South Yorkshire ICS’s Inclusive Cultures Programme 

The ICS commissioned an Inclusive Cultures Partnering Programme for Black and Minority aspiring leaders. The programme was established to positively disrupt the traditional norms around hierarchy, culture and power that contribute to racism and to create a strategic cultural and systemic change.

The first cohort of the ICS an Inclusive Cultures Partnerships Reciprocal Mentoring Programme started its one-year duration in September 2021, working with Shapiro Consulting Ltd.

About the programme

There are 17 reciprocal mentoring pairs, each consisting of an ‘established’ board-level leader and an ‘aspiring’ leader, not currently working at a senior level.

The pairs are drawn from all the current CCGs, Rotherham Doncaster and South Humber NHS Foundation Trust and Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. Following preparatory workshops in October 2021, current programme activity is focussed on the mentoring pairs getting to know each other and understanding how they can support each other to achieve benefits in the following areas:

  • Career development at an individual level – it is well-documented that mentoring produces good results in this area.
  • Positive cultural development for the emerging ICS in respect of how it treats and engages with BAME staff.

Alongside the development of mentoring pairs, the programme faculty have provided 1-1 and group supervision for all participants. As well as this, the established Steering Group continues to meet to bring together key themes from the mentoring pairs and plan actions accordingly.

At recent supervision sessions, the faculty team measured progress against outcomes, and found that there had been a noticeable shift in:

  • The level of positive support experienced and felt by BAME aspiring leaders
  • The level of Trust for ICS senior leaders felt by BAME aspiring leader, which had markedly improved
  • Personal confidence of aspiring leaders
  • The number of promotions gained by aspiring leaders
  • The agency of established leaders in changing their own personal approach and viewpoint
  • The commitment from established leaders in changing the expertise of BAME colleagues

Colleagues on the programme have also contributed to the ICS senior appointments process and the development of the ICS Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy.

Next Steps

Whilst there have been some very positive stories, the programme is in its early stages and the task is now to ensure that the activity undertaken and the time spent produces a positive and long-lasting cultural impact for the ICS. To achieve this, the following actions are planned:

  • A joint review and planning workshop for all programme participants and ICS EDI leads, to turn learning into action. This will take place in May 22 and will have input from Gavin Boyle.
  • Kathryn Singh as programme sponsor to task the programme’s organisational sponsors (the CEO / Chief Officers of the participating organisations) with reaching into their organisations and developing the learning from the programme by engaging with participants
  • More steering group meetings with increased shared accountability for joint action.

This is a programme with an immense wealth of expertise gained from experience and listening, and the key task will be to harness learning and apply it bravely to the ICS as its culture develops.

Further Case Studies from across our region

Co-Production Working group

Tasked with pulling together an Equality Diversity and Inclusion Strategy for SYB ICS, a callout was made across the region for staff interested in this agenda to form a ‘Co-Production Working group’. This group will provide valuable input to shape the overall Strategy but also to create Charters, explore new initiatives and sense-check ideas.

The intention is to work the group, from design to delivery and sharing decisions, based on the following values;

On 23rd March 22 we held the first session of our new ICS Equality Diversity Inclusion Co-Production Group with representatives from across South Yorkshire. It was a great first meeting, with real energy and passion from all involved. We ran it as a hybrid meeting with 8 of us in person and 13 joining virtually, and another 6 who want to be involved but couldn’t attend that day so we had a great turnout. All those involved want to be a part of working together to improve things for all staff and to build solidarity across staff to truly change things.

We started to consider if we were to look at all things through an EDI lens, what would that look like and how would our future look different – there were lots of common themes such as fairness, consistency, courageous, and representation.

The group has agreed to meet monthly and will oversee development of our ICS Equality Diversity Inclusion Strategy, so watch this space!

Inclusive Cultures Partnerships

Programme: Reciprocal Mentoring

After the success of our first cohort, South Yorkshire ICS is running a new cohort for the programme from June 2022 to June 2023.

The following organisations have confirmed involvement in this ICS-wide programme;

  • NHS South Yorkshire Integrated Care Board
  • Sheffield Health and Social Care Trust
  • Barnsley Hospital
  • RDaSH
  • The Rotherham Trust

The challenge for our Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic staff

It is still the case that people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups largely remain underrepresented at senior levels of leadership in the NHS. Workforce Race Equality Survey (WRES) data shows that people who are from Black, Asian and Minority backgrounds are:

• Less likely to be promoted into senior positions;

• Given fewer developmental opportunities;

• More likely to face disciplinaries.

What the programme offers our Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic staff

Through working in a reciprocal mentoring partnership with a senior systems leader, and being part of the Inclusive Cultures community, you’ll:

• Feel seen, heard and valued for the unique insights and experiences you bring;

• Gain experiences & support that will better position you, and raise your energy and confidence to apply for more senior roles & career development opportunities;

• Further develop your capabilities in bringing your voice, perspectives and ideas to promoting greater race/ethnicity equity, diversity and inclusion across the South Yorkshire ICS;

• Expand your coaching skills in supporting the development of your established leader learning partner as a more inclusive compassionate leader;

• Widen your professional and support network.

91% of Aspiring Leaders in the first cohort of the programme said that it ignited or renewed their energy to apply for promotion & career development moves.

The challenge for our senior leaders

Race/ethnicity inclusion is a complex challenge requiring particular Leadership skills. Many white leaders who support inclusion at work often describe:

• Frustration that race/ethnic-based discrimination is still an issue in 2023;

• Not feeling equipped enough to deal with race/ethnicity challenges effectively;

• Feeling fearful of saying the wrong thing when it comes to issues related to race and ethnicity.

Further issues feeding into these challenges are factors including limited exposure to the lived experience of colleagues from diverse backgrounds and lack of awareness of how biases and power dynamics can get in the way of creating positive change.

What the programme offers our senior leaders

To address the challenge, leaders need to equip themselves by investing in learning and growth. Through working in a reciprocal mentoring partnership with an aspiring leader from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background, and being part of the Inclusive Cultures community, you’ll:

• Extend your leadership range to more effectively address complex problems;

• Build a greater understanding of your system with the insights and experiences of colleagues from different backgrounds and roles;

• Further develop your cultural competence & understanding;

• Better apply coaching & mentoring skills across cultures, supporting your learning partner in their next career step;

• Increase your capacity to identify and address race/ethnicity inclusion challenges actively.

80% of Established Leaders at the end of the first programme said they are confident they have the skills and knowledge they need to support race equity, diversity & inclusion in their organization.

There are three key features that distinguish this programme from many others on diversity and inclusion:


Learning and development take place between learning partners – aspiring leaders from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds and established leaders - through reciprocal mentoring.


Expert faculty comprising consultants from within and outside the ICS guide and support independent learning. In group-based facilitated workshops and supportive check-in surgeries, aspiring and established leaders become more able to see the world and think from others’ perspectives and learn how to lead in partnership across boundaries that can contribute to inequity and exclusion, including race/ethnicity, role and hierarchy.


Through active listening and working together on live issues, participants learn from each other, and problem-solve together, trying out new behaviours and actions during the course of the programme. The programme Steering Group, supported by senior-level programme sponsors, draws learning from participants that are fed back into the participating organisations, supporting wider race/ethnicity equity, diversity and inclusion actions.

Frequently asked questions

1. Who is eligible to apply?

Anyone who is from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background, aspiring to more senior roles and/or further develop their career together with established leaders from all backgrounds looking to strengthen their impact in creating a more diverse and inclusive South Yorkshire ICS.

2. Why is the programme aimed at Black, Asian and minority ethnic aspiring leaders?

Data continues to show that this group of colleagues remain significantly underrepresented at senior levels of leadership within the ICS. There is a possibility that the programme will widen to include other protected characteristic groups in the future.

3. As an aspiring leader, am I guaranteed a promotion by attending this programme?

No, there’s no guarantee of promotion. Creating a more diverse talent pipeline is one of the aims of the programme, together with building a more inclusive culture and a more diverse and inclusive leadership. But if you’re looking for promotion then this programme will definitely help.

4. What if I know I can’t attend all the live sessions?

Attending the live labs and workshops is a mandatory part of the programme to ensure you get the most impact from your reciprocal mentoring partnership. Sometimes life gets in the way, and we’ll share the outputs with you. But this won’t be the same as being there. If you know you can’t attend more than one session, this might impact your application.

5. What can I expect to get out of the Learning Labs and workshops?

All labs and workshops are focused on experiential learning through conversations. They provide the foundation for reciprocal mentoring and actions to create a race-inclusive culture across the ICS. You can expect to increase your capabilities in:

  • optimizing the career development of aspiring leaders from Black, Asian and minority
  • ethnic backgrounds; being an inclusive, compassionate leader, and building an ICS-wide culture that fosters mutual learning, respect and appreciation of professional, personal and cultural similarities and differences. Live learning is supported with remote access to guided development materials which can be accessed independently.

6. What support do I need from my line manager?

You don’t need your line manager to put you forward for this programme but you do need their approval. Line managers are invited to participate in the introductory session and final graduation. We ask line managers to communicate the importance of the programme to your team; to support your participation; and to respect the privacy of your reciprocal mentoring partnership. We recommend that you work with your line manager to agree on what might be beneficial for you to share with them and the wider team from your participation in the programme.

7. What is the time commitment?

Please see section 4 ‘What’s Involved?’ for an indication of time commitment. During Module 2 we recommend that you meet with your reciprocal mentoring partner one hour per month for 7 months, with meetings self-organized at a mutually convenient time.

8. What support can I expect during the programme?

Support is provided by Faculty throughout and specifically through Learning Labs, workshops and check-in sessions. A contact for wider counselling if needed is provided. The programme’s project manager can also be contacted for support. Your organization has at least one member attending the programme’s Steering Group and can be contacted and there is a senior-level sponsor for the programme in your organization. More details about support will be shared with you at the start.

9. How will confidentiality be managed?

The programme's ground rules expect all participants to honour confidentiality. We draw anonymized themes from what is shared and discussed during labs and workshops and feed these back to the programme Steering Group to support wider system change.

10. How will my reciprocal mentoring partner be selected?

We use your application form to help match the reciprocal mentoring partners, looking at aspirations and experience.

11. What will I be discussing with my reciprocal mentoring partner?

You’ll be provided with guidance for your discussions & time to identify what your personal goals are. Broadly, you’ll be asked to explore the headwinds and tailwinds you’ve experienced with respect to your career and inclusion and how you might support each other in creating a more inclusive culture.

12. What if my partner and I don’t get on or one of us leaves?

It rarely happens that a partnership doesn’t work out. But if you run into difficulties, a member of the faculty will try to see if they can support you to find a way to come together. Where this isn’t possible, or if your partner leaves their organization and isn’t able to continue the partnership, we try to allocate you a new partner. Please note that this may not always be possible. Where this is the case, we endeavour to offer continued involvement in the programme in other ways.

13. What will be expected of me on the programme?

To attend all sessions and to come with an open mind, open heart and open will.

14. What happens after the programme?

We invite you to stay in touch with your partner and cohort informally. Though this is self-managed and optional. We also invite you to continue to support the programme by being a buddy for an aspiring or established leader of future cohorts. This is also optional.

15. How is the impact of the programme measured?

We ask you to participate in short polls at the start and then at regular intervals during the programme to track its impact on you personally. We then do some deeper work in the final workshop to surface the different ways in which the programme has made an impact on you and the wider professional system. We use check-in sessions and the Steering Group to draw out anonymized themes from participants and consider how any learning can be applied more widely across the ICS.