Making uncomfortable your new comfortable

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4 minute read.

To mark International Women’s Day, we interview Aqeela Hamilton, Divisional Transformation Lead for Women Children and Clinical Support Services at Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust about her leadership journey.

Sometimes witnessing poor leadership behaviour can inspire personal action. Aqeela Hamilton shared some uncomfortable experiences that made her think about her career aspirations and the kind of leader she wanted to be. The journey hasn’t always been smooth sailing, and she’s had to deal with knock-backs, but today Aqeela she is proudly working as Divisional Transformation Lead for Women Children and Clinical Support Services. She’s taken every rejection for a more senior role as an opportunity to learn and grow.

When her first band 7 team leader application was unsuccessful in 2019, she decided to do the Edward Jenner programme to boost her leadership skills. After her second rejection, Aqeela’s Head of Midwifery encouraged her to do a master’s in healthcare management. Team leader roles soon followed, and she soon progressed again to her current position. Her transformation lead role is one she relishes; it provides an opportunity to engage with staff on the ground while making positive strategic changes.

“It’s ok to have a wobble,” she says, reflecting on her approach to dealing with rejection. “I always think that the worst thing they can do is say no. You’ve got nothing to lose from trying, but so much to gain. Every ‘no’ is a learning experience. Every time I got a no, I’d shake myself off, get feedback and think about what to do to better myself.”

She has found the opportunities to learn more about herself and her leadership style through the Edward Jenner programme and connecting with other leaders (thanks to #ProjectM) particularly impactful. “I’d describe my leadership style as transformational,” she says. “I try to bring people with me. I always tell people to make the uncomfortable their new comfortable because it’s the only way you’re going to learn.”

Tweet chats via #ProjectM have been a game changer in sharing challenges and reflections with other leaders, and in helping her manage her wellbeing. “In a leadership role it can be quite tough, and you can be quite isolated because there’s that pressure from top-down and bottom-up, and you’re expected to have all the answers,” she says. “#ProjectM was a nice way to say you might not have all the answers but here is a resource to help you get some of those answers.”

Mentoring relationships have also been critical to Aqeela’s success, and she is now taking this forward by mentoring other women in healthcare, engaging in reciprocal mentoring, and supporting women from diverse backgrounds. “I don’t think I would have got where I am if I didn’t have mentors and that support structure, especially as a black woman,” she reflects. “And I think the only way to continue is to take someone else with you. I might be ‘annoyingly persistent’ with some people in encouraging them to do the Edward Jenner programme or a funded masters, I want everyone to believe in themselves and see the potential that I see in them.”

It is well known that maternal mortality rates are higher for black women, who are four times more likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth. As a midwife, a mother, and a black woman, helping to fix this inequality is something that personally drives Aqeela. “As much as you don’t want to, you do see it,” she says, describing situations where she has seen colleagues not taking black women and their pain seriously during labour. “I try to get staff to understand that some people might be irate, but you must understand the situation they are in. Or that just because someone is labouring quietly doesn’t mean she’s not in pain, it might just be how she copes – that doesn’t mean you ignore her. And if someone is screaming the place down you best listen to her.”

When it comes to creating a more inclusive culture for patients and staff, representation is key. “When I started my role as a team leader, there weren’t many black women like me running a labour ward,” she says. “I know me doing that role inspired other black women to pursue further things in the NHS, which is fabulous.” The other key is education: “It’s about bringing things to the foreground, pulling people up and holding them accountable for their actions. Even if it’s something small, if we allow it to happen it’s a sign, we are accepting it. We work in a job where it doesn’t matter what colour, race, or religion you are. We all go through the same thing. We all feel pain.”

Her advice for ambitious up-and-coming black female health professionals is simple: Don’t count yourself out. “A lot of women doubt themselves and their skills, and they shouldn’t. Studying is a fantastic resource: read the job spec and do your research and do the course.”

That’s certainly something she has had no qualms about doing herself. As she acknowledges, it has been a busy three years. “I’ve just finished my end point assessment for the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), I am now a Chartered Manager, however, by the time I got to the end of my master’s I thought: how did I do that while working full-time and juggling two children at the height of the pandemic?” she laughs, adding: “I think I had an out-of-body experience.” But despite her humility, it’s clear in speaking to Aqeela that the answer is less paranormal activity and more hard work, talent, and her passion for doing the right thing.

As Aqeela looks to the future, she sees herself continuing down the path of leadership and management, “I will be that role model for all, and show them that no matter what, we are all leaders. My future is bright, and I am excited for my journey, which is the best bit!”

Find out more and enrol on the Edward Jenner programme.

Find out more about #ProjectM and how to get involved.

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