Pathways: Leadership Development
By Yasmin Hussein
Reproduced by permission of the Centre for Management and Policy Studies.
When I was 16 I helped to establish a young women’s group in my home city of Bradford, where I still live. We formed because we wanted access to sports and leisure facilities, and the available provision didn’t suit our needs. We wanted local schools to open up their facilities to us at weekends and finally, we got the response we wanted. Our group tripled in number, and as the months went by interest in our activities grew. Politicians would visit us and ask us questions, and thus began my passion for improving social policy. After leaving school I studied at university, subsequent to which I looked for work.
For a long time I found it hard to secure a proper professional job, and instead found myself working on short-term contracts. Experience was a factor, although it also seemed to me that in the early 1980s public sector work tended to see black people more in equality and race-relation roles, or perhaps working as receptionists or front line staff.
I don’t have a pat argument as to why this should be, although I think part of the difficulty is the issue around how people from minority groups represent their skills, qualifications and strengths on applications and at interviews. I also think some BME (Black Minority Ethnic) people have tended not to apply for posts because we think our face won’t fit or that we won’t feel welcome. But equally importantly, organizations all too often use job descriptions and competency requirement which are problematic.
When the riots broke in Bradford in July 2001 I was living in the city and commuting to London to work at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) in Whitehall. My work at the department was fascinating, but I would never have even applied had I not been approached by the Department’s headhunters. It was my first ‘normal’ job that wasn’t related specifically to minority ethnic issues. Once I had broken through to the mainstream I was reluctant to relinquish it.
It was whilst I was at DfES that I was made aware of Pathways, although my decision to apply was not a straightforward one. Pathways, which is run by the Centre for Management and Policy Studies, is a leadership development programme for people with ethnic minority backgrounds. It is designed to identify people with the potential to reach the Senior Civil Service and helps them to do so. When it was first brought to my attention my initial response was that, rather than run leadership programmes especially for black people, it would make more sense to run only mainstream programmes, but to attract and ensure more black people accessed them. However, I was persuaded that it was an excellent learning opportunity, and I haven’t been disappointed. In fact, the programme became immediately relevant to me when I was offered a new job as an indirect consequence of what happened on the streets of Bradford in the summer of 2001. Subsequent to the riots, I was asked to speak at a conference in Bradford on the implications for education. In the audience was a manager of Serco the private sector company that had won the contract for the outsourcing of the Local Education Authority. He asked me to consider applying for a consultancy post working with the company. I did and began working with Serco a few months later. It was a very exciting piece of work – raising pupil achievement levels – and for a city I’m passionate about. It also brought new developmental challenges, and Pathways turned out to be a great help.
Pathways is a formidable opportunity. The contributors are of a very high caliber, and it was very impressive to see Whitehall structures open up and allow us to use it for our specialist work placements and projects. I got to work with and learn from my fellow participants and others across Whitehall – from the Cabinet Secretary down. Critical for me, however, was the initial assessment of our ability against the Senior Civil Service competencies.
At the programme’s initial Development Center we were assessed against Senior Civil Service competences and given feedback that determined whether we could proceed to Pathways. This feedback also formed the foundation of a development plan that identified both strengths and development needs. It was a very positive experience, and I was pleasantly surprised that I came out as well as I did in certain areas. I found that Pathways staff would go to extraordinary lengths to support us. For example, the Programme Co-Ordinator Malcolm Horwill arranged for me to do a stint at the British Embassy whilst I was on holiday in Jordan. It was an experience that completely demystified the work of the Foreign Office, Embassies and Ambassadors, and put to bed some inaccurate preconceptions. I was there during the build-up to the war in Iraq and talked to the heads of the Armed forces. To be so involved was extraordinary.
Mentoring was very useful. Dave Fish, of the Department for International Development, helped me with his insight into Civil Service culture, ethos and relationships. The coaching component of Pathways also worked well for me, especially as it kicked in as I was beginning my consultancy role in Bradford. Negotiation and influence were important to me at that time, and coaching helped me explore these ways of working. I now want to get into coaching myself and, having moved to the Welsh Assembly, I’m encouraging its use there.
A blank sheet
As a new devolved administration, the Welsh Assemble is in some ways a blank sheet, and as such represents a great opportunity to make a difference. Wales is, of course, considerably small than England, with a much smaller population, and the government is close to its people – both as service users and as constituents. Arguably, Wales represents a middle path between Whitehall and the local authorities. No less importantly, at a political level, Wales has prioritized Equality and Diversity to the extent that it was written very formidably into the Government of Wales Act 1998.
My job is about supporting Ministers and the Permanent Secretary in pursing their vision – providing the right guidance, advice, information and good practice models to enable them to lead and deliver equality, human rights and social justice through the organization. In my view, being a good Head of Equality is about making a difference, I’m not interested in paper chasing – submissions, correspondence and looking at policy and procedures. I’m determined to help the Assembly make a greater impact on the ground and to have a workforce more representative of the community it serves. I want the diverse people we serve in Wales to be more involved in determining what services we provide, how, and to what quality standards, My priorities this year are to put in place an agreed vision and strategy and the structure and implementation plan to deliver it. We must be clear how to deliver on Equality as core responsibilities and we must be more accountable to the people we serve.
Social justice forms part of the organization’s aspirations, but our big challenge is to make that passion translate to our day-to-day work. My role is to mainstream equality and social justice. – make them central to our business and more of a reality.
Yasmin Hussein is Head of Equality at the Welsh Assembly