Colleagues on stage at the HSJAwards

Turning the tide on career inequality

A new mentoring scheme will support Black, Asian, and minority ethnic midwives and maternity support workers in their career development.

It has been launched by the Royal College of Midwives in collaboration with the Turning the Tide Oversight Group. The RCM has also called on the NHS to provide similar support for staff.

The scheme grew out of findings in the Turning the Tide report published last year. Oldham Care Organisation Research Midwife Zainab Sarwar was among the team working on this project, which highlighted historic and endemic inequalities faced by Black and Asian healthcare professionals in the NHS, and those of mixed ethnicity.

It was born out of discussions about the impact the Covid-19 pandemic was having on Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff working in NHS maternity services and on women from these backgrounds using NHS maternity services.

Key concerns

The report says that as of May 2020 of the 136 maternity units in England, fewer than 10 (7.4%) were led by a director or head from a Black, Asian and minority ethnic background, which presents a particular challenge when Black women are five times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy than white women. Women with mixed ethnicity are 3.7 times as likely to die as white women and Asian women 1.8 times as likely to die.

Maternity staff spoke out in forums, surveys and workshops across England, highlighting key concerns:

  • Staff were scared and anxious
  • Too often Black, Asian and minority ethnic midwives’ concerns were interpreted by management as complains
  • The particular concerns of Black, Asian and minority ethnic pregnant women, as voiced by midwives, were sometimes not listened to
  • Some managers were seen to be treating Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff unfairly in their decision making

Research into impact 

As part of its response, the RCM has worked with report author Dr Gloria Rowland to develop the mentoring programme, which will bring together experienced NHS professionals from inside and outside maternity services, and from different leadership and management positions, as mentors to midwives and maternity support workers of colour. They hope this will be a catalyst to remove barriers to career development and progression.

It will be evaluated through a research project examining the impact of the tailored mentorship scheme and career progression for minoritised staff groups in maternity.

Zainab said: “The work has been recognised by the Caribbean and African Health Network’s Health Equity Campaign, which recognises excellence in projects, campaigns and initiatives to achieving health equity, and has also won an HSJ Race Equality award.

“The mentoring scheme is also very welcome and we hope to see further action to improve the experiences of Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff working in NHS maternity services, making sure they are supported by line managers and by their employers.

“Colleagues who contributed to the Turning the Tide report are proud of working for the NHS and their role in maternity services and motivated to make changes that will benefit all staff. If staff are supported, if they feel equal and are encouraged to develop, they will provide better care – which will result in better outcomes for patients.”

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