Blog: What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger

As part of Black History Month, Mary Folashade Onafalujo shares her personal journey, from arriving in the UK to being a national officer at UNISON

Head and shoulders portrait of Mary Onafalujo

I was born and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria.

My primary, secondary and higher education were in Nigeria. I moved to the United Kingdom in the early 90s with my late husband.

My career in the UK started by working for the local health authority, then Lambeth, Lewisham and Southward health authorities, and the Institute of Psychiatrists respectively between 1994 and 2001.

I joined UNISON in early 2004 as a senior secretary in Greater London Region.

As one of the Black staff members, I won’t say it’s been easy working for UNISON, there have been challenges, but I’ve had development opportunities and had loads of supportive managers who have mentored and aided my development in the organisation.

The union sponsored my master’s degree in industrial relations and human resources management, which I do not take for granted.

I currently work as a national officer in the business, community and environment department at UNISON Centre.

Without the support of my manager and other colleagues in my team, I would not have had the courage to apply. I got promoted during the pandemic. It was challenging to cope with the demands the job brings, but again my manager and colleagues have been supportive.

The reality is, as someone from a Black and minority ethnic background, one will be faced with assumptions and micro-aggressions, but we should not let it deter our progress.

They say what does not kill you makes you stronger. As an individual, rather than dwell on the negatives, I have used it to channel my energy into championing and promoting equal opportunity in the workplace.

I have developed a passion for equality and believe that no one should be treated unfairly, and institutions should demonstrate an inclusive and equitable culture.

As a result, I have worked with employers in showcasing the importance of equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, by developing and implementing a robust workplace strategy.