The future for women leaders in the NHS

Emma Clayton: Emma Clayton, Managing Director, Grey Bear Consultancy, tells all about Women in Healthcare and how the future is shaping up for women leaders in the NHS?

Emma Clayton, Managing Director, Grey Bear Consultancy, tells all about Women in Healthcare and how the future is shaping up for women leaders in the NHS.

Sharing inspirational stores and supporting each other to achieve their full potential – it’s a simple ethos but one that has chimed with the more than 9000 members of the Women in Healthcare online community.

The initiative, which was launched in November, has been extremely well received by the NHS’s army of female workers, as well as their male allies.

In little under a year, it has built a bustling Twitter community and a website bursting with support, stories and resources. But the team behind the success aren’t about to rest on their laurels, because there is much more to be done.

“Many women tell me that they have at least a degree of imposter syndrome – they don’t always put themselves forward for leadership positions”

In the beginning

According to NHS Employers, while 77% of the NHS workforce are women, just 45% work at senior management level. And in 2015, a report from the Health Service Journal found that just 36% of chief executives, 26% of finance directors and 24% of medical directors were female.

We must ask ourselves why this huge pool of talent remains untapped as the health service strives to deliver integrated, quality care to a rich and diverse society. Many women tell me that they have at least a degree of imposter syndrome – they don’t always put themselves forward for leadership positions as they feel they do not have the right aptitudes. What’s more, some feel their family commitments may exclude them from taking on leadership roles.

Women in Healthcare challenges these self-imposed limits by giving people a place to inspire one another to put these concerns to one side. We also campaign for improved flexible working so that the rich talents of NHS workers aren’t lost to archaic structures.

It was clear from the start that this was something that resonated. Within one month of launching, the UK Women in Healthcare Twitter profile had more than 3000 followers and lively, supportive conversations were taking place that can see Tweet impressions of up to 583,000 per tweet and thousands of mentions and engagements. We are most proud that many of the senior female leaders of the NHS engage with us including CCG leads, STP Directors, Royal Society groups and NHSE and NHSX Directors.

The story so far

A cornerstone of the website is the regular ‘Interview with a Leader’ series that we host. In these articles, women with senior health and social care positions share their own experiences, offering tips on getting into leadership and striking a healthy work/life balance.

Caroline Dinenage, Minister of State for Care, was the very first interviewee, helping us to launch the network. Since then the website has featured female role models from across the sector.

Karen Middleton, Chief Executive of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, and Professor Alison Leary, Chair of Healthcare and Workforce Modelling at London South Bank University, are among those who have shared their stories and advice.
We have also run awareness campaigns to get people talking about the importance of accurate representation. During the #ShowUsYourBoard campaign, for example, NHS workers were asked to celebrate diversity in leadership by sharing photos of the team at the top of their trust.

On International Women’s Day earlier this year, I was invited to give a talk about the network at the North East London NHS Foundation Trust and was blown away by the positive feedback from the room.

Of course, it’s not all been plain sailing and we have had challenges. The group initially set up under the guise of NHS Women but we were advised to change our name as only official NHS organisations can include the NHS brand name. Supported by the Department of Health and Social Care we rebranded with a swift change of name and a subsequent overhaul of our website. Importantly we have continued to grow and host many more discussions.

The next steps for the initiative include expanding our remit to offer face-to-face networking, training events and mentorship programmes.

The ambition is to establish a multi-disciplinary faculty to act as a steering group and drive the project forward. We are also hoping to secure backing from other groups or organisations that support its aims.

Changing the conversation

Ultimately, Women in Healthcare aims to provide the tools people need to tackle the under-representation of females in NHS leadership.

Building the health service of the future relies on making sure we have as much talent, opinion and experience around the table as possible. Women are pivotal to that journey, yet their desperately needed skills are largely absent from board rooms up and down the country.

It’s time for that to change. And the success of Women in Healthcare so far has proved that we can all be the change we want to see.

Go to www.womeninhealth.org or follow @UKWomenInHealth on Twitter.


Some notes of inspiration from our Women in Healthcare

“It’s not always about working harder, just working smarter. Know yourself, have confidence in your abilities, and be kind to yourself.”

Karen Bonner, Divisional Director of Nursing at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

“Learn what drives you and motivates you. Then learn the same about others in your team…if something doesn’t go your way then try again, don’t stop until you’ve achieved your goal. Remember it’s so much better to ask for help then have it forced upon you.”

Rachel Moses, Respiratory Lead at St Georges Hospital

“My advice is do what’s right for you, and if what’s right for you doesn’t please others, that’s their issue… Find people you trust. Find people who help you. The two don’t always overlap but sometimes they do.”

Alison Leary, Chair of Healthcare and Workforce Modelling at London South Bank University

“Do not assume that someone else is better placed, better qualified, better liked (or) better connected than you. Your perspective and skill set is unique to you and if there is something that you can offer, we will all benefit from you putting yourself forward.”

Cat Roberts, Training Programme Director for GP VTS, and Clinical Lead GP for First5 for Coventry and Warwickshire STP