Career advice

The BAME leadership scheme that confounded sceptics and is boosting careers

Mental health trust took action to address the lack of diversity in senior nurse roles

Mental health trust took action to address the lack of diversity in senior nurse roles

Catherine Gamble, Elizabeth Park and Kiran Jnagal

When Kiran Jnagal started talking to colleagues about a new nursing leadership programme, not everyone was convinced.

The bespoke programme, designed for staff from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, aimed to improve retention and develop the nursing workforce at the South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust. It also had a strong focus on quality improvement. But it was tough initially to get that message across.

Initial resistance

'There was some resistance from people saying it was just another leadership programme – and that staff from BAME backgrounds go on leadership programmes, and then nothing happens,’ says Ms Jnagal, senior development nurse with the trust.

Senior development nurse Kiran Jnagal
encountered doubts when she first
mentioned the programme

‘But we’re not saying that everyone who does it will end up in band 8 posts. What we’re saying is that we’re giving people the tools to see themselves as leaders.’

The programme was the brainchild of Catherine Gamble, head of nursing practice, education and research at the trust and professional mental health nursing lead for RCN. Her aim was to release potential in the BAME nursing workforce.

'I was aware we were losing fantastic talent – if you looked up to senior management everybody was white'

Catherine Gamble, head of nursing practice, education and research, South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust

Catherine Gamble, the trust's head
of nursing, education and research

‘I was aware we were losing fantastic talent – if you looked up [to senior management] everybody was white,’ she says. ‘It didn’t look anything like our community, and morale was low.’

Formal sessions and individual coaching

Having secured a substantial grant from the Burdett Trust for Nursing, the mental health trust worked with Kingston University and the chief nursing officer’s BAME advisory group to develop a programme that includes a mix of formal training days and individual coaching.

‘Our over-arching aim was to get everybody “out of the house”,’ explains Ms Gamble. ‘We got them to come to the RCN’s headquarters where there was a unique opportunity for participants to meet eminent nurses from a BAME background – and to show them what a wonderful profession nursing is.’

The training days cover topics including resilience, communication skills, and how different cultures fit in to the workplace – and to celebrate that. Each participant was expected to undertake a workplace quality improvement project, and give a presentation on it.

‘Senior leaders from the trust came in and talked about their inspirational journeys,’ explains Ms Jnagal, adding that the speakers came from a variety of professional backgrounds, not just nursing.

'The programme has been a very powerful change agent as the board takes forward future leadership programmes and tackles inequalities'

Vanessa Ford, director of nursing and quality, South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust

According to Ms Gamble, receiving the funding from the Burdett Trust helped to give the programme credibility and win support from the trust’s senior management team.

South West London and St George’s director of nursing and quality Vanessa Ford is ‘incredibly proud’ of what the nurses in the first cohort have achieved. ‘The Burdett programme has been a very powerful change agent as the board takes forward future leadership programmes and tackles inequalities,’ she says. ‘The coaching and shadowing opportunities that have come from this programme have been as useful for those senior colleagues taking part as for the BAME nurses involved.’

Participants are seeing the career benefits

Some participants have already seen their careers progress, including Elizabeth Park (see box) who is now a deputy ward manager. One nurse has won a Darzi fellowship (one-year posts designed to help clinicians make the leap into systems leadership), while another has been appointed to a matron role outside the NHS.

I used to think ‘I can’t do it’ – now I know I can

For Elizabeth Park, taking part in the leadership development programme has been a ‘wonderful journey’. The newly appointed deputy ward manager (she had previously held the post as an interim) says the programme helped her find out what kind of leader she was – and how she could use this to improve her practice.

Elizabeth Park now feels able to
draw on her Asian background in
her professional life

Part of this involved searching into her past to think of how her experiences had shaped her as a person, a mental health nurse, and a leader.

‘It’s given me the courage to use my strengths, my unique personality that has come from my Asian background,’ she says. ‘Before, I think I thought I had to be a different person – I left everything [about myself] behind. Now I can be more authentic.’

Ms Park found it particularly inspiring to hear from BAME leaders about their experience and how they had overcome challenges. She has also enjoyed the quality-improvement element of the programme, which requires participants to undertake a workplace project. ‘I have been running face-to-face sessions for family members and carers, partly educational, partly to listen to them, and also to signpost them to support. I’m so happy about it – it’s a pilot so far, but who knows what will happen.

‘The programme has helped build my confidence. I used to think “I can’t do it”. But now I know I can do it.’


Others have been promoted to ward or team leadership roles at the trust. While the organisation will continue to track career progression of those taking part, part of the programme’s success is in encouraging people to see themselves as leaders, whatever their role, and in developing confidence more generally.

‘People have told us they now feel confident to question or challenge managers or consultants, and that they also feel more confident in their personal lives,’ says Ms Jnagal.

They hope to expand the programme across the South London Mental Health and Community Partnership, which is made up of three trusts – South West London and St George’s, Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust, and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

Jennifer Trueland is a health journalist

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