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Ready Now: the course that helps aspiring BME leaders make it to the top – and take others with them

A programme from the NHS Leadership Academy is enabling talented people from under-represented ethnic minorities to realise their career ambitions and become 'change agents.'

A programme from the NHS Leadership Academy is enabling talented people from under-represented ethnic minorities to realise their career ambitions and become 'change agents'  


The Ready Now programme is attempting to improve the career
prospects of aspiring senior leaders from BME backgrounds. Picture: IStock 

Black and minority ethnic nurses represent a significant proportion of the NHS workforce, but often do not advance to a director or senior management role.

There are believed to be as few as 3 band 9 nurses from a BME background, and just 2 BME chief executives among the 500-odd organisations of the NHS.

Tackling this, and making boards look more representative of the communities they serve, is a huge challenge. 

The Ready Now programme, run by the NHS Leadership Academy, is attempting to improve the career prospects of aspiring senior leaders from BME backgrounds, and encourage change in their organisations. 

The programme involves a series of short face-to-face modules undertaken in Leeds, and year-long coaching and self-directed learning. It draws on research on issues that influence the progression of BME leaders and allows participants to test new strategies.

Focusing on leadership

Those selected for the programme are also expected to mentor another BME staff member. To be eligible, applicants must be aspiring leaders in health and social care at band 8a or above, or the clinical equivalent. 

NHS Leadership Academy head of inclusions and system leadership Tracie Jolliff says: ‘We do not have diverse representation at the highest level in the NHS. The quickest way to get that is to tap into the talent pool that sits just below it.’

Participants are expected to focus on leadership for inclusion and promote change in the organisations they go back to. 

Sharing experiences 

‘The programme aims to put a ladder down to enable other people to climb up. It is not just about personal advancement,’ says Ms Jolliff.

‘We encourage them to make their unique contribution in ensuring BME representation is becoming the norm in the NHS.’

She adds that many participants appreciate the course because it allows them to reflect on and discuss their experiences. 

Cohorts tend to gel quite quickly, says Ms Jolliff. ‘It is by no means an easy programme. We select carefully the people we feel will get the most out of it and are ready to do the work that is required.’

BME staff are generally well represented at bands 5 and 6, but this changes significantly at band 7.

By setting up a programme for those at band 8a or above, the Leadership Academy is targeting people who are on the cusp of senior management, but may already have crossed hurdles to progress as far as they could in their jobs.

Now in its third year, the scheme has taken one cohort a year, but demand has meant this could increase to four a year in 2018-19.

The advantage of this is that it may quickly lead to more BME faces round NHS board tables. But something else is needed to address the issues of staff who are unable to make the jump from band 6 to 7, or from 7 upwards.

The Leadership Academy is hoping a Stepping Up programme specifically for staff at these lower bands can be run regionally to fill this gap.

Ms Joliff says nurses have been a significant group among the Ready Now cohorts so far, adding that many have been ‘sitting on the verge of being a chief nurse for a long time’.

She says the programme is open to any under-represented ethnic minority, including people with a white minority background.

Further barrier 

But, there can sometimes be a barrier to those who want to apply to join the course – their own managers. ‘Anecdotally, we have some BME staff who feel they are being blocked in coming on the programme by managers,’ says Ms Joliff. ‘There is something about access to development.’

Line managers are often in a position to support applicants, who will need time off to attend the residential sessions. 

The Ready Now programme is free to participants and their organisations, if they complete the course. Applicants are interviewed by video.

Applications are open for the 2017 cohort. The closing date is 14 November, provided the cohort is not filled before then. More information about the programme and the application process can be accessed here


Alison Moore is a freelance health writer

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