Taking inspiration from Obama to break social care’s glass ceiling

The under-representation of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff in the highest ranks of social care is stark. One manager tells Natalie Valios how a training programme for BAME staff has inspired him to aspire for the most senior ranks.

Joe Wey, business development manager at Country Court Care

About 18% of the adult social care workforce are from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, but this applies to less than 1% of those in chief executive or director roles.

This startling statistic led the National Skills Academy for Social Care to launch a specific leadership programme for people from BAME backgrounds last year, aimed at adult care managers aspiring to senior roles. The second round of the Department of Health-commissioned programme is due to launch next month, and the aim is to noticeably increase the proportion of BAME staff in the most senior roles over the next five years.

One of those who participated in the first programme was Joe Wey, business development manager at Country Court Care, a care home and home care provider operating in the East of England, Yorkshire and the East Midlands.

Eventful career path

Wey’s route to this position has been eventful. After graduating in law from his native Nigeria, he gained experience in the care sector in the UK, first in a community mental health team and then as a sheltered housing scheme manager. But his career then took a detour, leading to him working for a printing business in the US and then back to the UK as a brand manager for a car dealership.

One day the chief executive of Country Court Care came in to buy cars for his home managers and Wey obviously made an impression. A little later when Wey saw an advert for a business development manager for Country Court Care he phoned to apply. He was put through to the chief executive who quickly realised he was talking to the salesman who had sold him the cars. He got the job.

“The job was a fusion of everything I had done – sales, business development and care.”

Home care growth

 

Wey’s tips for managers from BAME groups seeking senior roles

• Take responsibility for your own development – source means of development and pursue them.
• But don’t be afraid to seek help.
• Have self-belief: don’t think that you will reach a plateau and not go any further; look at other people from BAME backgrounds who are achieving and set about to achieve that too.
• Find a mentor that you can relate to and who relates to you, with whom you can identify your goals and plan ways to achieve them.

 

Wey was brought in to build up the home care agency side of the business. “When I started we were providing about 200 home care hours per week, five years on it’s now about 1,800,” he says.

It was Wey’s idea to go on the BAME programme when he heard about it.

The programme ran over nine months and involved workshops, coaching and mentoring. “There are always barriers to leadership regardless of colour, but there is a perception that people from BAME backgrounds are not quite as accomplished at doing what needs to be done. People of my cultural background feed into that perception and for them it becomes a reality – we think that’s what people think and so we believe it too. But when we move away from that thinking, it changes.”

The programme turned his self-doubt on its head. “There was one particular session on self-limiting beliefs where you go into work thinking ‘I probably won’t be able to do this because I’m black or people won’t give me an opportunity’. It was about exploring the reasons why you thought you couldn’t do things and perhaps it wasn’t because you were black but because you hadn’t seen yourself aspiring beyond what you thought you could aspire to.”

Inspiration from Obama

He adds: “We were told that arguably the most powerful person in the world is black – Barack Obama – so if he can do that, how can we say we can’t do something. It really made me think about my strengths and about convincing people of them.”

Wey also found the mentoring and coaching side of the programme an eye-opener. “It was the first time that I had been introduced to mentorship. I was mentored by a former council chief executive and it was really useful to talk through my goals and aspirations. She suggested I join Lincolnshire Care Association and now I’m a director there. I’m also looking at becoming a magistrate. These are things that I wouldn’t have thought I could do.”

Wey is now taking that learning on to the next generation of potential leaders by mentoring a member of his staff from a BAME background, whom he hopes will go on the programme in 2014. “It’s one thing to supervise staff, it’s another to mentor them. It was a completely new skillset for me that I have used as a platform for my own development. I have been empowered by it so I want to empower others.”

No limits

As a result of the programme, Wey now plays a much more strategic role at Country Court Care.

“I have brought all the things I learnt from the programme back to my job. And I have stopped limiting myself because of my colour.”

  • To apply for the next BAME Leadership Programme in April 2013, contact Chris Hume at the skills academy on 020 7268 3282 or email him at chris.hume@nsasocialcare.co.uk; the deadline for applications is 22 March. 

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