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Chi Onwurah was born in Wallsend and raised in Kenton and is deeply rooted in the vibrant city of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

Her educational journey began at Kenton School, where she studied Electrical Engineering in London, shaping the foundations of her career.

Her family history is a tapestry of resilience. Her maternal grandfather toiled in the shipyards of the Tyne during the Depression, while her mother, raised in poverty on the quayside, married her Nigerian father.

Early life took her to Nigeria, but the Biafran Civil War forced a return to Newcastle as refugees, leaving an indelible mark on her perspective.

Upon her return education was her beacon, thanks to a comprehensive, free and inspiring system.

From Hillsview to Kenton Comprehensive, she absorbed the ethos of learning and inclusivity. Her diverse experiences culminated in an engineering career that spanned hardware, software and strategy across the globe, with a significant role as the head of Telecoms Technology for Ofcom.

Her commitment to social justice and advocacy started early, campaigning against the Federation of Conservative Students and later in the Anti-Apartheid Movement.

Engaged in various national executive roles, she witnessed the power of grassroots movements.

Believing in the transformative power of education, she served on the Advisory Board of the Open University Business School.

Now, as Labour's representative for Newcastle (Central), she strives to ensure that every child has the opportunity she was fortunate to receive—a chance to learn, grow and contribute to this democratic society.

Chi claims that her life journey, deeply rooted in Newcastle, fuels her dedication to building a future where everyone's voice is heard.

All information and links were correct at the date of original publication on
16 Feb 2024

Throughout your journey as a woman of colour in business, leadership and politics, what strategies and skills did she find most effective in overcoming obstacles and achieving success?

As an MP, I often say that Parliament is the most diverse working environment I’ve ever been in. That surprises people – until I say I worked as an engineer for two decades before!

Those who aren’t in a minority often underestimate just how tiring, disabling and disempowering it can be to be “the only one”.

I had to work hard to recognise and overcome these obstacles. I had to learn to put myself forward despite the lack of diversity of people or thought.

It was important for me to recognise that no matter how many people were in the room, my voice and my views matter. That was true in engineering, and even more true in politics.

So much that concerns people’s lives in this country happens in politics, making it vital that we all have a say – as they sing in Hamilton, you have to be in ‘The Room Where it Happens’.

In traditionally male-dominated industries, women often face unique challenges. What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders who encounter such barriers and how can they navigate and overcome them?

As an MP, I have sought to champion technology and how it can make all our lives better.  But unfortunately, the sector remains the preserve of a narrow demographic. Just 3% of females say that a career in tech is their first choice.

Since I was a child I thought representing Newcastle would be the best job in the world, but I didn’t know how to “become an MP” and like a lot of women, I assumed that if I would have been a good MP someone would have pointed at me in a crowd and said – “you should do it, you’ll be great.” Which of course is impossible!.

In every profession you’ve got to put yourself out there, always ask questions and raise the issues that are on your mind.

Do not be deterred by perceptions of who is most qualified. It is vital to realise that your voice and your opinions are important, and your skills hold value.

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Diversity, Equity and inclusion (DE&I) are essential for creating thriving corporate environments. What are the key benefits and positive outcomes of empowering women to take on senior leadership roles within their sectors?

Diversity is not a nice-to-have tick box. It is an economic necessity.

Without diversity, innovation is stifled, and valuable talent is excluded from the workforce.

Empowering women to take on senior leadership roles is therefore essential for a thriving workforce and making sure that women’s voices are heard.

Think about the technology we could have had – we could be enjoying now – if STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) represented humanity instead of a narrow subsection of it.

The people who design our world should understand the full range of our experiences and the needs of us all. 

If women are not empowered to be leaders, there will not be diversity by design and there will inevitably be inequality by outcome.

Regarding small and medium enterprises (SME), companies with the most gender-diverse executive teams are 25% more likely to have above-average profitability than those with the least diverse teams.

Companies where more than 3 in 10 of their executives are women are more likely to outperform companies than those with fewer women executives.

Please share some examples of how you continue to empower women in your political realm.

It is hugely important that more young women get involved in politics to ensure that women are fairly represented in politics and decision-making.

In the UK we have got to make the political environment work for women and they should be speaking up and looking to others who are established in politics to help them do that.

Labour has worked to promote equal representation at all levels of government.

Labour has a strong history of using All Women’s Shortlists to increase women’s representation in Parliament and now has more female MPs than any other party.

The three parties with the largest vote shares in Westminster have a women’s network, and there are a range of other support groups that women can be a part of. 

Labour’s Jo Cox Women in Leadership programme is a personal and political development programme for passionate women members who continue Joe’s fight in parliament, local government, and communities.

There is also the Labour Women’s Network (LWN) which exists to mentor and empower Labour women seeking selection for all levels of public life. LWN offers gold-standard training, which has a great reputation and many success stories.

I am delighted that my office is participating in the Aziz Foundation programme, which offers parliamentary internships to British Muslims.

I am also acting as a mentor in the Bernie Grant Leadership Programme, which aims to increase the number of Black representatives in The Labour Party.

We take great pride in extending these opportunities to everyone, as we deeply value inclusivity.

As a trailblazer and role model, what message would you like to convey to the next generation of women of colour aspiring to achieve success in business and leadership?

You can do it.  And what’s more the world needs you to do it! 

Don’t wait until you feel you are ‘ready’, and the timing is perfect because that may never happen.

As Maya Angelou said, "If you're always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

And to quote another feminist trailblazer Harriet Harman, ‘don’t stand around waiting to be popular. Women who fight for equality are labelled awkward, aggressive or abnormal. But women sticking their neck out for change will always have the support of millions of women who, like us, rail against unfairness and the discrimination they all face in their own lives.’

We're sure you'll agree with all the points Chi makes and we thank her for taking the time to talk to us.

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