Guest Blog - Farhad Ahmed - Black History Month and race equality

03 November 2021

I was happy to join CWP’s Black History Month Celebration on Wednesday 20th October organised by our staff network for ethnic minority groups now known as Diversity Alliance. I was impressed how passionately colleagues expressed their pride working for CWP and their enormous contribution to the NHS throughout their careers. 

It got me thinking around this Year’s Black History Month theme- which is “Proud to be” so I thought I’d share some thoughts about “Proud to be an ethnic minority Non Executive Director (NED) at CWP”.

I can’t help take stock of how things have changed in the public discussion of race in society since I wrote about Black History Month a year ago. Some things which stand out are: the Government’s Sewell Report and the confusion it caused around the term “BAME” (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic); the aftermath of the Euro 2020 Penalty Shoot Out; and the ongoing controversies around “culture wars” and “woke”.

Newly joining the NHS, I was encouraged to learn about the wide range of initiatives which CWP is engaged with from North West Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Strategic Advisory Group and its statement about Anti-Racist organisations; annual Workplace Race Equality Survey and action plan; and importance of staff networks including Whatsapp groups for ethnic minority staff nationwide which I have joined.

The twin challenges of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter have made us all feel vulnerable and reassess how we relate to one another with empathy. This is reflected in some of the popular terms circulating in the NHS right now such as “compassionate leadership”, “psychological safety” and “civility and respect”. There’s more importance placed on improving working environments, cultures and relationships since I started which is to be welcomed.

As a CWP board, the issue of race equality does not just crop up during Black History Month. It has been discussed at Board level as part of the wider Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) agenda through workshops and at our Friday Non Executive Director meetings. Our trust values have always been front and centre of guiding these discussions about how we can improve the experience of our people and the communities we serve.

Reading a recent discussion on EDI in the Boardroom there is still under-representation in the boardrooms of the NHS, something Roger Kline- who coined the term “snowy white peaks” - revisited not long ago. Recruitment and selection is just part of the puzzle; key to retention, is how NEDs from diverse backgrounds are made to feel part of the team.

I’ve referred to compassionate leadership above and my own experience at CWP has been very positive and I would like to thank my NED and Executive colleagues notably  Mike Maier and Rebecca Burke Sharples who have mentored and coached me along the way and encouraged me to bring my experiences and insight to the trust.

This has really helped me on a personal level to play an active role in seeking to understand the picture at the trust and offering challenge and sharing insights and good practice where necessary including through discussions with CWP Executive Members who are on North West BAME Assembly- Dr Anushta Sivananthan (medical director), Gary Flockhart (director of nursing, therapies and patient partnership) and Faouzi Alam (medical director).

I introduced Andy Styring, as our Executive Member for Lead Provider Collaboratives to new “learning by experience” partners called Inspire, Motivate, Overcome to enrich our understanding of patients’ needs from diverse communities and supporting Afghan arrivals adapting to new lives in Cheshire.

I do feel we are having the right conversations and doing a lot of the right things but there is still work to be done to improve the staff experience. Looking to the future, amidst all the people challenges there is a genuine opportunity to make our staff compliment more representative of the communities we serve.

Wellbeing of our people is vital and it is really important that ethnic minority staff feel they can access support which meets their needs. Personally, I believe faith and spirituality can play an important role here and have had constructive conservations with David Harris as director of people and organisational development around how Chaplaincy can support that.

In terms of barriers I’ve had to overcome as an ethnic minority NED, I’m still grappling with “imposter syndrome” (which is subsiding!) but I don’t think this is unique to me. Being from a minority background- or that of any protected characteristic for that matter- brings with it an added level of personal accountability to your communities and awareness that you’re representing a cause greater than yourself. It carries the burden to “fly the flag” for racial equality.

All my NED colleagues have been forthright in saying that this agenda a collective responsibility not something to be borne individually and I have seen them raise concerns where necessary which is testament to their genuine commitment to creating a fairer society for all. One of my fellow NEDs posed the challenge to use which we are all trying to solve “how does our organisation align with the human spirit?” One tangible way we can do this is to work to eliminate discrimination in all its forms.

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