To celebrate Equality, Diversity and Human Rights Week 2021 (10-14 May) we are highlighting different Inspirational Leadership Stories to inspire colleagues across the Northamptonshire health and care system. Each day we will meet a different inspirational leader to find out a bit more about them and how their stories connect with the daily themes of #EQW2021.

Wednesday 12 May – A Voice that Counts
Suminthra Naidu, Kettering General Hospital

Suminthra Naidu

Tell us about yourself

I am the Head of Nursing – Paediatric Services. I was born and raised in South Africa in the apartheid era. My lived experience has been the most powerful influence in not only shaping me as an individual but also aligning my values to how I live my life and conduct my work. I believe kindness and respect has a place in everyone’s heart. It costs nothing but it brings so much joy and happiness. I have a 6 year old daughter called Kimaiya. She means everything to me and I invest in every opportunity I can to ensure that she grows up to be a strong confident women.

Tell us about your job and your career

I have been a nurse for nearly 25 years. I have always been drawn to the Paediatric Speciality and I have had the privilege of working in an array of settings across Neonates and Paediatrics. The level of care and compassion that this speciality requires especially as you encounter families at their most vulnerable times really resonates with me.

Having completed my degree in Nursing and a specialist degree in Neonates Nursing, in 2005 I pursued a career as an Advanced Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (ANNP). I graduated in 2007with a distinction in my MSc. Back then theconcept of Nurse Practitioners were not widely accepted. I saw this as an opportunity to change people’s perceptions of the role. My drive and enthusiasm for wanting to make a difference inspired my journey ahead and eventually in 2009, after being the only ANNP in the Trust, I was able to create a pipeline for training of future ANNP’s. This was largely attributed to my role modelling of the exceptional qualities of the ANNP and the benefits aligned to the role in terms of recruitment, retention and innovative ways of working across medical and nursing domains. In recognition of my contribution, skills and knowledge I was promoted to a higher band and assigned as a mentor to junior doctors and student ANNP’s.

After a successful 10 year span as an ANNP, I made the choice to become an agent of change. This was largely due to the fact that I became more aware of the complexity of the challenges that frontline workers faced and the significant gap between senior management and the frontline. I was also personally aware of my professional ambitions and the challenges that I had faced over the last decade in obtaining access to Career Development and Talent Pipelines.

I was privileged to have gained the support and mentorship of an executive director at a previous Trust and she inspired the start of my leadership journey. I completed the Mary Seacole Program alongside starting my first Matron Job. This was a great learning curve for me and provided me with unique opportunities to gain experience in change management and transformation. I went onto do the Ready Now Program. The Ready Now Program helped me understand many things about myself. Most importantly, how to be an authentic leader and stay true to who I am. It taught me to value my lived experience and connect with my hardships and to use this to inspire the way I work. During this program, I moved into an Operational Management role. This was a promotion to 8b. During this time I had the opportunity to use existing managerial and leadership skills but also build and strengthen new skills unique to operational management. Although I enjoyed the role, the challenges I faced helped me develop new ways of working and allowed me to acknowledge and value the importance of gaining the trust and respect of my team.

Through the Ready Now Program I have widened my networks and have gained access to a wealth of resource and support. I was one of 11 successful candidates to have secured a place on the Florence Nightingale’s Aspiring Directors Leadership Program which I am currently on.

In being an agent of change, I have endeavoured to work with the Trust, to support the development of local talent and widen access for individuals wanting to develop. As a woman of colour I want to role model that anything is possible if you “put your mind to it”. And I also want to use this opportunity to strengthen the diverse and inclusive voice in the organisation. Giving others a voice is central to my purpose and stems from my lived experience in the apartheid South Africa.

What are your career / personal aspirations for the future?

My personal aspiration is to be an enabler. I have started a journey of transcendence and my ultimate aim to occupy a space whereby I can value every person for their authentic self. To be without judgement or prejudice or bias. My professional aspiration is to be in a position whereby I am driving change and can represent the voice of both patients and staff alike.

How would you sum up your key career achievements?

In my 25 years as a nurse I have had the privilege and opportunity of working in an array of settings and this has exposed me to different skillsets and my developments as a flexible and adaptable professional. This has been a really valuable skillset as it has helped to develop as a strong situational leader. Over the last 10 years I have been able to positively influence my development as leader and am currently on my third leadership course.

I have always worked closely with clinical teams to consider new organisational models, roles and ways of working. Having acquired the skillset and knowledge of being both a Peer Reviewer and Bliss Reviewer for “patient focused family integrated care models”, I am able to work innovatively in finding solutions that deliver high standards against quality and performance metrics. This has been hugely advantageous in organisations where I have been able to influence change thereby resulting in the CQC rating to move from Requires Improvement to Good.

My personal resilience and tenacity, plus my passion for working within the NHS and doing everything in my power to ensure that patients get the best possible care, at the right time and in the right way, provides an excellent foundation for me to work with the Trust to provide supportive and measured transformation as part of a committed team and to achieve excellence in service delivery and both patient and staff engagement.

What good fortunes have you had (career/development/progression)?

  • Securing a place on the Florence Nightingale’s Aspiring Directors Program
  • Having a strong female role model

How do you manage stressful situations?

I try to take a balanced view of situations however when I am stressed I recognise the signs and try to step out of situations to get some headspace. So when I am at work and feeling stressed, I let my team know and go for a walk. Or I go for a run at the end of the day.

Tell us about any adversity you have come across and how you dealt with it?

I grew up in South Africa during the apartheid Era. Privilege and status was determined by the colour of your skin. So as an Indian in this period, I was raised in a poor household with the focus of a strong work ethic. I was schooled in a system aimed at producing under achievers which aligned to the goals of the apartheid era. At a young age I was taught “Failure is not an option”. So as a child I was always encouraged to always give 120% at anything I did.

Some of the greatest challenges that I have experienced as a senior leader in the NHS has been affiliated to my intersectionality. As a women of colour, my journey as a senior leader has been challenged by systemic bias and prejudice. There have been times when I would have been the most qualified and skilled professional in an interview process and not secured the job. This isn’t something that I experienced here at KGH, however, in other organisations where I faced a series of micro aggressive behaviours from my senior teams left me feeling “broken” at times. The cumulative effect of these experiences had negatively influenced my ability to believe in myself or feel “Good enough”.

The thing that helped me get through these challenges was my ability to remain humble, kind and stay true to my values. But these experiences also fuelled my ambitions and motivated me to succeed. It is so important to stay connected to your values. And never give up. It’s taken me 25 years to grow as a leader in the NHS and although my climb up the ladder has been slow the most important thing is that I encouraged myself to grow from these situations. In the process, I have gained so many believers and supporters. As an adult I’m thankful for all that my parents have taught me. I can’t swim or ride a bike, but I am a frugal innovator, I have a strong work ethic and I am committed, tenacious and resilient.

My advice to others experiencing similar situations is to stay true to who you are. Rise above these challenges and champion the change that you are seeking. It’s also healthy to talk about this so having a “Person to go to” is so important. Because, only by exploring such situation can you get to the solutions.

Tell us about situations where you were treated favourably and unfavourably because of your ethnic origin, compared to others?

A situation that I was treated favourably
I have a special interest in diversity and inclusion and at a previous Trust I reviewed the local data and noted that two thirds of the staff from Black and Asian Minorities was employed in the lowest bands in the organisation. In line with the National Equality and Inclusion work I felt a duty to change the way we work at this organisation. I set up a meeting with the Director of HR and I expressed my views about the Trusts Workforce Race and Equality Standards (WRES) at that time. The Director of HR acknowledged my contributions and made a commitment to support me develop the work streams required. We worked closely and we influenced the number of areas within the organisation. These included:

  • Writing and delivering a Diversity and Inclusion Strategy
  • Writing and delivering an action plan to support improvement for the Local WRES data. This included Board to floor walks, Symbiotic mentoring, creating talent pipelines and large work streams around recruitment and retention

We were able to launch this through our EDHR week and aligned staff ambassadors throughout the organisation to support “Giving People a Voice”. I am really proud of this work and was so fortunate to have gained the support and mentorship of our Director of HR. The cumulative effect of all this work started some early changes within the organisation and the culture has really started to change.

An Unfavourable Situation
At another Trust, I was seeking support to progress into a corporate role and had several meetings with the Senior Nursing teams to gain support to help me progress. I was progressing through my leadership course and had obtained a mentor and coach. I was encouraged to apply for 3 internal roles during my time at this organisation. At times I knew that I was the most qualified and skilled candidate in the interview process, but I did not get the job. The feedback I received was so vague. I was told: “You did not seem passionate enough”, “You did not make the mark”, “You interviewed really well and it was a tough decision but the other candidate was stronger”, “You are really passionate and I know you will go places – But you are just not ready now”, I know you will get your corporate role – probably after I retire”.

I recognised that this was not a Trust I was going to gain support to progress in so I made a choice to move on from this organisation. I also realised that the values in this organisation had changed when the senior leadership changed and no longer aligned to mine.

As I have come through my leadership journey, I reflect back on these situations and I realise that Systemic racism presents itself in a multitude of ways – microaggession, bias, prejudice. These are projected in many ways and on many platforms. I know that I cannot change the world’s lens on how we view people equally and inclusively, but I can continue to “Give People a Voice” and encourage people to talk about their experiences. I can help create equal opportunities and influence the way we work to retain the talents of our workforce. I can be an enabler and an ambassador for equal rights and equal opportunities. That defines my purpose and passion as a professional in the NHS. Mahatma Ghandi says: “Be the change you wish to see”

What advice would you have for others as to creating a positive workplace and getting ahead in career?

  • Stay true to who you are and use your lived experience to guide you as a professional.
  • Speaking up is powerful so use your voice and be a champion for change.
  • Investing in local talent is not only positive for succession planning but also in retaining our workforces and valuing the teams that work so hard to progress our services and organisation.

What habits / routines do you follow that have helped you to achieve a good personal life and career?

I spend 5 minutes every morning being thankful for all that I have. I usually sit in a quiet place and practice some mindfulness. This helps me clear my thoughts for the day and aligns me to my core values and purpose. At work throughout the day, I try to take small walks to allow me to get Headspace. Especially if I have been in a frustrating situation. I try to take a reflective approach to things to ensure that I am acting and responding in a balanced manner.

I usually spend my drive home reflecting on my day and will reflect on different situations. In my reflections I consider my position in different situations and look at how I influenced the situation and how I made people feel. I will generally always identify some learning from my days and I channel these so that the learning is captured and I take these forward. If I feel something did not go well I usually follow up the next day and to take a clearer approach to things.

I use my networks to support any debriefs that I need to consider or undertake. I feel it’s important to talk about difficult situations and have a balanced conversation. I place myself in a position to learn and this helps to create open and transparent conversations.

What are your areas of improvement (personal and work)?

I have a little 6 year old daughter and sometimes I get the balance wrong in how I give my time. This is an area that I need to work on. I am also a highly emotive person so I need to learn to use my emotion as strength and not let it over power situations and become a weakness.

What are your hobbies / spare time activities?

I enjoy running and I have run several half marathons. I try to get a few runs in the week but generally this is balanced against all my other commitments. I genuinely enjoy helping people so I often seek to help local charities and will undertake fundraising activities to support neonatal and children’s charities. Some of my half marathons have been dedicated to fundraising for these charities. I enjoy entertaining and cooking but I also enjoy fine dining and wine tasting.

Who do you admire most in the world (can be a historical character)?

I have two role models:

Mahatma Ghandi – he influenced life hugely for me as a young Indian growing up in South Africa. He gave me hope and inspired me to think about “making a difference”. I also learnt the value of humility and kindness from him and all the work he championed around “Passive Resistance”. I learnt that there is more power in Compassion than anything else.

Nelson Mandela left such a great legacy when he was freed from Prison was elected as President of South Africa in 1994. His anti-apartheid revolutionary leadership inspired wide scale change for dismantling institutionalised racism and fostering racial reconciliation.

The thing that inspires me about both these leaders is that they were raised in simple households with strong family values and they inspired vision and purpose through their values and lived experience. This is so powerful.