My 35 years’ experience as a black woman in the NHS
For International Women’s Day, we spoke to Reva Stewart, Locality Director for West Berkshire Adult Community Health Services, about her experiences of diversity and inclusion throughout her 35 years’ working in the NHS.
My NHS career began as a Student Nurse in 1985 – a woman, and a black woman at that. I qualified and was very proud of my achievement but struggled to progress my career and watched others who didn’t look like me progressing to senior posts. I was successful, but, professionally, I felt no one would invest their time to support my career development. I questioned if it was the colour of my skin or gender.
Within five years I had given birth to two beautiful daughters, having worked on wards until the moment they arrived. Working in the NHS 30 years ago, a mother’s limited choices included working nights so that their partner would be home to take care of the children, or they had to adjust their career path and work in nursing homes where there was more flexibility.
Reflecting back, I learned nuggets of wisdom from conversations with people who had broken through the glass ceilings that hold us back. These conversations enabled me to progress in the NHS. Guided by women I admired throughout my career, inspirational female leaders, I became a Divisional Director for Berkshire Healthcare.
The journey toward equality is complex. It can be difficult to speak out against inequality. Through my journey I discovered the importance of strong and diverse support networks and this realisation highlighted to me a need to coach and mentor others.
I have coached and mentored several staff, which is rewarding – knowing you have supported someone is priceless. As a black, working mother, looking back on my career, I see moments when I drew on the strength of others to survive, I learned the value of my friendships and networks around me.
Today, I continue to have great pride working for the NHS. Every day there is something new to learn, the last year has challenged and stretched us and teams have invested phenomenal effort to respond. The continued development of policies for equality, diversity and inclusion will bring about positive outcomes for everyone ensuring the NHS attracts the workforce it requires for the future.
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