Steph Edusei, CEO of St Oswald’s Hospice in Newcastle, tells us about overcoming impostor syndrome, allyship and innovation.

Steph Edusei joined St Oswald's Hospice in May last year, after spending 18 years at the NHS in a variety of roles, including setting up Northumberland CCG and becoming their strategic head of corporate affairs. But she almost didn't apply because she was convinced she wouldn't be successful.

"I thought they wouldn't appoint me because it's such a big organisation with such a fantastic reputation” she says.  Then I had a good word with myself - I'd managed more staff and bigger budgets in the NHS, so I went for it, and I'm so glad I did. I could have easily let my inner voice stop me from applying."

This negative inner voice is typical of impostor syndrome, something she's spoken to many women about in her other role as a leadership coach. "There's something that happens to many girls in the tweenage that makes them start to doubt themselves" she says. "Men experience this too of course, but due to completely different pressures. There's this belief that you have to be the perfect employee, the perfect boss, the perfect partner, parent, and daughter. We have to do everything really well because if not people will blame the fact that we're women, and this really pushes us towards burnout and mental ill health."

Noticing this inner voice is key to managing impostor syndrome, she says. "We spend most of our lives listening to what it’s telling us without realising it. One of the first things I did when I noticed it was ask why it was telling me all this stuff when actually I was getting really positive feedback from everybody else. Two really good starting points are to notice how often it happens, and then to stack up what it's saying against all the actual evidence."

The power of innovation

Her catchphrase is "if it's safe, legal, and won't break the bank give it a try", which has caught on at the hospice. Joining during the first wave of the pandemic, her main priority was ensuring staff, volunteers and service users were safe, but next was thinking about the future. "We don't want to be scraping over the line with our budget every year and putting huge pressure on income generation. We want to be innovative, and capitalise on some of the digital stuff out there. It doesn't have to be perfect - if you've got an idea try it, and if it works fantastic, if it doesn't we'll learn from it. It's a big change in our culture but it's really been taken on board by our senior teams."

Starting mid-pandemic has been frustrating as there are still staff members she hasn't met due to Covid restrictions, but there have also been many highlights. "There's been some real creativity from our income generation team. They've created new specialist shops like an upcycling shop and a vintage shop, the way we present stuff online has completely transformed, and we've had virtual fundraising events.  We did Light up a Life virtually and that was a real highlight for me because I got a sense of what the hospice was like previously. We reached many more people than we would have done in the normal way.

"Our biggest achievement, if I look back to April, is whether we would still have the lights on. And we have, and we're doing well - that's been a massive accomplishment."

Challenging and questioning

The other impact of the pandemic has been highlighting the inequalities that exist in healthcare and in society generally. Does she think this will lead to positive change? "That's a really hard one. I fear that things will go back to the way they were, a bit like muscle memory. What I think can change is that we start to speak out, and I love the theme for this year's International Women's Day, "choose to challenge", because it's about people choosing to be brave enough to speak out, to challenge and to question."

"I think the thing that's emerged over the last 12 months is allyship, and we need to develop that and get people to understand what it actually means to be an ally, whether it's on gender issues, discrimination based on ethnicity, disability or whatever. It's really important that we talk more about this because even today, if a middle aged white man is talking about an issue that affects me to their peer group, his voice has more authority than mine."

Within the hospice sector, they must proactively reach out into the community to find where the need is. "There are barriers, and a lot of it is down to the perception of hospices. If I went to our local Asian community for example they probably wouldn't know what a hospice was. So many of us have got the word "saint" in our name, so people immediately think we're a Christian organisation.

"We need to go to people and talk to them about end of life, death, dying and bereavement, and tell them how we can help. And we need to share the stories of how we have changed and adapted to meet their needs."