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Diversity in HR: why we need majority support

Social movements are about trying to change the status quo. For too long we have seen inequality in all its forms, and some of it we have become de-sensitised to and have come to simply accept as the norm. 

There are some things that we see, hear and feel which we find hard to tolerate and one of those things for me is social injustice.

The NHS was founded on the principles of levelling up social injustice by ensuring that health and care was free at the point of need for all human beings irrespective of their socio-economic background or any other protected characteristic.

The reason more than 45 HR directors, chief people officers, deputy chief people officers, deputy HR directors and others within the profession have got behind #InclusiveHR is because there is a common connection: we want to see change in the status quo.


Diversity in HR: 

BAME leadership: sensitising leaders early on

The black glass ceiling – what it is and how HR can smash it

Opportunities in HR unequal feel BAME HRs

The most recent data on the people profession shows that 17% of the profession are from black, Asian and minority ethnic background. 

Not only is the profession nationally unrepresentative, it was even more shocking to realise that the majority of those people nationally are in bands 1-3.

London is more cosmopolitan than some parts of England, diverse and transient in nature and as such 47% of the people profession are of black, Asian and minority ethnic background, with the majority sitting in band 4 roles. When I share these statistics, it is really uncomfortable for some of my colleagues to hear. 

These people professionals from black, Asian minority ethnic backgrounds have genuine career aspirations and are often striving to achieve so much more, but often feel the attitudes and barriers faced outside of work exist within the workplace too.

I have attended Trusts, organisations, conferences and webinars and had members of staff and the public show a level of surprise when they realise I am a senior HR leader – it's these expectations and reactions I am motivated to change collectively with colleagues who are not willing to accept the status quo, and are prepared to put their power, influence and actions with their words.

Many years ago I would have been surprised to meet female CEOs but I have seen and met enough of them personally, and seen many on TV and know this is no longer unusual.

Gender equality in this space was not always seen, and who would have imagined that we would have Amanda Pritchard as the first female CEO of the NHS.

While I think that it is a long time away before we will ever have a black person as the CEO of the NHS, if we do not start to take action, take small steps, and understand what active allyship means and practice it, we will miss the opportunity to make a difference for future generations – and all of this requires collective energy by the majority. You too can be a part of #InclusiveHR.

My vision is for all HR directors leading their services to create that sense of hope through intentional action to expect, nurture and support black, Asian and minority and ethnic HR professionals to climb the career ladder in the same way as their white counterparts. 

I would like to see this happen through positive cultures that understand the structural and systematic inequalities that hold some colleagues back.

None of my colleagues in the people profession are simply one protected characteristic. As human beings we are complex and exhibit several protected characteristics, so the intersectional aspect adds another layer of complexity.

This can impact the access and knowledge of resources available, which can sometimes present as unwritten rules of engagement that are not known to all.

To support career development for all our people I would like to see line managers and colleagues utilising the HPMA Realising My Potential Resource Hub.

Understanding our career journeys to date, where we want to go, and the gaps in knowledge and skills is key to supporting balanced career conversations.

Considering some of the other tools to support development and progress include understanding networking and the benefits of shadowing. These are all areas that people professionals can discuss with their line managers to support their career aspirations.

Our responsibility as leaders of the future is to de-code the unwritten rules for marginalised groups, become more transparent and open about opportunities, and utilise all the resources available.

This is part of how we realise the ambitions as set out in the NHS Futures Report for creating a more diverse and compassionate people profession that is representative of the communities it serves, as well as one that leads by example and with real credibility.

Cheryl Samuels is deputy director of workforce transformation (London Region), people directorate, NHS England