New Approaches to Leadership and Race Equality

21/09/2022 - New Approaches to Leadership and Race Equality

By Laic Khalique, Director of Digital Technology, NHS Tayside and Chair of the NHS Ethnic Minority Forum

After several years of visiting the Highlands in my youth, I finally moved to my new home on the shores of Loch Ness some decades ago.  The move itself was leap of faith, another adventure, more driven by the romance of the landscape rather than any practical consideration of earning a living. It was a decision driven by a philosophy that I had held as child- things always work out in the end and if one path became stony and difficult to navigate, there was always the possibility of diving to a new one. 

Having studied Medieval Arabic and History at university, I had a brief moment of panic as I packed up the van with my belongings from my much-loved home in Oxford, as it occurred to me that there wouldn’t be much demand for my skills as a medieval Arabic translator in the glens of the Scottish Highlands but these thoughts were quickly displaced as I drove on over the Forth and onto the now familiar A9 that took me through the Cairngorms onto Inverness and beyond. 

And so, my career within health and social care started in Scotland. It’s a field that I’m immensely proud to work in, where I have realised our communities receive some of the best care in the world from a workforce that is truly exceptional. My colleagues can hail from anywhere from a few glens away to the other side of the world and as such it’s one of the most ethnically diverse workforces in Scotland. The breadth of experience of colleagues from Motherwell or Mumbai facilitates more than merely a technical knowledge exchange – it’s an amalgam of cultural viewpoints, a crucible that forges combined experience and ultimately yields much better care for our diverse communities who often have widely differing needs. 

However, as a senior leader of colour within the health and social care landscape, I am aware that I am something of a rarity. Recent workforce data indicates there are very few minority ethnic senior leaders in Scotland. 

My own career progression within health and social care has been driven by the philosophy of change that has always guided me. I was lucky enough in my career to have two managers both women of colour, who provided me with a wealth of insight in the challenges that minority ethnic staff face within our service. It made me realise that the visibility of senior minority ethnic staff is hugely important. If you are a young woman of colour, starting your career, how can you conceive of being a director, or a Chief Executive if you have no visible role models? Simply put, you can’t be what you can’t see.  

Our health and social care system is incredibly complex and one that needs to change to keep cultural pace with a society that changed quite fundamentally only in the last ten years. At a societal level, never has there been such focus and scrutiny upon the principles of equality from issues such a gender and equity of pay, to marriage equality and greater representation and visibility of LGBTQ+ issues. Keeping pace with this social change demands a new type of leader. 

A leader that has an unambiguous remit in changing the culture of their organisation, a leader that is focussed less upon juggling straining budgets and doing more with less. A leader that sets a new cultural tone. A leader whose core responsibility is to build and nurture a safe, inclusive work culture that is based upon the principles of equality. A leader with lived experience that is recruited upon skills such as empathy, compassion, tact and understanding. Leaders that understand the physiological, psychological and behavioural impact for staff, patients and their families from the chronic stress caused by racism and discrimination. This is why the Leading to Change programme of work is so vital in improving the quality of care for our patients and citizens in Scotland. 

Reflective Challenge – What actions can you take for your own self leadership to show up as this kind of leader?

We’d like to thank Laic for writing this guest blog which is part of the Leading to Change Diversity Blog Series. We want to highlight and promote the voices and experiences of diverse leaders at all levels including those working at frontline / grassroots levels. We aim to celebrate diverse leaders who can act as role models for other aspiring, diverse leaders.

Laic Khalique

All information regarding our contributors was correct at the time of publishing.

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