Erika’s story

“Ask are you curious enough to want to stretch someone’s thinking?” Erika Ottley, Senior HR/OD Transformation Lead, Disability and Wellbeing Network Committee Member, Midlands representative, with the NHS over 30 years.

Erika Ottley’s story is one of Allyship bridging a divide of knowledge, power, status and emotional safety in the workplace, brought about by one of the landmark crescendos in human rights in modern times, the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020.

Allyship also influenced her own career journey, showing the important role of support from colleagues in managing a significant change in personal circumstances.

This is Erika’s story.

‘What I found powerful was a colleague coming to me having accepted some difficult feelings and being courageous enough to think ‘What can I do about it?’, How can I say I am truly inclusive in my leadership style?’.

I am delighted to help her and what’s also in it for me as an Ally, has been an occasion to express why this is just not on.

It has always been difficult. As a child, you’re trying to be yourself, but you’re having to navigate this ‘thing’ you don’t understand. At work, our organisation is trying to have a range of people with protected characteristics and long-term conditions more visible in senior roles.

However, there are risks here. Representation is only one part of the jigsaw.

We must avoid of setting up competition against all other characteristics. I can’t leave my blackness or my crutches behind to walk across the road. What about sexuality, or faith?

Allyship from senior teams has been all encompassing around Black Lives Matter and we mustn’t forget the other parts of so many people.

My recent Allyship has made me feel even more strongly about intersectionality and how it might feel to not be ‘in the black club’.

The hard work is creating an environment where everyone can flourish. 

Black Lives Matter made my colleague say ‘What do I really know? And ‘What don’t I know?’ So she approached me courageously to say ‘Can you educate me? Can you share some experiences? Can you tell me what it’s like to be you?’ She’s then gone on to do lots more reading as what she wants to be is a truly inclusive leader, so not making assumptions and not really acknowledging situations or effects or circumstances.

We both have benefitted as Allyship is really a two-way thing.

We’ve has such enriching, interesting conversations. We’ve shared lived experience where things have been deliberately racist or unintentionally racist. Ones where perhaps things have just been unfortunate.

“I suppose what we’ve created together is a trusted space and a safe space and the psychological sponsorship to learn and notice some of the things that she might not necessarily have noticed before.” 

She’s also shared how she’s learning and having conversations from others; I’ve shared about my family and how I see the label Black or of colour, as positive. My children have one black parent and one white. I am curious that my children see themselves as black and not white. This is quite a personal thing.

My personal view is one way we can continue to build an inclusive leadership style and culture, is if more senior leaders approach other who are different to them to be an Ally.