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The NHS needs more women in leadership roles

By Angela Sharda
20 August 2018

I come from a background of working in business journalism – an industry that is heavily male-dominated. During this time, I would spend a great deal of time speaking to traders for comment on stories relating to the commodity markets.

It would usually be the same type of trader – mid-30s to mid-40s and male. But, I never thought moving from business journalism to health journalism would mean I would encounter a lack of women in leadership roles.

In March last year, NHS Employers and NHS Improvement released the report NHS Women on Boards: 50:50 by 2020. Written by Professor Ruth Sealy of the University of Exeter Business School, it showed that the proportion of women on boards across trust was 42.6%, while it was 39.5% on CCG boards.

Given that 77% of the NHS’s workforce is female, the lack of women in senior roles is surprising and NHS boards in England need another 500 women. The overall number of women holding seats needs to increase from 2,500 to 3,000 between the publication of the report last year and the end of 2020 – that’s an additional 125 per year.

The medical director role is another area in which there is a lack of women in leadership roles. This position is associated with driving culture change and pushing governance and there is an extremely low percentage of women in these positions – just 24.6%.

There is still a long road ahead in terms of gender equality in senior leadership roles and these problems can’t be solved overnight. To succeed there are a number of things that need to be done and this change needs to come from the top.

The healthcare sector is known as a caring profession, for looking after those in need, but who will care for the workforce and help women climb the career ladder? There needs to be better support for women in the NHS, the gift of hope needs to be given to allow women to achieve their ambitions and most-importantly, there must to be a plan to help deliver these goals.

The support needs be there on a day-to-day basis, and to help women achieve a sustainable work-life balance. Women who have children and other commitments should not be penalised and feel that they are not able to progress in their careers because of these commitments. If anything, they should be encouraged and commended for juggling a family and career. These women are important to society and should be celebrated.

A report released by NHS Digital earlier this year demonstrated that women in the NHS are paid 23% less than men. The data showed that there is an evident gender pay gap of 15% with male doctors paid £67,788 in basic pay, compared to the £57,569 female doctors receive.

Forgive my ignorance, but I did think that hospitals would be places of equality; in regards to everything from the quality of care patients receive to the pay of the workforce. Clearly, I was wrong. But what does this mean for women who want to step into leadership roles but feel undervalued due to the gender pay gap?

There needs to be a better structure in place with transparency, support and development for women across the health sector. But most importantly, there should be a culture change. The change needs to come from the top and there is no doubt that this is something Matt Hancock needs to look at. Making sure that the workforce is treated fairly across the board is the right tactic for the NHS.

There is time for change and that time is now. We need a transformation of the NHS – a culture change in order to help women overcome barriers and aim higher. With the right resources in place, we truly can change the leadership scope of the healthcare sector.

I have always been one for, dare I say it – ‘girl power’ and standing up for what I truly believe in and something needs to change because there are intelligent, strong, capable and independent women in this sector who are ready to take the bull by the horn and transform the future of healthcare. Surely, the time has come for the NHS to aim for gender equality at the top.

Angela Sharda is deputy editor of Healthcare Leader.


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