Stepping Up: The Diversity Leadership Programme

Stepping Up: The Diversity Leadership Programme

This case study will look at Bristol City Council’s Diversity Leadership programme, ‘Stepping Up’.

The 2017 McGregor Smith review indicated the increasing issue of racial diversity and representation across the UK workforce. In light of this data the Bristol City Council began working on a plan of action. As a way of increasing BME leadership across the city, the council introduced a Diversity Leadership programme, titled ‘Stepping Up’. The programme aims to encourage minorities to aspire to leadership positions. Now, just over three years since it began, how has the programme succeeded in diversifying city wide leadership?  

The Challenge 

In 2017, The Government-backed McGregor-Smith Review looked into the issues affecting black and minority ethnic (BME) groups in the workplace.  

The report concluded that ethnicity pay gap reporting should be introduced and that companies should publish data on diversity in their workforce.   

It was found that: 

  • 1 in 8 of the working-age population was from a BME background 
  • 1 in 16 top management positions are held by an ethnic minority person 
  • 35% of Pakistani, 33% of Indian and 29% of Black Caribbean employee’s report feeling that they have been overlooked for promotion because of their ethnicity [1]. 

It is estimated that these inequalities and the failure to unlock BME talent cost the UK economy £24 billion [1].  

The findings from the McGregor-Smith review were eye-opening for many, with the Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees particularly concerned about the inequalities facing BME people in his city’s workforce. In seeking to better understand racial inequality on a local level, Bristol City Council collected data from across the city’s public sector to be used as a baseline for the first ever, city led race data project. 

As with the McGregor-Smith review, the city’s data showed that there was significant underrepresentation of BME leaders across Bristol, highlighting the need for true change. 

In an attempt to bridge the gaps and encourage diverse talent into leadership positions, the council began to work on a diversity leadership programme that would support BME people to excel in their careers. This would later become known as ‘The Stepping-Up Programme’. 

The Solution 

The Stepping Up Programme was introduced in 2018 with the aim of unlocking potential and developing talent while ensuring a fair representation of BME, disabled people and women in positions of leadership [2].  

The programme would include the chance to work towards an ILM level five certificate in management and leadership, as well as the opportunity to pair with a mentor from another organisation to provide expert mentoring and support. The course would also guarantee 30 development days to cover the course content and the chance to experience another sector through undertaking a stretch assignment. 

The blueprint for the Stepping Up programme’s method of success [3] 

Employers play a vital role in the co-production, evaluation and delivery of the Stepping Up diversity leadership experience. Aided by the Avon & Somerset Constabulary, Bristol University and the University of the West of England (UWE), Burges Salmon, Hargreaves Salmon and Opus Talent Solutions, the program offered support from some of the city’s largest organisations.  

Spearheading the programme’s journey towards tackling racial inequality in the workplace was Mayor Marvin Rees, and Councillor Asher Craig, who acted as city role models for the programme.  

The programme was also supported by the review author, Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, President of British Chambers of Commerce, and former CEO of MITIE Group PLC. Speaking about the Stepping u]Up programme, she said:  

“All employees, regardless of their ethnicity, should be able to fulfil their potential at work […]But nearly 30 per cent of black employees say their career progression hasn’t met their expectations because of discrimination. That’s why programmes across our country, like Stepping Up, are so important in helping to change the face of work in the UK.” [4] 

Ruby McGregor-Smith, President of British Chambers of Commerce, and former CEO of MITIE Group PLC

The Impact 

Since the Stepping Up programme started, Bristol City Council has continuously worked with employers across the region to ensure the programme remains a success.  

Employers across the city have championed and supported Stepping Up by: 

  • Searching for internal talent 
  • Releasing and supporting participants 
  • Committing to embed diversity at all levels 
  • Promoting career opportunities 
  • Providing Project / Assignment 
  • Providing venues 
  • Contributing to modules 
  • Mentoring 

As a result of this dedication, feedback evaluations from the programme have identified some remarkable results. 

Stepping Up participants reported [3]: 

  • Confidence increased from 37% to 93% 
  • Self-assurance increased from 32% to 70% 
  • Influence increased from 32% to 70% 
  • Organisational Politics increased from 23% to 62% 
  • Career Plan increased from 47% to 90% 
  • 60% achieved Career Movement 

The Stepping Up programme has not only proved successful in raising the confidence and aspirations of BME employees, but also in increasing representation across Bristol. For example, the number of inclusive and diverse boards within the city has increased by 50%, as well as a third of the 2019 intake of magistrates and judicial roles being BME talent [3]. We can see from the statistics that the programme has achieved remarkable outcomes. These outcomes range from the acceleration of career development and enhancing civic leadership across Bristol and the wider area. 

Improving diversity within the programme itself, Stepping Up have opened their doors to other protected groups. 

Demographics detailing the representation across the 3 previous cohorts of Stepping Up participants [3]

The achievements of the Stepping Up programme over the last 3 years have not gone unnoticed. In addition to being awarded an Excellence in People Management Award and the Bristol Diversity Award in 2019, Stepping Up has recently been awarded ‘Best Diversity and Inclusion Program’ and ‘Overall Winner’ of the CIPD People Management Award 2020 as an example for ‘Diversity as its Best!’. 

The Future 

Stepping Up is on track to deliver 400 Diverse Leaders by 2023 at all levels of leadership within the region. On the road to fulfilling this goal, Stepping Up aims to continue working on including other marginalised groups, such as women, the disabled and members of the LGBTQ+ community.  

[1] 2017. Race In The Workplace: The Mcgregor-Smith Review. [online]  [Accessed 19/04/21]

[2] [online] [Accessed 19/04/21]

[3] Councillor Asher Craig, BAME in the Workplace Conference, September 2020 

[4] 2018. BAME talent programme launched in Bristol. [online] [Accessed 19/04/21]