Guest Blogger Tracy from GMMH NHS Trust's BAME Staff Network
My name is Tracy Tsikai, since the network began in late 2017, I co-chaired the Greater Manchester Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (GMMH) BAME staff network with my colleague Linval Smith, until he left the organisation in late 2020. Linval and myself worked really hard over the last 4 years to establish a name and place for the network, and also to give all BAME staff working for GMMH a voice. This month we announced the appointment of Frances Fenton as our new Chair for the network. We look forward to working with Fran as she brings with her a lot of experience from her role as a Unison rep.
Looking back, when I attended my first ever network meeting, I really didn’t know what to expect. At the beginning, as you can expect with any new network, there were very few members. It has taken us many years of hard work to increase our membership, and I am really pleased that we now receive weekly requests to join the network group.
The key message this Black History Month and Beyond is #ProudToBe. I am proud to be an immigrant from Zimbabwe who has dedicated 18 years of her life to the NHS and to this organisation. I have worked for GMMH since 2003, and I hope my years with the service has left an impact on someone’s life. I do however wish there had been a forum like this when I first started my job. It would have provided me with a place where I could come and share my experiences without judgement, and feel supported to keep going during those very difficult years of my career. I now look at my 10 year old son and feel a sense of responsibility to do all I can to try to pave a better future for him. My first mission is to continue to speak up and enable all those in the network to have a voice.
Over the years, the BAME staff network has been working on a variety of different projects. The network has actively contributed to the review of several policies with the Human Resources team, and ensured that the views of our members were taken into account. Our priority is about staff wellbeing and all the work we do reflects this.
We have also drafted, planned and implemented The Reverse Mentoring Program which started in October 2019, and our first cohort has just finished. This programme sees junior colleagues from a BAME background mentoring our senior executive team. Reverse mentoring provides opportunities for individuals from under-represented groups to work as equal ‘partners in progress’ in a relationship where knowledge and understanding on both sides of lived experiences creates awareness, insights, and action, directly contributing towards the creation of a more equitable and inclusive organisation, where the factors that generate inequality are positively and proactively addressed. The programme is a powerful enabler that can change organisational norms and traditional culture, one conversation at a time. We are in the process of reviewing outcomes from the first cohort to feed into the planning for the next cohort.
Another project we started was the Opening Opportunities Program which is for staff from under-represented groups who are actively seeking managerial career progression. The programme is now available to all staff, and we have seen colleagues from the BAME network progress through this process.
We are also involved in strategic planning when it comes to equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), with the network now having membership to the strategic EDI group.
A particularly difficult time for our members during the pandemic was when we were receiving a lot of information in the media about higher rates of infection and mortality within certain BAME communities, and at the same time we had the death of George Floyd. It was a really testing time for our members, and having a forum to just be able to talk about how we all felt during that time and was a great resource. We were able to pull together and support each other through all the struggles, and also actually share more accurate information to reduce some of the anxieties staff might have had.
At the peak of the pandemic we worked with HR to devise a COVID-19 risk assessment tool for staff and guidance for managers which allowed not just our BAME members, but all staff, to have a forum to express their concerns and be offered support whilst coming into work during a very scary time. We enable staff to have a forum to ask questions, make an informed choice about vaccines, learn about different models of working for our vulnerable staff, and just share experiences.
One of our other biggest pieces of work has been the review of past disciplinary cases with the HR team to feed into the revision of the GMMH Disciplinary Policy. This helped ensure our internal processes were set to be much fairer for all staff and more transparent. Our data had shown that BAME staff had a higher likelihood to end up going through a disciplinary process than their colleagues, and in almost all these cases there was an outcome of no case to answer. We had also received a lot of feedback from members about the negative impact this process had on them as individuals and their wellbeing. We continue to monitor the impact of this review via feedback from members during meetings and feeding that into any future work we do.
Our current piece of work is with the Head of EDI and Head of HR to develop better support and pathways for staff experiencing racial abuse on our inpatient areas. This is a big piece of work that will hopefully improve not just experiences for staff, but also experiences for our patients.
I am also a Freedom To Speak Up Ambassador, I encourage our members to speak up and feel supported when they do speak up.
The network will continue to support members by offering guidance, mentoring, coaching, signposting staff to the right departments, training, and sometimes just an ear to listen.