I recently completed a graduate program in capital project management with a large reputable NHS Trust in London. The immense diversity within my project and team only occurred to me as an afterthought. As a Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) staff member, I’ve always known how important it is to promote diversity, equality, and inclusion at workplace. People from different cultures, nationalities, backgrounds, if properly led and motivated, bring their own stance to the table, but it’s in the power of the project manager to figure out how to make the most out of this cooperation.
Being perceptive to my department, I began to consider possible ways to nurture and harness this rich diversity and took advantage of every opportunity to do so. I felt enriched by the level of their ethnic and cultural diversity and learnt a great deal about intercultural skills. Here are some recommendations for my fellow project managers, based on the experience I got.
1. Apply diagnostics for diversity within your project team
There are many kinds of diversity. What I noticed was peculiar for my team was a range of experience levels on display, with certain colleagues possessing considerable expertise of different stages of the project lifecycle e.g. feasibility stage, whilst others had experience of working in support functions e.g. capital planning.
I felt this diversity could be quantified and harnessed for my team’s benefit. One way I sought to do this was to use diagnostics such as Belbin Team Roles. According to this, I’ve been characterized as a ‘completer-finisher’ i.e. proficient at quality controlling the end of tasks. When I realized this, I applied my preferred role to team tasks e.g. scrutinizing project documentation before dissemination to board, which I proved to excel at.
Another very effective way of managing diversity in my immediate and wider team was to use a skills log, an example of which is shown in Table 1. I created such a log to identify different team members to approach problem-solving. For example, I consulted a colleague in the capital planning team possessing stakeholder engagement experience on ways to involve patients in my capital project. This approach recognizes that team members can possess a variety of experience and skills not necessarily reflected by their current job title.
Table 1. Skills log example
|Stakeholder engagement||Steven Smith||Capital Planning Manager||Significant experience of patient engagement from previous role as engagement officer|
|Commercial awareness||Amanda Jones||Senior Project Manager||Considerable tendering experience and knowledge of different contractors|
2. Reverse-mentor a senior leader within your department
Reverse mentoring seeks to instil greater self-awareness in mentees by pairing them with persons who have unique lived experiences, which in my case happened to be the experience of being a BME staff member.
I was paired with a senior white leader as part of a wider reverse mentoring initiative rolled out in my department. I found this experience to be empowering as I got to explore and appraise his departmental practices e.g. how he promotes people in his department. I also got to observe his dealings with BME staff in team meetings. My mentee felt that being reverse mentored offered a safe space to speak candidly about his diversity, equality, and inclusion practices.
Most importantly, in an already ethnically diverse department, I felt that reverse mentoring helped my organization prepare for under-represented and protected groups to join the project team. This is because, through reverse mentoring, I helped my mentee appraise his personal and departmental treatment of these groups, with a view to ensure equitability and fairness.
I wanted him to look at diversity as more than a mere numbers game. “How are BME staff treated in your department?” “Do BME staff get paid the same as their white counterparts for doing the same job?” “Do BME staff get the same quality of projects as their white counterparts? How are they recognized for their efforts?”
These are just some of the questions I got him to ponder by virtue of our close reverse mentoring relationship.
3. Supervise work shadowing for BME staff (and under-represented groups) within your department
During my third rotation on the graduate program, I accepted the responsibility of organizing and supervising a work experience week for a BME staff member from another department.
I organised a range of activities, including construction site visits to live projects, simulation exercises (e.g. appraisal of a risk register) and guided interviews with other project professionals. I encouraged the participant to keep a reflective journal and present some findings back to me at the end of the week.
At the conclusion of their work experience week, I received excellent feedback, including the comment that having me as a point of contact was essential to understanding how the department worked. The participant left our department with fresh insights and renewed zeal to pursue a career in project management, and eventually joined our department.
I feel this is important to relate as supporting BME staff (and under-represented groups) in this way can improve opportunities and positively influence career choices towards different vocations.
What I discovered from my time working in a large NHS Trust is that you can do a lot as an individual to promote equality, diversity, and inclusion for your organization, from reverse mentoring senior leaders to managing work experiences for BME staff. There are also ways to harness ethnic and other kinds of diversity to your team’s advantage.
It’s also evident that imbuing a diverse, equal and inclusive culture requires a holistic approach. This needs individuals dedicated to the cause as much as it needs processes and measures in place.
My experience affirms that such an approach helps to yield reproducible diversity, improved opportunities for and better treatment of under-represented/protected groups.
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