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Tracie Jolliff: ‘Silence is not an option in the face of marginalisation’

Tracie Jolliff: ‘Silence is not an option in the face of marginalisation’
By Valeria Fiore Reporter
22 February 2019

National director of inclusion at the NHS Leadership Academy Tracie Jolliff spent 18 years working towards eradicating social injustices as a social worker in child protection services.

Having joined the NHS Leadership Academy just over five years ago, she continues her fight against injustices within the health service, strategically leading the academy’s work on inclusion.

Q How did you land your role at the NHS Leadership Academy?

I spent 18 years working for local authorities as a social worker in child protection services in the Midlands and the South West. I did that for a number of years before getting into consultancy.

I worked as a consultant for 15 years with various organisations, big and small. I worked on various portfolios, including leadership development, because I was interested in the area and in social justice and inclusion.

In 2014 I became a consultant at KPMG and in 2015 I joined the NHS Leadership Academy as head of inclusion.

When I was still a consultant at KPMG, we got involved with the design and delivery of an NHS Leadership Academy programme, called the Nye Bevan programme, specifically designed to develop senior leaders.

I was one of the KPMG consultants working on that programme and when it was presented, I suggested that the inclusion element could be dialled up as executive leaders needed to be equipped to lead inclusively. This was accepted and we significantly and successfully re-designed the programme to meet this aspiration.

The NHS Leadership Academy later asked me if I would step into a role at the academy to fill that gap in terms of what leadership development needs to do in terms of inclusion.

Q What challenges have you faced in your career?

I’m a mum and I have three children. As a young woman with no children it was really easy to step into my career and be able to follow my interests.

However, after returning from maternity leave, I started realising how having kids has an implication on women in terms of career progression.

I had to work much harder to be seen, be heard and have my talent acknowledged. Being a black woman means that you have an additional layer of barriers to overcome in the workplace.

When I was a child, my parents used to tell me ‘you’re going to have to work several times harder than your white counterparts to get on’. That is a common mantra that black parents teach their children across the globe.

From my personal experience as a black woman, I am very aware of a myriad of stereotypes that are projected onto me, stereotypes I have to find ways to circumvent. One of the most common ones is that we are all angry black women.

It is quite a difficult one: if you [feel you have not been] heard, what you do is turn the volume up and find ways to amplify your voice. If we do this, we are then labelled as being an aggressive black woman, so there is no way of shaking off this stereotype unless we remain silent. But silence is not an option in the face of exclusion and marginalisation.

There’s a real need to focus on what inclusive leadership needs to look like in the NHS and across the public sector and that’s the area of work that I’m leading.

Managers mindsets, attitudes and behaviours determine how much space and how much of a voice employees get in the workplace. We need to focus on culture change in order for diversity and inclusion to happen across all levels.

Q In the long term plan, NHS England said it will continue to fund the Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) up until 2025. Is this commitment enough?

It is a really good move. The WRES enables us to focus on race equality, which I think would have been difficult to do [otherwise].

However, I don’t think it’s enough. The WRES rightly focuses on diversity across senior roles but it doesn’t focus on positive action programmes, to look at how we can develop the capabilities of BAME staff in the system, which is something the academy concentrates on.

However, when BAME staff go back into the system, they find that the culture hasn’t changed and that they have developed but the culture hasn’t.

More needs to be done to meet the ambitions of the WRES. We need to work on culture change and on building the capability and capacity of leaders to become more inclusive.

Q What can leaders do to encourage greater inclusivity within the NHS?

First of all, I would tell them to be open to learning and to questioning what they think they know about this agenda.

Secondly, the work on inclusion needs to start with us. There’s a lot of learning that we need to do in relation to understanding our own identity.

The focus has to be on how you can work with yourself in order to connect with and work with others effectively in ways that build trust and create the capacity for change across our system.

Q Is the Leadership Academy working on anything in particular to drive leadership development?

The NHS Leadership Academy is developing an inclusion approach that will support the NHS to realise its ambitions for increased representation of underrepresented groups in senior leadership positions, and support NHS leaders to address the working experience of minority groups.

This inclusion strategy, Building Leadership for Inclusion, is based on research and learning gathered from pilot sites and from senior leadership engagement that establishes what works in increasing representation and transforming NHS cultures.

This evidence shows that taking these steps improves the experience not only of minority groups but of all staff. It also improves performance and the service’s ability to deliver the ambitions in the NHS long term plan.

Q What are you most proud of in your career?

I think I’m most proud of the things I do that empowers others to do great work. That would include the work on inclusive leadership development at the academy.

We design leadership development interventions to support people to understand what socially just and inclusive leadership looks like.

What gets me up in the morning is knowing that our actions will have helped other people to make changes towards greater levels of inclusion, equality and social justice.

Q How can we encourage more women to take leadership roles?

There’s research showing that men go for a job interview even if they only have two skills out of 10 and women not going for the job even when they have nine skills out of ten.

I think I would tell them: ‘Just go for it’. We need more women in senior roles, we need their perspective and we need women who understand what feminism is and have done the work on themselves to take a feminist stance in the workplace.

We need those women in the workplace. Women with a view of feminism that is inclusive and embraces the voices of all women.

I’d say don’t be afraid to be the first. Particularly in relation to race because a lot of BAME women will be now coming into roles where they are the first.

Learn how to support each other and how to show up genuinely. Understand yourself and what motivates you as well as what derails you and create strategies to address these derailers.

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