Minority ethnic nurses urged to consider chief nurse jobs

Black, Asian and minority ethnic nurses should “never be afraid” to say that they want to be an executive-level nurse, chief nursing officers (CNOs) working across NHS trusts in England have said.

CNOs urged trust leaders at the British Indian Nurses Association (BINA) conference, held in Leicester last week, to create open environments where minority ethnic staff can discuss career progression and safely speak up about any concerns.

“We need to debias and to make it easier for people to progress in their careers”

Karen Bonner

During a panel discussion at the event, the CNO of Birmingham Women and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, Daljit Athwal, said that it had taken her “years to get here” but urged BINA members to aim high.

She said: “There’s many ceilings that I’ve had to crack and doors I’ve had to get into.

“People like us, sitting on the stage, are leaving those doors wide open for you.

“We are on boards fighting prejudice every single day and it’s for one reason: because if we don’t change it up there, we’ll never change it where you are.”

Ms Athwal explained that many minority ethnic nurses, including herself, had “experienced racism from the time that we’re born” and that it continued into their working lives.

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As a chief nurse, she said several Asian nurses had confided in her about negative experiences and discrimination they had faced at work.

“They don’t have to explain it to me because I’ve been there and I know what it’s like,” explained Ms Athwal.

“It’s a deep issue and a problem.”

Similarly, Ms Athwal called on CNOs to challenge some of the processes that are in place, citing the fact that Black, Asian and other minority ethnic staff are disproportionately likely to be the subject of disciplinary investigations.

She said: “We’ve got to challenge our senior managers and our boards in their thinking.

“But the other thing we’ve got to do is empower our frontline staff to call it out when it happens.”

Chief nursing officer's panel at the BINA Conference

Chief nursing officer’s panel at the BINA

This issue was also highlighted by Karen Bonner, chief nurse of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust, who said: “The data tells us that, disproportionately, Black and Brown people are overrepresented in [the] disciplinary process, we know that.”

Ms Bonner called on CNOs to “debias” their internal processes.

She said, in her trust: “We report at board level the proportion of people going through the process based on ethnicity, so that we monitor that [and] we challenge ourselves at [the] board as to why people are being overrepresented.

“And I’m pleased to say that we are no longer overrepresented in the disciplinary process at my trust.”

Ms Bonner also acknowledged that there were “clearly barriers” to Black, Asian and minority ethnic nurses progressing in their career.

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She said: “It is not the sole responsibility of people from difference to make sure that those barriers are broken down.

“It is incumbent on everybody, at all senior levels throughout the service.”

When she was appointed in 2020, Ms Bonner said she was still only one of 10 Black or Brown chief nurses at executive level within the NHS.

“I think it’s really important for all of us to recognise that there is still racism and barriers in our systems that we need to debias and to make it easier for people to progress in their careers,” she argued.

She added: “I did not have many role models that looked like me when I was growing up through nursing.

“We are here to help to inspire many of you to know that it is possible, and therefore you should set your sights and never be afraid to say that you want to be an executive nurse.”

Meanwhile, Julie Hogg, the CNO of University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, said she had “taken really seriously” the challenge set for her at the inaugural BINA conference last year, to create more opportunities for career development conversations for internationally educated nurses.

She said her trust had appointed 10 “career coaches”, who were internationally educated themselves and who had been trained in strengths-based career coaching, which focuses on the strengths that a candidate brings to nursing and what they offer the profession.

Currently, more than 260 internationally educated colleagues at the trust had had conversations about their career progression.

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Ms Hogg said: “So, I accepted that challenge [and] we will continue it.

“We’ve got much more to do but I hope that shows that we are listening.”

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