For the most part when on the wards, Remi Odejinmi, consultant anaesthetist, finds people assume she’s a nurse, healthcare assistant, or domestic.
She said: “It’s rare I’m ever called a doctor without first introducing myself, even by fellow doctors. It’s not necessarily their fault, society’s views have created this bias and dictates what’s expected of you; and you carry that burden. It’s too big to take it all on board, so I just try to put my best foot forward as a black woman.”
Remi, who has been in BHRU Trust since 2001, is passionate about using her influence to highlight the difficulties faced by women in the workplace as we mark International Women’s Day (Monday 8 March). As a black woman, Remi has faced even more inequality throughout a medical career spanning more than 30 years.
Despite once being told she’d not secured a role as she was black, Remi was mostly unaware of the racism and sexism she faced early on in her career.
She said: “I was focused on my career, I was also raising two children. It was only once I became a consultant and started getting involved in other things that I had the opportunity to reflect and realised I was treated differently. That was also when the penny dropped of the many occasions when I was younger that I had been discriminated against because I was a woman, or black, or both.”
While we still have a long way to go, there have been some changes. Having gone back to work just three weeks after the birth of one of her children, Remi is pleased to see there is more awareness and policies now in place to protect women who want to have children, and also a career.
She also appreciates how the challenges she faced shaped her: “My training made me who I am today. I don’t say no and I encourage others, if you want to do something, go for it. Don’t let anyone stop you and take opportunities when they are offered.
“I’ve definitely had to work harder and it’s been difficult to be my authentic self. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had good line managers, most of them women, but some men too.”
As a predominantly female workforce, Remi feels the NHS needs to get better at nurturing talent, helping women and ethnic minorities become more well-rounded, including experience of management and teaching.
Luckily, she sees a brighter future for society as a whole: “The next generation is much more open and fair. They have respect for people irrespective of sex, religion or race. I see it in my own children; they have a very different view on life.
“Movements like Black Lives Matter have helped highlight some issues with racism on a global basis and people are listening. Covid has also laid bare the socioeconomic and health inequalities among our communities.”
For institutions like the NHS and our own Trust, Remi’s message is clear: “Our workforce is our most valuable asset, it’s time to stop talking and start acting.”
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