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Ronke Akerele

Ronke Akerele, Director of Innovation and Transformation, talks about her inspiring career, and experiences as a Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) member of staff at HPFT.

Ronke is responsible for promoting continuous improvement and innovation, information management and technology, improving performance and leading the transformation of services to improve outcomes for service users and families at HPFT.

Before joining HPFT, Ronke spent 4 years as a Director at Imperial College Health Partners and 13 years prior to this in management consultancy working on roles in strategy execution, business transformation, information technology, performance management, change and programme management within the private and public sector organisations. She has held senior positions at BUPA, Care Quality Commission, NHS Croydon, NHS Westminster and Barking, Havering, Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust.

She has undertaken Executive Education programmes with both London Business School and Harvard Business School. Ronke is currently finalising the processes to being awarded her Doctorate degree in Organisational Change.

Here is her story.

“It is so great to see the Workforce Race Equality Standard coming alive at HPFT. Even going back 15-20 years ago when I was progressing in my career there were no BME role models. In the present day, I am hopeful on seeing the shift in culture and a real focus on Black and Minority Ethnicities in the workforce today.

As a woman of BME background, my success story has been one with challenges as well as triumphs. My parents studied in the UK in the 1960’s and decided to relocate back to their home country of Nigeria in the early 1970’s to raise my siblings and I, this enabled us to connect to our culture and heritage. Being raised in Nigeria, I was not subjected to discrimination regarding my race.

Both of my parents had careers which inspired me. Having parents with successful careers also gave me something to aspire too. My parents brought my siblings and I up with a ‘can do’ attitude and always affirmed to us that the world is our oyster. I believe this mind set is vital and a key to my success.

In 1998 I left the shores as a graduate, motivated and enthusiastic to accomplish the goals I had set myself. I enrolled on a Master’s degree programme in Information Technology (IT) in the UK at a time where demand for individuals with such expertise was well sought after, at the onset of the millennium. The rise of the IT sector paved ways for BME people in professional settings. As a result, there was a large influx of individuals with such skills migrating to the UK and being recruited into these roles.

Starting my career in IT aided me into the corporate world as I felt that in such roles, race didn’t matter, what mattered was what you can deliver and the outcomes achieved.

Very early on in my career, I found there was a lack of support and guidance for independent and ambitious young black women like myself. It was also noticeable that the further I progressed in my career, the fewer BME faces I saw at the higher levels. Don’t get me wrong, most of the places I have worked at have been welcoming but there are so many layers to discrimination and unfortunately people may not even be consciously doing it.

In recent years, I found it surprising whilst working in London, a city so multicultural and home to people of all backgrounds and races that on so many occasions I was still the only person of colour at senior management tables and leadership forums. It is disappointing to see the lack of diversity in a city such as London, where 41% of NHS staff and 45% of the population are from BME backgrounds, this is also evidenced in the extensive research done by NHSE of substantial under-representation of BME staff in senior leadership positions in the NHS including on Trust Boards.

Since joining HPFT I am impressed with what I have seen. I am proud to be in an organisation where I am not the only person of colour on the board. I have felt so welcomed and am delighted to be at a Trust which actively promotes diversity. I am keen to build on this and I would love to see more BME staff progressing in their careers and in management roles.

I want my BME colleagues at all levels to feel empowered. I hope that this series of case studies brings support to staff, provides stories which people can relate to and most importantly inspire.

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