Race Equality Awards 2017-Department for Education: Building future leaders

The Learning and Development project leads within the Department for Education’s (DfE) BME Network Management Committee identified that opportunities for personal development needed to be more accessible to diverse employees. Colleagues needed encouragement to maximise their potential by having visible role models, support towards improving career progression, networking opportunities and training. Junior Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff did not have an obvious route for progression as there was not a  targeted programme, and there was also a lack of opportunity for mentoring relationships from both the mentor and mentee perspective ...

To address this issue, the Building Future Leaders (BFL) mentoring programme was developed with the approval of the network’s sponsor and feedback from colleagues. Unlike other development programmes, the BFL programme did not require a competency-based application, thereby encouraging staff who found this process intimidating to apply. It was also felt that a targeted programme, run by network members and focussed on learning and development, would address the gaps identified.

The twelve-month inclusive module-based development programme is designed to provide BAME employees at junior and middle management grades with the skills and potential to compete for promotion. Members of the DfE’s BAME Network created the programme in line with the Civil Service Talent Action Plan. The programme also aims to support wider staff development and build capability across teams, in line with the goals of the department’s transformation programme to develop talent.

The BME Network led on managing and coordinating the programme and encouraged participation using marketing materials and posters. Information about the programme was published on the department’s intranet to raise awareness. The initiative was open to all employees around the country and across multiple business areas and targeted to ensure that a diverse workforce was being developed in all areas of the organisation. The network also sought the support of senior managers across the organisation to obtain their buy-in and expertise as mentors.

Potential candidates and mentors completed a short 150-word statement and a brief career history, highlighting their development goals. Mentors and mentees were selected and matched according to skills, knowledge, experience and geographic location as highlighted in their application process. It was felt that making the selection process fair and open, with equal treatment for all applications, would lead to a strong and well-respected scheme. Over 50 employees applied to be either a mentor and a mentee and those who were unsuccessful received tailored feedback and invited to attend masterclasses.

The programme was launched in May 2016 as a pilot with 18 participants and 18 mentors. Participants met with their mentors once a month to take forward certain areas of work, enabling them to build up their competency evidence, complete work-based projects or arrange job shadowing opportunities. They also attended sessions on mentoring relationship, presentation skills, self-managed development, competency in writing, self-analysis and action planning, as well as careers guidance.

Out of the pilot cohort of 18 employees, 12 have obtained promotion early on in the programme. Several of these were within the department and the remainder were retained within the civil service with a promotion to other departments. Both mentors and mentees have provided positive qualitative feedback, and there is now a pool of willing mentors to draw on following the masterclasses for unsuccessful applicants.

The success of the scheme has prompted further investment in increasing the proportion of BAME employees in senior management positions. The BAME executive committee and Chair are engaging with BAME staff regarding talent programmes, with the aim of further improving engagement and using exit interviews to target retention. BAME network staff have also developed a programme targeted at middle managers which aims to increase the number promoted into senior management.

The BFL programme was initiated by BAME staff for the benefit of colleagues and it has created an environment where colleagues learn and share best practice, build capability and enhance career development. It has also encouraged innovation and strong leadership within the department and the wider Civil Service.