"Diversity in senior positions brings different life experience, thoughts, perspectives and opinions - and it leads to empathy and improved understanding and awareness of issues faced by underrepresented groups, improving cultural intelligence."
Sam has worked in Local Government for 20 years, in a range of authorities. To date, her career has spanned roles in small and large Local Authorities and she has been involved in a wide range of health and social care commissioning and projects for Children and Adults' services. She is currently the Assistant Director of ASC Health Commissioning and Transformation at the Royal Borough of Kingston Upon Thames.
What does diverse leadership mean to you?
Leadership should reflect the workforce, which in turn reflects the population we serve. Diversity in senior positions brings a different life experience, thoughts, perspectives and opinions - and it leads to empathy and improved understanding and awareness of issues faced by underrepresented groups, improving cultural intelligence. Role models who can inspire the next generation of leaders can make organisations more attractive to potential employees and demonstrate greater authenticity and commitment to championing equalities, diversity and inclusion.
What were the biggest barriers you faced in your journey to a leadership role?
I have faced a number of barriers at all stages of my career journey.
When I was about to leave university - I was told by a professor that I would find it really hard to get a job due to my strong regional accent, and because of my sex and heritage - I am a South Asian woman. The sad thing - she was right about my early experience in the public sector.
I often felt like the 'odd one out', the person that clearly sticks out and yet is strangely invisible, or the one who raises concerns and shares observations without being really listened to, and often being simply brushed over. Being overlooked for development because you don't fit in. I felt so disillusioned by this that I left an organisation and thought about leaving the public sector altogether. It was a challenge, but the more I thought about it, the more felt compelled to return and actively made a point of ensuring to find different ways of championing my needs, my 'out-of-the-ordinary' presence, my solid expertise, and the different values I brought with my 'being different'.
What would you say are the biggest challenges you now face in a leadership role?
Adult Social Care has a fantastically diverse workforce - we are a fantastically diverse workforce - one that supports our residents across our services. The biggest challenges are now making sure we develop and retain staff from all walks of life; so that we nurture and develop a workforce with extensive lived experience and a variety of alternative viewpoints. More diversity at leadership levels is key to this - as a lead commissioner in a leadership role, continuing to develop services as our demography evolves is a huge challenge; one that I firmly believe to also be an incredibly enriching opportunity.
What is a simple but often overlooked change senior leaders could implement to create a welcoming and inclusive work environment?
Allyship - at times, you can feel really alone. I'm now part of an organisation that has really embraced this approach at all levels and is embracing people from all walks of life. This is a really important step in developing understanding and creating a culture of openness.
What piece of career advice would you offer those of us from traditionally marginalised or underrepresented backgrounds?
Be brave, don't ever think you are not good enough, and don't let the imposter get you down!
Develop your relationships - people who get you and can champion you even if the organisation doesn't immediately see it.
Can you give us an example or a moment in time that really cemented why diversity and inclusion are so important?
The last couple of years has really shone a light on the importance of Health and Social Care in delivering positive outcomes to all communities, individuals, and segments of society. It also showed the marked health disparities we still face in this country for minority groups. Locally in our patch, we recognised the need to support a highly motivated workforce for whom English is (or was) an second language; delivering ESOL training as part of their development training. This was really important from a quality, safety and resilience perspective, and highlighted how the very existence of social care relies on a diverse workforce.