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Stepping Up Programme - Bristol City Council

An example of a major positive action programme driven by the council to increase the diversity of senior leadership within public and private sector employers across a region.

Stepping Up is a diversity leadership talent pipeline for disabled, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities and women in Bristol and the South West region. The programme began in January 2018 and has won local and national awards and continues to improve the diversity landscape it aimed to shift. The Programme runs for one year, and culminates with an award to participants at the end of the programme.

Data driven strategic change

It was recognised that there was a need for a positive action intervention due to the strong evidence that there was lack of diversity at senior leadership levels across the public and private sectors, which was supported by the Baroness McGregor-Smith report. Bristol has been on a mission to create a culture where transformational change was needed to enable a fair and transparent workplace where diversity could flourish. It was agreed that systemic and transformational change was needed. 

Picture of bridge in Bristol city centre

The Programme was so successful in its second year it was decided that a spin off community-based programme for Somali women called Horumour would be launched. This programme created a pathway for Somali women into the workplace.

Breaking New Ground

The vision was to create a system where the private, public and voluntary sectors worked together. The driving force was to shift the needle in terms of the adoption of equality and inclusion best practice and talent management in major organisations across the city of Bristol and the wider South West region.

The Mayor, Marvin Rees, wanted to see commitment to changing the leadership landscape where diversity of thought was embraced.

Such a huge task could only be achieved in incremental stages.


The Diversity and Inclusion Initiative – Stepping Up

Architect and Director Professor Christine Bamford established key milestones to deliver the transformational change model which was to:

  • Establish collaboration of partners across the public, private and voluntary sector
  • Engage partners in the project and co-create the initiative
  • Demonstrate to partners E&I best practice in talent management
  • Source core funding and in-kind support
  • Deliver and evaluate proof of concept

The co-created intervention included the following:

  • 6 Core Leadership Modules
  • Career Management
  • Mentoring (delivered as in-kind support from partners)8 hours per month over 1 year
  • 5 Virtual learning sets 5 days Stretch Assignments (delivered as in-kind support by partners)

The programme has been supported by the Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees, and the Equality & Inclusion Cabinet Member, Councillor Asher Craig (Deputy Mayor). Along with the Chief Executive of Bristol City Council Mike Jackson, who is the Council’s Equality & Inclusion Champion and was previously a mentor on the programme, they have ensured that the Stepping Up programme is firmly planted in the Council’s DNA. The first cohort commenced In January 2018, and the programme is now in its third year and gearing up to recruit its fourth intake.

External Evaluation was undertaken by Cranberry Research whose initial report indicated a positive impact for cohort 2 in 2019:

  • Confidence increased from 37% to 93%
  • Self-assurance increased from 32% to 70%
  • Influence increased from 32% to 78%
  • Confidence in applying for promotion increased from 6% to 90%
  • 60% achieved Career Movement

Horumar proved very successful in its first year, with 31 women signing up for the second tranche.


  • The Stepping UP programme has created over 50 more diverse boards in Bristol and the South West region
  • Commitment from senior leaders both in Bristol City Council and in other organisations in both the private and public sectors
  • Success of the programme was demonstrated through an independent company who evaluated the programme
  • Improving the diversity representation on non-executive and executive boards
  • Ground breaking and award-winning mentoring programme with senior leaders including CEOs drawn from all sectors
  • The programme has now won 4 awards including the CIPD Award for Diversity and CIPD Overall Winner
  • Delivery of a sophisticated modular programme underpinned by academic rigour
  • Linked to a self-funding MBA programme through the apprenticeship levy
  • Development of a diverse alumni programme
  • Other organisations across the country wishing to replicate the model

Logistical obstacles - Engagement of 60+ Employers to search for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic disabled employees and women for leadership talent and offer pro bono mentors, venues, speakers, and stretch assignments.

Learning Contract negotiations - Tricky dialogue with employers in respect of agreement to the design requiring an original 30 study days, release of staff, sign up to learning agreement and fees for participants.

Funding – Securing funding from employers and other agencies as there is a fee levied to employers for their employees to participate on the programme

Overcoming barriers - required high level political skills and influence to align such a complex range of partners and participants

Advice For Other councils

  • Be clear about the funding and costs and develop a funding model
  • Establish interest before proceeding formally
  • Gather data to support this positive action programme
  • Establish level of leadership entry point for participants– senior/mid-level?
  • Establish buy-in from senior leadership

For further information: Please read Race in the workplace: Baroness McGregor-Smith Review

Council contacts 

[email protected]

[email protected]