Mental health network

Why a diverse organisational board makes better decisions | Phil Hough

Phil Hough

Having a diverse board isn’t about ticking a box. Phil Hough, vice-chair of the Mental Health Network, explains it’s about having diverse and inclusive boards to represent the communities we all work for.

I’ve been very lucky to have supported the Mental Health Network (MHN) for a few years, so when I was asked to chair the session looking at ensuring diverse boards I was both pleased and hesitant. Why? Well, we have heard the evidence for greater diversity and inclusion within the workforce, and I didn’t want to continue to say that much still needs to be done; we all by now should understand and agree that position.

However, I was keen to get involved in this discussion and to hear from MHN members on how we might better serve our communities through representative leadership.

In many ways, as mental health providers, our boards are some of the more diverse in the NHS, but we still can do more and continue to lead for the wider health sector.


adjective: Showing a great deal of variety; very different.

So, what is ‘diversity’? Well, some believe it’s a Britain’s Got Talent winning dance act, while others may think it’s ensuring a good balance of characteristics around a board table; some might even think it refers to a role within their organisation, or the legislation that guards against discrimination at work.

Diversity, for me is about ensuring that we see people as people with amazing experiences, skills, unique cultures and views, multitudes of beliefs, values, and viewpoints; all of them equally valid.

Diverse boards are easy to say and harder to achieve, but strong, fair leadership and an organisation that’s values-based is always a good starting point. Having boards that reflect the populations we work with and the services we deliver is just as key to ensuring that we serve our communities properly.

“What we know is that diverse boards make better decisions for patient care, and the attraction and retention of key staff. The work of the NHSE/I’s workforce race equality strategy team is proof positive that diversity is a leadership issue and therefore it’s a critical issue for all boards.” Lord Victor Adebowale CBE, Chief Executive, Turning Point

Board members don’t just appear, they have years of development in various roles and exposure to leading and becoming more strategic thinkers. There is the need to ensure that we are providing these development opportunities for everyone and the giving encouragement to people from underrepresented groups that might need extra support.

Without nurturing talent from across our workforces we will never be able to achieve the sort of diverse and inclusive boards that represent the communities we all work for.

“This is all about clarity of your intent then acting. It’s about how you shape your recruitment, develop your governors and grow your own networks.” Marie Gabriel CBE, Chair, East London NHS Foundation Trust and Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust

I’m excited that this topic is due to be addressed at the Mental Health Network’s annual conference and I look forward to generating some good discussions and actions for increasing meaningful diversity in mental health leadership.

Having a diverse board isn’t “TICK: it’s done”, it’s about ensuring that the board represents what the trust delivers in terms of services. Only with the proper mix of skills and experience at leadership level, can providers truly start to deliver the patient-centred services the NHS wishes to offer.

Phil Hough is vice-chair of the Mental Health Network board.

The Mental Health Network Annual Conference and Exhibition is on 14 March 2019.

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