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Five tips for aspiring women leaders in the NHS from ICB chief executives

Five tips for aspiring women leaders in the NHS from ICB chief executives
By Victoria Vaughan Editor
8 March 2024

On International Women’s Day chief executives of integrated care boards share their advice on becoming a leader in the NHS. Learn from Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland’s Dr Caroline Trevithick, Frimley’s Fiona Edwards, North East London’s Zina Etheridge and Gloucestershire’s Mary Hutton  

1. Find a mentor

Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland ICB chief executive Dr Caroline Trevithick says Don’t be afraid of looking for a champion. I’ve had some fantastic champions who supported me.

‘When I was feeling that it was too difficult to do, they were there to encourage me in that space and I was able to seek their counsel. One was the line manager, and then one was an unofficial mentor who was in a leadership role. Their support brought me other opportunities.’

Fiona Edwards, chief executive of Frimley ICB adds, ‘Seek out allies and colleagues for you to support and be supported by. Reach out to women in leadership positions and don’t be afraid to ask for support in the form of mentoring.’

2. Network

‘Be visible,’ says Dr Caroline Trevithick. ‘I think for an aspiring woman in the NHS it is about your visibility and building and sustaining those networks. You can’t have networks if people don’t know you. Putting yourself out there a little bit to start building those networks is critical.

‘If I reflect on my own personal experience, there was a time when I felt invisible. And so putting myself into that space, which was a bit scary and difficult but the benefits that it brought me in terms of experience networking, and, and opportunity showed it was the right thing to do.’

3. Be authentic

Zina Etheridge, chief executive of North East London ICB, says, ‘It is such a cliché, but it is about being authentically yourself. Because leadership roles and public services are really tough, particularly at the moment because everything is so complex, demand is so high, there’s no money, morale is low. You need a lot of resilience to be able to do it. And if you can’t draw that resilience from a really authentic place, it makes it even harder. If you’re constantly trying to act into something that you’re not, it’s very difficult to draw that resilience.’

4. Take opportunities

Mary Hutton, chief executive of Gloucestershire ICB, says take advantage of training opportunities, highlighting The King’s Fund, Top Manager programme. ‘For me, that was a key piece of learning. And that helped me to really understand the lines I draw, how to operate as a manager with integrity and look at ­ your drivers, what you are committed to? H­ow you can be committed to making change really happen as you go through your career.’

Dr Caroline Trevithick says: ‘Somebody once said to me, “don’t say no to an opportunity”. So no matter what it looks like, find the time and the energy and the effort to be able to do it, don’t say no.’

5. Use your transferable skills

Zina Etheridge urges aspiring women leaders not to shy away from drawing experience from other areas of life outside work. ‘I think women sometimes think it’s not legitimate to draw their leadership expertise from other areas of their life.  

‘I brought three children up by myself for quite a chunk of my time as a senior leader. And actually, I learned loads from doing that. The thing you learn as a single parent, is you can’t ever run out of answers and patience, and you can never afford to back yourself into a corner. You can’t run out of ideas and solutions, and actually, that’s quite a helpful lesson for leadership.’

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