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Empathetic Allyship: An Interview with CIO James Rawlinson


James Rawlinson
Director of Health Informatics
The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust

by Bernie Clarke

21 March 2024

James Rawlinson, Director of Health Informatics at The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust, has had a long career spanning nearly 30 years in the NHS. When asked to reflect on the highlights, he shared how he started as an IT support technician in Wakefield before moving around various health organisations in West Yorkshire. Some key moments included helping open the first purpose-built hospital with digital x-ray imaging in Halifax in 2001 and serving as Associate Director of IM&T at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust.

Eight years ago, James took on his current role at Rotherham. He also serves as the Chair of the Northern and Yorkshire Directors of Informatics Forum, a group that has been around for over 35 years, as well as the provider CIO lead for the South Yorkshire Bassetlaw Integrated Care System.

With such an extensive career, James has worked with people from all backgrounds and levels across the health service. When asked about what allyship means to him, he explained:

“Allyship is about recognising and seeing the need to speak on behalf of others who may or for whatever reason, might not have a voice in the room or voice in the sphere...We're all very, very different. We've come from different places and different backgrounds and different histories.”

He went on to share how allyship involves “being aware and sensitive to others who might just want a bit of support and a bit of an ally in a room or space.”


On Calling Out Poor Behaviour


When asked if he has ever had to call out poor behaviour, James reflected on project meetings and committees with people who are naturally forthright.. He explained that “sometimes my job is to help [staff] see the points of view” without resorting to dictation. He emphasised the need to “be really sensitive to” how we communicate, especially with the public.


On Demonstrating Allyship


One example James gave of demonstrating allyship related to extended maternity breaks. He shared an occasion when others were subliminally critical of women taking a ‘lot of time off’ to care for children. In response, he talked about only having three days off himself when his son was born 22 years prior and how terrible that was for his wife and family. He told the critics that new mothers absolutely deserve that time off.

Another demonstration of allyship James discussed involves bringing quieter voices into important conversations:

"I'll try and bring in people who might have different views and viewpoints, particularly to my own...I'm super conscious as I get older and grumpier - my mindset, I'm sure it does become more cynical. I do think as I get older, I probably need to do more of that actually and get other people's views."


Advice to Other Allies


When asked what advice he would give to other male allies, James focused on the importance of empathy:

“I'm really strong on empathic leadership - it’s not just paying lip service, you know, put yourself in people's boots and shoes...If people are not necessarily acting or behaving in a way that you would necessarily think is correct, then just spend a micro bit of time, put yourself in their boots or shoes or slippers or whatever it is to try and understand where, what, why they might be coming from."

By leading with empathy and curiosity, James believes male allies can better support underrepresented groups without immediately passing judgment. This thoughtfulness has clearly guided him throughout his long career working across the NHS.

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