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Positive Action In The NHS-01
Event report, London Group

On the 18th June the London Group heard from Chartered Occupational Psychologist Harpal Dhatt and Human Resource Management Researcher Dr. Maddy Wyatt about the impact of using positive action interventions on enhancing the career and leadership potential of BME (Black or Minority Ethnic) NHS staff.

The need for positive action

In London, only 15% of senior managers come from a BME (Black or Ethnic Minority) background, compared to 40% in the general working population. In addition, 20% of NHS organisations had no BME nurses in senior roles (Blackman, 2011). It would seem that an organisation which employs such a large amount of BME groups does not have a very strong representation of such groups at the higher organisation.

Therefore, Glow at Work identified a need to develop such groups via a positive action approach – cue the Leadership Empowerment through Achieving your Potential Programme (LEAP).

The term’ positive action’ is one which encourages under-represented groups to take up training and development in order to progress their careers. This is distinct to affirmative action – where there is a legislative requirement to hire under-represented groups i.e. a quota, for lack of a better term. This has been controversial in places where it has been implemented, and has been used as a way to redress past discrimination i.e. in South Africa. However, this has led to reduced self-confidence and a perception of being less competent, as well as backlash from other majority group workers because there is a lingering feeling that such individuals haven’t earned their place. This is essentially positive discrimination and hence should not be confused with positive action, as can sometimes be the case.

The design of LEAP was crucial in creating more inclusion, and a sense of belonging and deservedness within the group. This was achieved by the fact that the LEAP was open to all, not necessary just BME groups but also there was a rigorous application process, based on key competencies.

LEAP Competencies

These competencies had a strong affinity to the objectives and outcomes of the LEAP:

  • Develop leaders
  • Identifying mentors
  • Create online networks
  • Raise participants’ profile
  • Develop proactive career behaviour

It was clear from the qualitative research beforehand that many of the participant’s needs were to be addressed over the course of the programme.

The main issues included leadership/people management, specifically delegation and conflict resolution, as well as teamwork, generic transferable skills, political skills i.e. negotiating, networking and self-promotion and lastly confidence and proactivity.


A qualitative analysis showed that participants did in fact show improvements in these areas. See below for some participant quotes:

Leadership “I am more confident and provide leadership to junior members of the team”

Teamwork “ she/he has had an impact in motivating her colleagues, which has led to greater teamworking”

Proactivity “I feel that myself and my colleague who attended are feeling positive and empowered to take actions to progress”

For the number crunchers amongst you, we also found statistically significant results which support these qualitative findings. There were significant increases in career self efficacy (p=0.04), political skill (p=0.02) and career satisfaction (p=0.05). Crucially, others who work with the participants also reported a significant increase in proactive behaviour (p=0.04).

These results show that a positive action intervention such as the LEAP, can lead to benefits such as acquisition of career progression tools as well as an improvement in employee attitudes. The exact cause of these positive outcomes however, cannot be as easily pinned down. Was it the mentoring? Was it in fact workshop number one or two? Or maybe it was the application involved in the design? Or perhaps it’s a case of the sum of the trees being greater than the forest i.e. collectively all of the elements amount to a greater benefit than any one part by itself.


There is one thing for certain however, that we must follow through on our vision to nationalise this Leadership Empowerment through Achieving your Potential Programme within the NHS in particular, in order to gather more data to show the benefits of positive action.  More importantly however, a group of people were genuinely empowered and inspired to move on in their careers as a result of the LEAP. This is a gratifying feeling, and one which without all the metrics and evidence that is required to make a case for positive action and inclusion at work, speaks to the humility and decency within all of us.

For more information on the Diversity & Inclusion at Work group –


About the Speakers

Harpal Dhatt -01Harpal Dhatt is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society (AFBPsS).  She has 10 years’ experience, of working with people in organisations, in a developmental context, much of it in the NHS.

In April 2011 she started her own consultancy called ‘Glow at Work’ and has continued to work with NHS clients, Central London Community Healthcare & Imperial College Healthcare NHS trusts. She has also worked with United Health UK, Red Ant, The Naked Leader.

Dr Maddy Wyatt -01Dr. Maddy Wyatt is a Researcher and Lecturer in Human Resource management, at the University of Kent. Her research interests include Career Success, Ethnic and gender diversity at work, organisational politics and political skill and predicting the performance of politicians.

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