It’s a shocking but sadly true fact that the care sector has a diversity problem. It’s not that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds are underrepresented in the adult social care workforce – they make up 21% of all jobs, which is more diverse than the overall population of England. However, this representation grinds to a halt when it comes to senior roles.
Analysis, conducted by Grosvenor, of the 36 biggest care home and home care providers who provide information on their board members shows that only 5.4% come from a BAME background. Or, to put it another way, 14 board members out of a total of 258 positions were from a BAME background. Meanwhile, at the next level down, in 2018 Skills for Care found that only 17% of senior management roles in social care are filled by someone from a BAME background.
You don’t really need official reports to realise this though, just eyes. If you look at the board make-up of some of the UK’s largest care providers, it is obvious that they are, more often than not, white, middle-aged males.
It is true that some of the biggest personalities in the sector are of BAME origin. However, I would argue they are the exceptions that prove the rule.
The bigger picture
The business owners and investors behind these bigger care providers are ultimately failing their own companies by not ensuring greater diversity among their leadership teams.
The UK is an increasingly multicultural country, particularly in areas like London and Birmingham. According to the Office for National Statistics, for example, one in every 3.1 people in the Birmingham area is either black, Asian or from another ethnic minority.
Both racially-diverse boards and management teams can therefore improve the service an organisation offers, by having senior representation of the people in their localities.
This is particularly important in the social care sector, as responsible providers must be equipped to cater to all people, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or sexuality. Having Boards and management teams that reflect your user demographic, particularly when you serve a large number of people, means you are likely to be more successful at tailoring a service to their needs.
This is confirmed by a 2015 study by Strategy and Business magazine, which focused on racially-diverse chief executives and directors across all sectors. The study found that organisations with a higher level of racial diversity in the boardroom often saw a strong governance structure. In fact, it showed that Fortune 500 firms with a diverse board were more successful at innovating and effectively running their companies, which emphasises the impact diversity can have across a business.
However, promoting diversity at the top of your company must go beyond placing a single individual from a BAME background in a senior leadership role. The same study mentioned above found little evidence that a single BAME person in a position of power could have a massive impact on a company. Indeed, how could they? They are just one person after all, typically surrounded by more traditionally-minded individuals. Introducing diversity at the top of an organisation therefore needs to be more than a box-ticking exercise; it needs to be embraced fully.
Be the change
So how do we crack the glass ceiling for BAME communities in health and social care? Well, banks and investors need to open their minds to supporting businesses owned by people from the BAME community. Asian leaders, in particular, are more common among smaller care businesses – banks and investors should recognise their potential and back their growth.
Our rapidly-growing population and ageing demographics mean that there is huge demand for care businesses, whether that is residential care, specialist care or domiciliary care. Investors and banks looking to invest in or lend to companies with great growth potential would be making a shrewd business move to back these many smaller care organisations run by enterprising members of the BAME community.
Meanwhile, care providers themselves should recognise that supporting diversity makes good business sense. As mentioned, in such a sensitive and people-facing industry like care, having employees who are representative of the people you are hoping will use your care services is just common sense. If you are someone from a BAME background looking for a care home, you might be more likely to choose one where you feel like the service supports people of all backgrounds, and one of the most obvious ways to judge that is by looking at who that company employs.
Care business leaders should therefore look at the population of the areas in which they operate and compare that to the nationalities of the people they employ and whose careers they promote, and adjust attitudes accordingly when making future hires and promotions. This will probably involve creating an outreach programme where HR teams have to actively go out and hire. This could take the form of speaking to local community leaders and business forums to find out how to get more people from diverse backgrounds applying for your jobs.
Getting the most benefit out of a more diverse workforce also means there is an onus on care organisations to instigate mentorship schemes for existing BAME employees. You not only have to actively encourage people from BAME backgrounds to apply for your jobs, but you also have to nurture them, not just leave them to sink or swim.
For the past 15 years, I have mentored people with a BAME background, in health and social care and beyond. By fostering a culture of ambition in our employees, we can be part of the change we want to see. Many just need a push and some guidance to help them achieve great things. Whether it’s going out for a coffee with them or answering their questions, making yourself available and open to mentoring the next generation is crucial if we are to see a more diverse make-up of senior leaders. You never quite know when you’re mentoring the next team leader or CEO and it can be as equally as exciting for you as it is for them.
Hand in hand with providing this positive support is having an effective policy for cracking down on unacceptable racist behaviour within an organisation that could stifle or drive out BAME voices. I would advise companies to make sure they have a strong and effective whistleblowing procedure to help people speak out against bullies.
To be effective, this needs to be a means of communication that bypasses the usual chain of command within a company, as obviously it could be someone’s line manager who is the problem. Maybe companies could have a designated board member whose contact details are available to employees so they can get in touch. It will help to know the person they are contacting has the authority to investigate the issue. It also needs to be made clear in all communications with colleagues that there is always an ‘open door’ policy at the top with any issues, and that there are no punitive repercussions for anyone who dares to suggest there might be a problem.
Seeing the difference
All these actions will create the ‘trickle down’ effect, which will also help diversity in business. Seeing people of diverse backgrounds on boards will encourage BAME workers in the lower rungs of a business to push themselves forward for higher-level roles. It’s so important to not forget the personal impact of seeing someone who looks like you and/or has a similar background to you in a high-level position. This importance can be lost on people of non-BAME backgrounds, because of course seeing people who look like them at the top of companies is entirely the norm.
If all this sounds overwhelming to try and implement, companies could maybe consider hiring a diversity consultant. These people can come into your company and provide an objective voice as well as their expertise on encouraging diversity.
But, it is important to note, the burden of promoting diversity in a business must not only fall on existing BAME health and social care leaders – non-BAME directors and chief executives should be playing their part in shaping the future.
Perhaps it is even time for legislation to enforce diversity in boards and senior management teams? I’m not sure it’s necessarily the answer but I think there needs to be more serious discussion about it by government and policy makers.
Ultimately, achieving diversity at the top of health and social care businesses is not impossible, but providers and their financial backers need to be open to the opportunities and possibilities available to them if they just think outside the (tick) box.
How are you ensuring diversity in your senior leadership teams? What more can be done? What have you had success with? Let us know by commenting on this article below.