Published: 17/11/2005 Volume 115 No. 5982 Page 37

Peter Carter explains how a mental health trust has taken steps to develop female staff into management posts

Central and North West London Mental Health trust is taking positive action to develop more female staff into management positions. The senior management team has set up the 'women into management' programme to ensure that female talent throughout the workforce is identified and promoted.

Each year up to five women are selected for the programme, which lasts for a fortnight, and at least one place is reserved for women from ethnic minorities.

Each woman attends meetings at the most senior level; meets individually with all executive team members; and meets successful women from other healthcare organisations.

Those three key elements help them to understand the key functions necessary to run the organisation, as well as the challenges and rewards of being a manager. The meetings with women from outside the organisation provide important insight into the obstacles and difficulties that face women in what is still a male-dominated profession, and describe how to overcome them.

Over time a group of women with the required skills, personalities and aspirations become known to the senior management. The trust can draw from this pool if an appropriate position becomes available or a new role is created. We also acknowledge that a proportion of these women will move on to other trusts, but we need to see the bigger picture in the NHS and therefore are happy to promote talented women in their aspirations.

Dr Elke Pieper, one of this year's participants, says one of the benefits of the programme is how it can be tailored to individual interests. 'While meeting senior managers and heads of services I got a better understanding of the trust's decision-making structure, as well as its management culture, ' she says.

'We also discussed what attracts or frustrates individuals in their role, how they balance the strategic with the operational side, how they keep in touch with the day-to-day service delivery and how they developed relationships with their teams, peers and managers. All managers gave me copious amounts of their time and all discussions were open and honest, which in my opinion is crucial for the success of this kind of programme.

'Learning about the different aspects of senior management helped me to get a very rounded picture of management and greatly influenced my decision to take up such a position in the future.

'The way the trust takes this programme seriously is very motivating, but its down to earth approach made it clear that participation in the programme is only the beginning of a career path where steep learning curves and challenges lay ahead.' Dr Peter Carter is chief executive of Central and North West London Mental Health trust.

To find out more about employment diversity go to www. goodmanagement-hsj.co. uk/diversity