There have been numerous initiatives over the years to try and promote equality and diversity in public sectors. Diversity is governed by a mixture of policies and legal rights, but, more than that, it’s something that society expects as part of a progressive community. I take a view that if we want the best for our population, then we must focus on cultures, values and behaviours in the workplace. Diversity and inclusion are more than the questions at the end of a job interview, boxes on a form, or annual workplace surveys. It would be all too easy to include token staff members on boards or committees. What would be more meaningful is to ensure diversity of all types is reflected in decision-making. It’s about getting the skills, knowledge and understanding at every level of decision-making. Diverse people inevitably bring diverse views. If we reflect diversity in decision-making, then, in turn, we can achieve decisions that are more reflective of society.
However, this seems easier said than done. Diversity and inclusion are hard for any organisation, and the problems facing the NHS technology divisions in England are not unique. In my opinion, this is certainly not something that seems to be working across the NHS or public sector more generally. As the NHS continues to develop its digital and technology workforce, organisations will have to do more to ensure that these opportunities are accessible to the most diverse group of people.
The NHS has some good examples of diversity, which can be seen in clinical services and supporting teams. But there is still a lot more we can all do to improve diversity in the NHS. We need to make it more than an afterthought, make it something that comes naturally within the way we work. Diversity has to be more than counting protected characteristics. It needs to be about valuing individuals from a range of backgrounds, which may include their social demography, professional training, or even their role in the home place.
The very personal experiences that have been shared with me are worrying and, more jarring, consistent. It makes me question, why has nothing changed? We seem to have endless reports and initiatives, but no one seems to be taking any useful action. It’s all too often political lip service. I have experienced the issues first hand, which I readily accept could be unconscious, but, nonetheless, they exist. One problem that I see all too often is that people that are from the same network tend to stick together and therefore their hires into senior roles tend to be people just like them. This can make it quite hard to promote new and diverse talent, as it’s difficult for anyone else to get a look in. Another issue that concerns me a lot is that too many people fail to accept there is an issue, or, worse, still deny there is an issue that needs addressing. I have heard of situations that are hard to reconcile where people are excluded or situations where colleagues are treated differently to others. This becomes hard to ignore when the media also point out these problems.
Every voice counts
Inclusion can be difficult to get right, we all have different cultural, educational and societal backgrounds, so the way we each interact will naturally be different. As human beings, we all view things differently and see things differently. A healthy workplace will naturally have a range of different views and opinions. However, the impact we may have on one another may not always be obvious. This can be all the way down to how we greet people in a room, to how we address one another in regular communication. We all have a role to play in improving inclusion.
If we want to improve the health outcomes for our population and make the best decisions then we need to be more inclusive in our decision-making and recognise talent and skills from a range of diverse people. I hope that the future NHS is not just a reflection of the past NHS, and that we demonstrate the importance of social mobility in the workplace.
Globally, the technology sector is making gains in improving diversity within the workforce, and this can be seen across the executives of many multinational technology organisations. However, the same can’t really be seen within technology in UK public sector or the NHS. The UK has some great examples of innovations in healthcare technology, and the digital ambitions of the NHS are sought after across the world. I hope that as we continue to share examples of technology development, we are also able to share just as much as ambition in diversity and inclusion in the technology workforce.