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Exclusive: NHS boards unlikely to achieve gender balance by 2020 deadline

Exclusive: NHS boards unlikely to achieve gender balance by 2020 deadline
By Valeria Fiore Reporter
22 March 2019

The NHS looks likely to miss its gender equality target of 50% of women on boards by next year, new figures reveal.

NHS Digital data shared exclusively with Healthcare Leader reveals that while the NHS has been making progress towards meeting the target for 50% of women on its boards by 2020, movement has been slow.

It now looks likely that the target will not be met as little progress has been made in the last few years.

Key findings

As of November 2018, 45% of chief executives in NHS trusts, CCGs, support organisations and central bodies were women and 55% were men.

The figure represents an increase of just one percentage point on 2017 figures and a three percentage point increase since 2016, when the target was introduced.

NHS Digital figures showed that the percentage of very senior female managers has also risen slowly since the target was introduced. The figure stood at 46% in 2015 and 2016, increasing by one percentage point to 47% in 2017 and remaining at that level in 2018.

However, while the objective of having 50% of women across boards by 2020 looks unlikely to be reached, NHS Improvement and NHS Employers has also defined gender parity on boards as having a split between the sexes of between 45% and 55% –  an objective that is in many instances being met.

It looks less likely, however, that the NHS will be able to reach even 45% women on boards across chair and non-executive director posts, which remain widely male-dominated, as the NHS Digital data shows.

As of November 2018, 39% of chair and non-executive director posts across CCGs, NHS trusts, support organisations and central bodies were women, compared to 61% men.

While this is an improvement on the 2017 figure of 37%, it represents only a minor increase when compared to the 2016 percentage of 38%.

‘We need to see greater diversity’

NHS Digital data published earlier this month found that, while 77% of the overall NHS workforce is female, representation at board level does not reflect this.

In 2016, the then NHS Improvement chair Ed Smith accepted the challenge for the NHS to have 50% of women on its boards by 2020.

A year later, a joint report by NHS Employers and NHS Improvement, NHS Women on Boards 50:50 by 2020, made a number of recommendations to NHS leaders to help them achieve the target of having half of board level posts occupied by women by that date.

NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer told Healthcare Leader: ‘Addressing and progressing the issues highlighted by the NHS Women on Boards: 50:50 by 2020 report should be a priority for our boards.

‘The key to this is facing up to the reality of what has not changed since the report, and taking action to improve recruitment of women to non-executive, medical director and finance director roles.’

Men as Allies, a report published earlier this month by the Health and Care Women Leaders Network, suggested that men in the health service should support the career progression of their female colleagues and that national NHS bodies should also be asked what action they are taking to change mindsets.

Health and Care Women Leaders Network chair Sam Allen said: ‘Some 77% of the NHS workforce are women, and yet for some senior roles [chair and non-executive director posts] less than 40% are women and even fewer of those in senior roles are BAME.

‘We need to see greater diversity represented in our senior leadership roles across the NHS.’

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