Clinical Nurse Specialist Isatta Sisay has worked in the Community team at Royal Trinity Hospice for nearly 15 years. She is Deputy Head of Community Services at Trinity, where she helps lead the team of Clinical Nurse Specialists who visit over 2,000 patients in their own homes every year and provide support advice and information by phone and video calls. Isatta is currently the Interim Head of the Wandsworth End of Life Care Coordination Service.

“Last summer, following the renewed surge of Black Lives Matter activism, I think people around the world - and especially Black and Ethnic Minority people - started thinking ‘what more can we do to support each other and pull each other up?’.

I certainly benefited from that mindset through a coaching, mentorship and scholarship scheme started by healthcare consultant Tara Humphrey and some of her colleagues. Their aim was to support BAME women in leadership. Trinity’s Director of Patient Services shared the opportunity and I applied for and was awarded a Business in Healthcare Scholarship including £2,000 to spend on personal development. I found the Women’s Leadership Development Programme at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School and decided to go for it.

It was an intense, interactive six-week course attended by women in leadership from around the globe. Through personal assignments, forum discussions and individual reflections, everything was geared towards supporting us to critically analyse our leadership skills and looking at various leadership styles. We were given the tools and models we needed to put these leadership styles into practice in real life scenarios, especially as women wanting to lead in a world so often led by men. We explored ways to bridge gender gaps in our professional lives, leverage our strengths and understand to how to respond to assumptions based on our gender.

"It was inspiring to work with women from all over the world and from all sorts of professional backgrounds. And it was reassuring to find common ground and relate to their own experiences."

I used to look at women in leadership, people like Trinity’s CEO Dallas, and think that level of role demanded a specific type of person that wasn’t me. But we heard from top female CEOs who shared their own leadership challenges and that was really motivating and gave us all a confidence boost to hear their stories of times when things had gone wrong on their watch, what they learned from it that how it helped develop their leadership style. It made me realise that all leaders need to go through hurdles and learn as they go.

A big challenge with the course but also a huge opportunity was that at the same time it was an intense time for me at work. I had stepped into an interim role leading a new team while I was completing the course. It was a lot, but it was helpful to live and apply everything I was learning on the go. I was immediately able to put the tools I was learning to work in practice.

Having the time to think and talk about my own leadership style and different ways of leading has definitely changed me. It’s made me realise the importance of context.

"Without understanding your colleagues’ backgrounds, or their different personalities, where they’re coming from or how they relate and react, it’s difficult to be an effective leader and manage people and situations. The most important thing about leadership is being flexible, knowing different leadership styles and flexing to fit with the context and circumstances."

Working in a place like Trinity, led by women, gives you a sense of confidence and assurance that women can be at the top and there isn’t a gender barrier there. But working in healthcare, you see women in leadership a lot and that’s obviously a good thing. From a cultural background however, I really welcome working in a female-led organisation. In my culture, women are often expected to be more submissive and not take on leadership roles so for me, in my own context, I feel very comfortable working somewhere like Trinity, which has so many women leaders. Like I said, it’s all about context.

Days like International Women’s Day are important opportunities to remind people about the issues we faced in the past and those still here in the present. I hope that having the opportunity to learn about leadership through a gender lens has made me a better leader in the present and an example of great leadership well into the future.”