HLN Meets… Steph Edusei, CEO of St Oswald’s Hospice
Steph shares what it’s really like being a black, female CEO and the challenges she has faced to get to the top.
What’s it like to be a CEO as a woman?
I feel a burden of responsibility that many men wouldn’t. I’m not just a Chief Executive of a large charity, with all the duties and responsibilities that come with that. I’m also a leader, who is a woman. There’s a risk that if I don’t succeed, people will judge other potential female leaders by my mistakes. I also know that I may be a bit of a role model for many ambitious women, and I take that responsibility seriously. Add into the mix the fact that I’m also black and it is amplified even more.
However, I try not to let that stop me from doing what needs to be done, including making tough decisions sometimes. I hope I bring a style of leadership that is collaborative and empathetic, authentic and honest. These are traditionally feminine characteristics, although good male leaders demonstrate them too.
What challenges have you faced on your way to the top?
I’ve had some very challenging roles where I’ve had to deliver difficult projects and targets, particularly within the NHS. I’ve worked in organisations where senior leaders didn’t always appreciate my thoughts, views and approach. That was very challenging and career limiting, especially when I felt I was being asked to work against my values and principles.
I’ve also experienced the situation where men have talked over me and even repeated exactly what I’ve just said and people have acknowledged their contribution and not mine. I’ve developed quite a few strategies to deal with this now and use them if it happens to me or others around me.
I’ve had people assume that I’m a junior team member. A manager once told me that ‘I’d been developed to death’ – suggesting I’d had leadership development beyond my capabilities. It was hard to deal with at the time and fed the crippling self-doubt (or Imposter Syndrome) I was living with. I’ve spent much time working on my Imposter Syndrome and now have it under control, most of the time.
What made you want to get involved within the charity sector?
I was raised with a real sense of the importance of supporting your community and have been involved with charities as a volunteer since I was a child. When I worked for the NHS, my ‘why’ was always patients and the public and it was that focus on the charity beneficiaries that initially attracted me to the sector.
When I saw the role advertised at St Oswald’s Hospice, I was really excited. I knew the reputation it has as an outstanding charity and that, as CEO, I would be responsible for such a diverse range of services from care to retail. But it was the values of the charity that really attracted me. They were so aligned with my own personal values that I knew it was the place for me.
What challenges have you faced running a charity during the Covid pandemic?
The obvious challenges have been around how to continue to deliver outstanding patient and family care and support, income generation and keeping our team of staff and volunteers motivated and feeling valued in such turbulent and uncertain times.
Our clinical care teams have had to adapt the way many of our care services have been delivered, but in all cases have worked hard and flexibly to keep all the care and support services open and, importantly, to ensure that we can continue to allow visitors to see their loved ones. I’m honoured by the trust that people put in us to keep them safe.
At the time of the first lockdown, all of our face-to-face income generation activities had to be cancelled; events called off and our shops closed which created a huge gap in our finances. But the team took stock and pivoted into new ways of raising funds. I have been amazed by their creativity. Income generation is still very challenging and we expect to see the effect for the next few years as businesses and individuals have less disposable income. We’re so grateful for all the support we receive.
What was it like starting as CEO during the middle of lockdown?
I still haven’t been able to meet face-to-face with many of our staff and volunteers and we’ve had to build relationships and trust virtually. I’ve tried to find other ways to connect, but nothing replaces just popping in for a cuppa and a chat.
Keeping staff and volunteers informed and involved has been a real challenge. It’s important that they know they are valued and stay motivated throughout very difficult times. We’ve had to develop new ways to engage with people. We try to talk openly and honestly about the requirements and changes and make decisions as quickly as possible.
How can we help you raise money when your fundraising events are cancelled?
The best way to support us now is to sign up for Regular Giving. It shows your support now and helps us secure our future, too. Regular gifts help us plan ahead. We also run a Lottery, so people can sign up to play that and be in with the chance of winning up to £10,000. You can join one of our fun virtual events, which have been very successful. We always need good quality items donated for our shops, we can sell online if the bricks-and-mortar shops are closed. And please shop in our stores, including online with eBay and Depop.
And how can we get involved with St Oswald’s Hospice?
Volunteering! Like many charities, St Oswald’s Hospice was started by volunteers and is still able to function today because of our wonderful, small army of volunteers. Volunteers help in all aspects of hospice life, from direct patient care to fundraising and volunteering in our shops. If anyone reading this has a spare, regular few hours each week or so and they’d like to do something meaningful with it, we’d love to hear from them.
What’s next for you?
I feel like I’ve only been at St Oswald’s Hospice for five minutes, (it’s been 20 months!) and I love it here, so I’m not looking for another role. Especially not as I’m now also a Non-Executive Director at The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. However, I want to achieve a lot in this role. There are around 320 patients every day in the UK who need palliative care and don’t get it. I want to ensure that everyone in our region has access to good quality palliative and end-of-life care.
I particularly want to see equitable access across our services, regardless of background. We know that bereavement and loss have a huge impact on people’s physical and mental wellbeing and I want to get adequate funding for bereavement support across our area.
I’m passionate about the development of leaders and want to do more to support people to become the kind of leaders we need now and in the future. I also want to help to reduce inequalities in the North East. I know that I have a platform and a voice and want to use that to improve the life experiences of others.
If you want to donate or get involved with St Oswald’s Hospice visit their website