After working for over three years with little to no tangible progression, Esther Akorede, senior paediatric audiologist was unsure of where to go next. Esther explains how the arrival of the Stepping Up programme helped her break the glass ceiling she felt was blocking her success.
In December 2016 I had become frustrated and somewhat disillusioned with work. Being stuck in a rut was undoubtedly beginning to affect my confidence, morale, and output generally. It was around this time, that I received an email about the Stepping Up programme. I’d never actually heard about the programme, but as a new programme aimed at “developing black and minority ethnic (BME) colleagues in bands 5 – 7 who aim to be leaders” it fitted in very well with where I hoped to be in my career. I wasted no time in applying.
Learning about the programme
Coming across the Stepping Up programme was timely for me. I’d recently read an article in the Guardian about “Snowy peak syndrome” talking about how large organisations, of which the NHS is one, can tend to have very few people from black and ethnic minorities in very senior level positions. One of the reasons cited for this was a lack of understanding of how to progress. This was something I could relate to and mentioned in my application. I likened my experience with progression to having a glass ceiling above your head, knowing it is there but having little idea on how to break it.
Prior to the first day, we were asked to complete a lifeline to depict our personal life journey, how it had impacted us and enabled us to get to the point we were currently at. It was an interesting way of introducing ourselves and meant we had to be somewhat vulnerable with our team members. I found this task to be an eye-opening experience for several reasons. When the people in my team shared how they had been able to reach their current positions, and the things they had been through, it helped me to see how blind we can sometimes be to the power and ability we possess. It can take being faced with yourself in this way to unearth some of the things we may otherwise overlook. It was also great for stirring up a passion within me. I admittedly didn’t feel like I had been through a great deal, but I realised I had achieved some significant things in the past. It became apparent to me that I had really downplayed this in my career journey so far.
Key lessons and discoveries
Reflection and self-discovery were key parts of the programme’s learning process. We were empowered and equipped to discover the answers ourselves. I have found there is nothing better than realising that you already have the answer to the question you have asked. When equipped with these skills, you are theoretically able to answer any question you are presented with. This was one of the key lessons I took away from the process.
Gaining a new understanding of what leadership actually is was also a stand out lesson for me. I learnt that we are all leaders and the first person we lead is ourselves. I also learnt about the importance of being true to yourself as one of the key foundations for leadership. These were such different statements to anything I had heard before, especially regarding leadership. I had always considered leadership to be a positional thing, something that happened above me, in boardrooms I had no access to. However, I learnt that leadership is much more than that; it is in fact influence. It was such a profound time and really made me take a step back to consider how I had been leading myself before the programme.
After completing the Stepping Up programme, I felt a lot more energised to jump back on the saddle and give applying for other jobs another shot, especially after some previously unsuccessful attempts. The programme helped to remind me that I already had what it took to progress. All that was left to do was to get myself into the places where these skills could make a difference.
Since then, I have had two job offers and have accepted a new more senior role, which I am due to start within a few weeks. I wholeheartedly believe that I would not have had the confidence and self-awareness to apply if I hadn’t attended this programme. It has changed my career trajectory and has been one of the most beneficial training courses I have attended to date. It has equipped me with the right behaviours and mindsets that I believe will help me in my new role and facilitate my onward progression throughout my working career. I will never ever forget that I first lead myself and to do so with style.
I feel grateful to the NHS Leadership Academy, the organisers of the programme and the facilitators for providing this rare opportunity, and for what it has equipped me with. I think I speak for everyone in Cohort 2.2 when I say the Stepping Up programme is a life-changing experience and I will never be the same because of it.