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70 years of female leadership in the NHS

Posted by
04 Jul 2018
Earlier this year we celebrated 100 years since The 1918 Representation of the People Act giving women in the UK the right to vote, and this week we are about to celebrate 70 years since the birth of the NHS. It is important to remember that women have been at the heart of our NHS since its creation, but still are underrepresented in senior positions. However, this could be about to change as the NHS have announced their plans to ensure boards are 50/50 by 2020. 

Ensuring boards are representative
The increase in the number of females taking on senior positions is all part of the NHS’ commitment to increasing the number of women in leadership positions and embracing their target of achieving gender balanced boards by 2020. For a number of years the NHS has had a national policy that boards should be representative of the communities they serve. The belief is that 50/50 boards would greatly benefit the planning and provision of services, and it is encouraging to see some real progress being made in this area. There is increasing evidence that a diverse workforce where all staff contributions are valued and taken into account results in better patient care. By making boards fully representative we could help ensure stability and improve patient care further within the NHS. 

I believe the NHS needs a collaborative style of leadership that includes women at all levels in order to address the growing pressures it is currently facing, and I welcome this target in the hope that the initiatives in place will help the NHS achieve it within the proposed timescale. NHS Confederation Helen Birtwhistle, Director of External Affairs said the target will help to turn ‘’aspirations into action’’ and help improve female representation across all senior management teams through focused practical support such as mentoring, coaching and sponsorship. It is not acceptable, particularly since we currently have a predominantly female NHS workforce to allow gender imbalance to prevail. 

Hitting the target
The NHS Employers ‘Plan of Action for Women in Leadership’ report published in December 2015 highlighted several key challenges women currently face in the NHS including:

  • A distinct lack of relatable leadership styles and role models – a lack of female role models in senior NHS positions
  • A block in the NHS internal pipeline – many NHS staff struggling to climb the career ladder
  • Staff engagement – a lack of staff motivated to progress into senior leadership roles
  • Recruitment and retention strategies – current procedures may need reviewed to ensure the NHS are attracting the best possible candidates and are able to retain them in the current competitive market

In order to achieve their ambitious target, the NHS needs to adapt recruitment strategies to ensure they attract and are able to retain the best female candidates, both internally and externally. To accomplish this, current NHS leaders must support women looking to secure senior roles by listening to their individual needs and tailoring remuneration packages to suit. This may include adopting flexible working patterns, offering more robust maternity/paternity provisions and ensuring salaries are parallel to that of their male counterparts.

In my experience, women often have the skillsets required and the opportunity to move into senior roles but some feel uncomfortable putting themselves forward, and we need to do more to encourage women to speak up and be heard. If more honest conversations took place throughout the NHS about how people can develop themselves and their careers, I believe more women would realise they have got potential. I also agree with Helen Birtwhistle and would urge women to consider mentorships. For me the most valuable training and support comes from people I admire, and believe it is down to strong women to help nurture the future female leaders of tomorrow.

The NHS has a huge advantage over many organisations when it comes to gender diversity – it has a workforce which is 80 percent female and therefore has a huge pool of female talent it can nurture, which makes the 50/50 female representation target a very viable and a realistic one to hit. The NHS currently has a real chance of leading the way in the battle against gender inequality and they have the opportunity to surpass most organisations if they are prepared to adapt, and tailor roles in order to attract the right candidates. 
Please let me know what you think in the comments box below or alternatively If you are currently looking for a new role or need assistance with your recruitment needs, please give me a call on 01332 542 580.  
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