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Diversity in Leadership

The Healthcare Leadership Academy is hosting its annual conference this year on 12th December 2019. In the run up to the conference, The HLA and Medics.Academy have come together to produce a series of blog posts, some in collaboration with student publications from across the country. This week, our guest publication is the Journal for the National Student Association of Medical Research (JSAMR). JSAMR is an open access, online only journal that is authored, reviewed, and edited by medical students.

One thing I have learnt during my short career in the NHS is that whatever we strive to achieve is patient-focused. All we do must provide care that is holistic and patient-centred, no compromise. That is exactly what the NHS values uphold:

Working together for patients

  1. Respect and dignity

  2. Commitment to quality of care

  3. Compassion

  4. Improving lives

  5. Everyone counts

There is a gap in representation of women and ethnic minorities in NHS leadership. A stark example is seen in London; while more than 40% of staff are recognised as black or ethnic minority, only 14% occupy senior leadership roles. The NHS identifies diversity as a critical factor in its success. But the progress made in creating an inclusive environment, all the way up to management level, has been very slow. If the NHS wants to work collaboratively to achieve standards that promote the above values, then diversity should be at the heart of every step they take.

The need for diversity in healthcare leadership is not purely a response to demographic reality, but a process that improves system capability, organisational effectiveness and patients’ satisfaction. Diversity in leadership creates a care system that is personal and compassionate.

In such a system, organisations draw talent from a larger pool, ensuring that the skills and experiences of all employees from all backgrounds are valued and utilised. (2)

Diverse leadership recognises the individual characteristics of its workforce and appreciates its differences. It creates an organisation that addresses the needs of its employees and patients. The presence of diverse leadership can help all leaders recognise their unconscious biases while simultaneously mitigating their influence.

Having leadership that is reflective of the demographics it employs can boost trust and morale. Leaders motivate and inspire the workforce to innovate and improve care. Diversity helps build cohesion among employees, while fostering a culture of belonging where everyone is validated and thriving. The principles of thought partnership and multiple perspectives are adopted, and responsibilities are shared while success is collectively celebrated. Thought partnership promotes engagement of the workforce and helps address assumptions organisation may have regarding any issue. Organisation members become thought partners as individuals are encouraged in bringing their unique knowledge and experiences in supporting the ongoing leadership.

Diverse leadership makes it easy for everyone’s voice to be heard, as it creates an organisational climate of inclusion. Such leadership will be the focus of employee attachment and a powerful influence on their motivation, innovation and effectiveness It improves transparency and standards. Without a doubt, all these factors improve care delivery as healthcare workers are more likely to tackle daily challenges and help address them knowing that their contributions are equally valued by being part of the decision-making process.

I have experienced lack of diversity leading to staff being fearful about raising issues of inclusion and diversity. People can be hesitant at how best to approach such delicate issue. By creating a diverse leadership that has a personal understanding of the difficulties faced by different individuals, and the courage to address these issues from a top-down approach.

Patients arrive at healthcare facilities in a state of vulnerability and personal exposure. They should receive treatment that addresses their health concerns and protects their dignity. However, not all patients experience dignified treatment; potentially due to unconscious staff behaviour that may not recognise the cultural needs of the patient they are caring for. Diversity plays a pivotal role in addressing such issues and maintaining dignity at all times. Research has shown that when diversity is promoted, then quality and productivity improve. Diversity in leadership helps improve staff retention and enables talents to blossom. These outcomes are highly desirable in the NHS as they directly influence patients’ outcomes.

A healthcare provider that upholds NHS values, maintains patients’ dignity, has very talented and motivated staff and a great retention rate would be a system of everyone’s envy. The recipe for this formula is reliant on having leadership that is diverse. Those leaders can create a system that benefits from the collective effort of all its members.

As I started, I’d like to end with what we all as healthcare workers aim to achieve: care delivery that upholds the values of respect, dignity, compassion, improving lives, working together for patients, in an environment everyone counts. Diversity can only be a vehicle that enables this process.


About the Author

Mustafa Abdimalik is a Cardiology Teaching Fellow in Wales. He’s currently undertaking a PGCert in Medical Education and is a past Education Editor of the BSDJ. He is on Instagram at @mustafa_abdimalik

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