME representation at senior levels. 

The Snowy White Peaks report into discrimination in the governance and leadership of the NHS, published last year, found that the likelihood of white staff in London being senior or very senior managers is three times higher than it is for BME staff. 

Mr Makala, who is NELFT assistant director for adult mental health and learning disability services, said all BME staff at band 8c in the trust mentor another BME member of staff at a lower band. 

Staff at bands 8b and above are mentored by someone on the trust’s board, according to Mr Makala, who moved to the UK from Zimbabwe in 1999. 

Mr Makala, who chairs the trust’s ethnic minority staff network, said: ‘Sometimes BME people get to a certain level and they take away the ladder. 

‘So how do you climb to that level and support people to come behind you? 

‘There is so much room at the top, we can all get there.’

Mr Makala said the trust recognised the lack of BME representation on its board and he is now an associate member of the board.

He said: ‘I sit on the board and am able to represent BME staff and be that voice.’

He added that cultural practices which differ from UK norms can put staff from BME backgrounds at a disadvantage: At home in Zimbabwe, we don’t look people in the eye. I sat in a job interview in the UK and was always looking down.

‘They said: “He can do the job, but there is something about him, he is a bit dodgy.”

‘It was the whole thing about eye contact, at home there is nothing about eye contact.’  

RCNi has launched a new section of its website with stories about BME nurses and the nursing care of patients from BME backgrounds. 

Speaking at the event, RCNi careers editor Frances Pickersgill said the section will help BME staff to progress and support them in the workplace.