Diversity: targeting full equality

by Edward John

06 November 2018

NHS finance must be accountable for performance on diversity

It’s heart-warming to see so many organisations both public and private taking diversity and inclusion seriously and really embracing change. I’ve been around a while now so for me to see the change compared to when I started out in work is fabulous. But there is still a long way to go and, in particular, it is equally disheartening to see NHS finance lagging behind the leaders in the field.

The 2017 HFMA census, produced with the Skills Development Network, showed that there is still a huge disparity in the representation of people from protected groups occupying senior finance positions. We know evidence suggests diverse organisations outperform non-diverse organisations in almost all measures of performance and employee satisfaction, so it makes sense to get our act together pretty quickly.

But things are beginning to change and there are pockets of great work being done nationally and regionally on addressing the required change. For our part, within Future-Focused Finance, we have tasked ourselves with coming up with a strategy that can have some positive impact on the statistics. We have been working with accounting firms who run flagship programmes to absorb their experiences and best practice. However, more importantly we wanted to hear the real experiences, the real stories and the real day-to-day barriers and perceptions from protected groups.

To this end we ran two ‘safe-house discussions’ for non-finance director NHS employees; one for women and one for black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. I was delighted with the honesty and openness of the people that attended, but also frustrated at the barriers to equality that many talented individuals still face just because of their gender or ethnicity.

Common themes arose from the two groups. In particular, these included: the perceived absence of role models; the need for organisations to practice what they preach on diversity issues; the need to call out inappropriate behaviour, attitudes and unconscious bias; and the need to be more innovative and inclusive in the way organisations approach recruitment.

The suggestions, wants and needs arising from these discussions helped us pull together a strategy and potential action areas. The objective is simple. Full equality for all protected groups. This may seem unrealistic, but we felt that we shouldn’t be settling for anything less. We know that we can get there in incremental steps and it will be the long game that yields the results with hopefully some significant wins on the way.

Key to the change we must make as a body of professionals is that we have to hold ourselves accountable and we will be pushing for mandatory performance measurement systems across NHS finance.

We will be pushing for organisations to think differently when considering their recruitment processes and we want to provide training, education and support to raise awareness of negative behaviours, cultures and attitudes.

We know we are not good at marketing and communications and bringing people together, so we want to put on more events and provide networking and mentoring opportunities. To this end our launch event in November brings speakers together to share ideas on some of the great work that is already being done. We are so pleased that TV presenter June Sarpong MBE will be presenting on her experiences and approach to the diversity issue. Follow the event on social media (@nhsFFF #diversity) and you can register for newsletters at www.futurefocusedfinance.nhs.uk.

We can make a difference and we can change things for the better, I’m looking forward already to being part of a wholly inclusive NHS finance function that not only embraces diversity, but positively celebrates it.

HFMA and Future-Focused Finance are working together to produce a tailored analysis of diversity metrics for each NHS trust that completed the HFMA and SDN 2017 finance workforce census. Individual reports for each trust are being sent electronically to the director of finance. For more information on this please contact futurefocusedfinance@nhs.net