To celebrate Black History Month we caught up with Kemi Oladapo, Associate Director and Head of Learning and Development at Sirona care & health, to find out more about her career and what advice she would give to BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) staff looking to progress into a leadership role.
What is your current job?
I am an Associate Director and Head of Learning and Development at Sirona care & health. I lead a team of 22 people and I am responsible for identifying and providing learning opportunities for all our 4,000 staff. It involves contributing to many meetings, planning, reviewing our work and supporting and developing my own team.
What do you love most about working at Sirona?
I love the emphasis on living our values like ‘Taking it Personally’.
I also love working alongside colleagues who are clearly dedicated to giving great service, whether frontline clinical or behind the scenes giving professional support.
Can you remember what you wanted to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a singer or an actor with very long hair that I could swish about. The hair was the most important, and I had an old blue towel that I would pretend was my hair! A little later, I wanted to be a secondary school teacher.
How did you end up doing the job you do now?
I was the first in my family to graduate from university
I started in the voluntary sector in London before joining the NHS in 1988. I led the ‘Personnel and Training’ team in Weston General Hospitals before being transferred to University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust. I then had spells of employment with the University of Bristol, ran my own business lecturing, coaching and running diversity and equality programmes before returning to the NHS in 2012.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career?
Hard to pick out one, as there were many. During my postgraduate degree in People Management, I had to apply for almost 90 jobs, whilst most colleagues on the same programme applied for 5-7 posts before securing a role. Juggling my family and demanding work roles was also another, when I was self-employed, I travelled a lot in the UK, and I had a young family to look after.
I have developed a persistent attitude as a result of coming across lots of closed doors I have had to bolster my self-belief and not make the institutional bias I often encountered, my focus.
What is your biggest achievement?
Bringing up two strident, balanced and kind individuals into the world, together with my husband. I hope we continue to be good role-models and support for them when needed and stay out of the way when not!
Have you ever had a mentor or someone you could turn to for advice?
I have always had close colleagues I could turn to or networks I could call on.
Personally, I think my career would have greatly benefitted from having a sponsor or two, more than a mentor. Nonetheless, I have on various occasions been supported to access coaching, which has been of tremendous benefit. I am now a qualified and experienced coach myself, wanting to provide this valuable support to others.
What is the best advice anyone has ever given to you?
‘Take care of yourself and others, have a good time and make the absolute most of your work’
It’s a biblical quote, but you don’t have to subscribe to any particular belief to benefit from it.
Why do you think BAME staff are less likely to reach leadership positions in healthcare?
In healthcare as in most other sectors, there has long been the existence of systemic and institutional racism (as well as other forms of discrimination). Covid19 has highlighted this, though it’s not a new phenomenon. BAME or the ‘Global Majority’ as I like to call us, will almost without exception have experienced unfair barriers, excessive scrutiny, being overlooked and/underestimated. People get the message, ‘we’re not welcome’. We won’t get these jobs. People don’t believe in us etc.
So what advice would you give to someone looking to take on a more senior role?
Do the work necessary. Access your ‘cultural capital’ and networks and put yourselves forward for opportunities such as development, jobs, projects and forums. Take calculated risks but always seek feedback from people you respect.
Believe in yourself, your ability and don’t be dissuaded. Things are changing…
Careers at Sirona
We actively promote equality of opportunity for all and aim to employ a workforce that reflects the communities we serve. Our career opportunities are varied and diverse, offering defined development routes for staff. View our current vacancies to see what a career at Sirona could look like for you.
Need help gaining the confidence to apply for a more senior position? The Stepping Up leadership programme is run in conjunction with Bristol City Council. Its aim is to change the leadership landscape in the city by encouraging more BAME individuals to seek out more senior roles within their profession and develop better leadership skills. Stepping Up 2020 is still open for applications.