Young, gifted and stuck

About one in 10 of the staff employed by social services
departments in the UK is black or from an ethnic minority. As you
progress up the career structure, however, the proportion of staff
from ethnic minorities begins to dwindle. Those who break through
to the higher tiers of management are few and far between, and
those who make it to the very top can be counted on the fingers of
one hand. There is currently one black director of social services,
Daphne Obang at Bracknell Forest. Just one out of 187 social
services departments in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For the past three years a programme run jointly by the Improvement
and Development Agency (IDeA) and the Social Services Inspectorate
has been seeking to redress this balance. Born out of the Horizons
mentoring scheme, set up in 2000 by former Association of Directors
of Social Services president Roy Taylor, the career development
programme for managers from ethnic minorities is aimed at those who
have reached assistant director or head of service level. Every
director of social services in the country has been invited to
nominate one or two black managers to attend the programme.

Managed by the IDeA’s principal consultant Carmelita Charles, the
nine-month programme has seen a gradual change in emphasis since
its inception. Initially it concentrated mainly on the management
techniques needed to succeed at the highest level. Increasingly,
however, the focus has shifted towards career development skills
and the political nous needed to survive the selection process for
high-profile posts.

“What we found was that managers from ethnic minorities at this
level actually tend to be more qualified than their white
counterparts,” says Charles. “So they don’t need any more training
in management theory.”

They also tend to be more experienced, with heads of service from
ethnic minorities staying in post an average of eight years before
moving on. This compares with just four years for their white

“Managers from ethnic minorities reach a certain point and then
their careers tend to stagnate,” says Charles. The situation then
becomes self-perpetuating as potential employers begin to question
the reasons behind their applicant’s slow career progression. “We
had one participant who applied nine times before he got an
assistant director’s post. That’s eight rejections.”

To address these issues, three of the programme’s four residential
modules now focus on personal and career development, change
management and on how managers can be sure they are applying for
the right jobs, in the right way, at the right time.

Dealing with the political sensitivities of the selection process
is also covered in detail. “Most managers from ethnic minorities
don’t have enough experience dealing with elected members,” says
Charles. “This can put them at a disadvantage when facing selection

Local councillors are therefore invited to address those on the
programme and offer guidance on what they are looking for when
making high profile appointments.

All participants in the programme undergo an intensive initial
appraisal using a “360 degree diagnostic tool” called Integration.
This offers the managers feedback from their own self-assessment,
their boss, their peers and through direct reports. The aim is to
give the participants tangible evidence of their strengths, and of
the areas they need to work on.

One of the most successful parts of the programme is the
opportunity to receive coaching or mentoring from those who have
already climbed the slippery pole of social services senior

According to Hertfordshire’s director of adult care services,
Caroline Tapster, this opportunity for managers to address
work-related problems in a secure environment, away from their own
workplace, can be extremely valuable. “It is an opportunity to work
through boundaries and view things from a different perspective and
insight,” says Tapster, who has been a mentor on the programme for
three years.

Of course, the true test of the IDeA/SSI programme will come over
the next few years when its graduates, hopefully, begin to make
their mark on the higher levels of social services management
structure. However, Charles acknowledges that much of this success
is beyond the control of the programme itself. No amount of career
progression training or managerial expertise will help black and
minority ethnic managers if social services departments continue to
ignore their talents.

For social services management to truly reflect the ethnic make-up
of its staff, councils will need to look at their own recruitment
and retention policies. “Organisations should say to themselves ‘we
need to look at this in a meaningful way’,” says Charles. “Why is
it that managers from ethnic minorities often need to leave the
council for the private or voluntary sector in order to progress
their careers? In five years’ time I’d like to look back at the
people who have been through the programme. If they are still in
social services and have reached the higher levels then we will
have made a difference.”

Case study – The Graduate   

Dafydd Ifans spent nearly 10 years as the only person from an
ethnic minority in his local probation and family court welfare
service, before securing a principal officer post in the former
Gwynedd social services department and then, in 1996, becoming a
service manager (children and family services) in the new unitary
authority of Conwy.  

At this point, however, his career seemed to stall. “Over the
next four years I made several applications for other posts.
However, because of a lack of confidence, I withdrew my
applications after being short-listed and before interview.”
Salvation came when Ifans’ line manager passed on details of the
IDeA/SSI programme. He applied and soon teamed up with his mentor,
Barbara Ward, the then corporate director of housing, health and
care for Telford and Wrekin Council.  

“My mentor was very committed to the whole process and was what
I needed at that point in my career,” says Ifans. “The mentoring
relationship was pitched at just the right level and I found that
she listened, questioned and helped me take a different perspective
when necessary. I gained confidence and was able to build on my
ideas with someone who had more experience.” 

Ifans attended six mentoring sessions and spent a day shadowing
Ward in her authority. “During the shadowing I was able to observe
the mentor chairing meetings, engaging with Joint Review inspectors
and dealing with a particularly sensitive issue involving an
elected member. I also attended a council committee. Although I had
experience of preparing and presenting reports to such committees,
I found that being able to observe the less formal engagement
between chief officers and elected members very useful.”  

The programme, which also covered areas such as “power and
politics”, “learning styles” and “overcoming barriers and
leadership”, concluded with a personal development plan that
identified learning and development needs and set targets to
improving job performance. “With the mentor I also developed an
action plan, which focused on longer-term aims.”   

Having finished the course, Ifans began applying for jobs and
was selected to be interviewed for senior management positions at
Liverpool Council and the Children and Family Court Advisory and
Support Service (Cafcass). The selection process for both posts
took place in parallel over several weeks. “I was more relaxed
during the process and much more able to relate my past experiences
and skills to the requirements of these posts. As a result I found
myself in the fortunate position of being offered both posts. I
decided that the Cafcass post provided me with new challenges and I
became the director of Cafcass Wales.” Now two years into his new
job, Ifans is grateful for the support he received on the IDeA

“Before starting the programme, I had seen so many of my
colleagues retire early and had reached a point where this seemed
to be the most attractive option. But I have found that joining
Cafcass has proved to be an excellent step to take. The programme
provided me with the foundations needed to operate within this new
and exciting organisation and helped in enabling me to transfer
knowledge, skills and experience to this new setting.”

Case study – The Mentor

Hannah Miller, director of social services in Croydon, has been
a mentor on the IDeA/SSI programme since its inception in 2000. She
remains committed to the concept of mentoring which, she says,
allows her to develop a relationship with the “mentee” in which the
learning process goes both ways.

“It’s a completely different relationship to line
management” she says. “I have no vested interest in what they do
when they go back to their own authorities, so that gives me the
freedom to offer honest advice. It’s about working with them
to explore their ideas on how they intend to move forward in their
careers. If we feel that it would be better to move out of the
local authority and into the private or voluntary sector I’m
free to say that. It’s also a two-way learning experience and
I’m able to bring new methods and techniques back to Croydon
that will help us to recruit and retain our own black and minority
ethnic staff.”

The mentoring process involves the programme participants
spending time in Croydon, attending meetings and shadowing senior
managerial staff. “We might have different techniques and
approaches to those used in their own authorities,” says Miller.
“They can then compare the techniques we use to those in their own
area.” Participants can also meet and “network” with black and
minority ethnic managers already working in Croydon.

Once the mentor/manager relationship has become established,
Miller will then visit the participants’ own authorities and
observe them at work. This allows her to point out how principles
learned during the programme can be put into practice. “It’s
very important that what they learn on the programme is not
isolated from the way they work back at the ranch,” she says.

A lot of time is also spent offering advice on applying for jobs
and going through the selection process. Miller will even set up
mock interviews with her own senior managers and give feedback on
how the participants perform.

Miller believes that programme participants gain a lot from the
mentoring process, but she freely admits the benefits go both ways.
“It’s something new and exciting. As a director you spend
most of your time working with top tier managers on systems and
strategies. This is the chance to observe people at the heart of
the organisation. “I also think it sends out a very strong message
to our own black and ethnic minority managers that we are committed
to breaking that glass ceiling.”

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