G15 Ethnicity in Housing Awards: Words from our Winner - Ohenewaa Adu Akyeampong

At this years’ G15 Ethnicity in Housing Awards that took place on 25 May 2022, Southern Housing’s Ohenewaa Adu‑Akyeampong​​​​ walked away with Early Housing Career Award. We caught up with her after the ceremony to see how she was feeling.

Congratulations on your award. How did it feel to hear your name read out as the winner?

“When I see people win awards and they act so surprised and do all the gasping, I always thought, 'stop being dramatic!' But when I heard that the winner was me, I started doing all of those mannerisms!

I was so grateful to be seen and so grateful to be acknowledged. On the private side of the legal sector, I don’t think you get these sort of opportunities or recognition as an ethnic minority. So it was an amazing feeling.”

Can you tell us a little bit about the work you do at Southern Housing?

“I am a trainee solicitor for our in-house legal team and I started my two year training contract in November 2021. Before this, I worked as a Senior Paralegal at the Crown Prosecution Service doing criminal law.

My team obviously focuses mostly on property law and we have two departments, property transactions and property litigation. The transactional team covers commercial and contracts, auctions, disposals and shared ownership. The litigation team covers issues like disrepair and anti-social behaviour. I have spent time in both teams during my training. In my third seat, I discovered that I really wanted to be a transactional lawyer, my team has been so supportive in allowing me to finish my contract in the seat that I wanted to.

My training contract has genuinely been the most amazing experience which has given me an incredible opportunity to develop. I have learnt so much. I have a wonderful, diverse and warm team. For the first time in my career, I’m am working in an environment where people are kind and everyone is approachable. Everyone is working toward the goal of supporting residents. I never thought I would do property law, but I really feel like I have found a role that fulfils me. It really has become my dream job.”

In your nomination, you were described as being truly passionate about supporting your local community. Where does this passion come from?

“It comes from the people who have supported me. Growing up, I was told “be careful, because you are black and a woman, it will be so much harder for you.” If I had allowed that fear mongering to get to me, I would have hesitated to step up to amazing opportunities. I found that despite this fear mongering, when I put myself forward for opportunities, I have been met with incredible support form people of all different backgrounds.

Having these experiences throughout my career, where people invest in, and support you, has had a huge impact. Because of this investment from people, I have not wanted this investment from others to go to waste, so I am always trying to give back. This is where my passion for supporting others comes from."

Is there a particular colleague that has supported you in your career, and what did their support mean to you?

"Yes, Sharon, who was a Coordinator in our team but has moved to another team. I remember when I first joined Southern, I was very sacred and unsure. I used to go to her desk and just chat with her. Sharon was like a therapist and a mother figure, she would always tell me not to worry and that I would be fine. That support in the first few months was really important. It meant a lot that she would always take the time to pause and engage with me, even when she was really busy, I’m really grateful. The rest of my team has also been incredibly supportive and I have five or six amazing colleagues I can go to for support."

What do you think are the most critical things organisations and colleagues can be doing to include and support minority ethnic colleagues?

"I think not being afraid to have challenging, but supportive, conversations in a fear of being racist. I have really valued the tough feedback from colleagues when I know their heart is behind it and they want to support me and I have grown so much from this. It has been really important to me to know that my whole team is in it together and we can have tough conversations when necessary. Being in a supportive environment like this really allows me to be myself. I know that I get the same feedback and the same opportunities as everyone else.

What would be your message to anyone thinking of nominating a colleague for next year's awards?

"Sometimes we take for granted the people who do so much in their community. We also take for granted the power of a ‘thank you.’

I was saying thank you to all the people who had invested in me by doing all the additional community work that I do. This award has shown that my colleagues recognise and appreciated the work that I am doing. I didn’t realise that I needed that 'thank you', but it really has been both healing an encouraging. It has made me feel seen, I’m really grateful."

Finally, where is your award being displayed?

I have a tiny, tiny home desk and I have placed it on the corner. Its in the living room and its on display. Hopefully when I move out of home, I will have a proper display for it.