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Wednesday 16 January 2019

BAME into Leadership: "Get to know 'the game' and its rules"

By Peter Green

©Visual Eye/Dods

The FDA, in partnership with Dods, has been holding BAME into Leadership (BAMEiL) events for twelve years. On 5 December 2018, the two organisations put on the first event of this kind to be held in Cardiff. This followed the successful format of previous years: motivating keynote speakers; highly engaging and effective workshops; and a Q and A with a well-informed panel of experts.

At the beginning of the event, delegates were presented with a photo of the Heads of Departments and Permanent Undersecretaries in 2017. No visibly BAME faces could be seen in this picture. Why was that, they were asked, and how can we change this? The challenge, it was said, is twofold: to secure the “pipeline” and ensure that enough of the “supply” reaches its destination.

There was a lot to learn from the day. Some of the key messages I took home include:

1. Targets and data are important. If nothing else, they bring accountability. “What gets measured, gets done, what doesn’t, doesn’t”, as the saying goes.
2. All delegates are at some point “in the pipeline of progression”. Can you see your way to the end? Identify the blockages and the blockers. Make a plan, share it with a trusted colleague or mentor, seek feedback and be adaptable. One speaker gave a cogent reminder that “plans fail for not being tested and for lack of counsel”.
3. Take advantage of the opportunities for personal development, in the form of mentors and the formal and informal learning that the civil service offers. Actively seek out a sponsor, coach or work shadow. Use the networks and identify and speak with role models.
4. Get to know “the game” and its rules. For example, how to present yourself through the application process and at interviews. The landscape of selection is changing with the advent and use of success profiles.
5. Focus on what you can control. Make a success of what you are doing and learn how and why you achieved that success. Acknowledge that there is unconscious bias but do not let the attitudes of others limit you. Use your mentor, coach, buddy (or whoever) to find out how others perceive you and challenge unhelpful assumptions.
6. Don’t be wary of asking for help. This is not a weakness. The process of self-discovery leads you to be authentic and confident about yourself. You are what you think you are — “know yourself” was a recurring theme of the speakers. Be aware of the impact you have on others, both positive and negative. Henry Ford’s dictum sums up the message: if you think you can, if you think you can’t, you are right.

2019 BAMEiL conferences will be held in Edinburgh, Leeds, Birmingham, London and Cardiff. To read upcoming agendas, check dates and book tickets, see the BAME into Leadership website. FDA and Keystone members receive a significant discount on tickets.


Peter Green is a former FDA Executive Committee member and Convenor for the FDA's Ofsted section.

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