A long time ago (but should have been longer) I worked in a casino; I was just 18 years old and was filling time before I started my nurse training. I can recall so clearly the night when my female manager pulled me to one side and asked me to start wearing make up for work as it was important that the ‘girls’ looked like ‘girls’… Being only 18 I didn’t ask the obvious question which was, are the ‘boys’ being asked to wear make up too? Needless to say I left the organisation Shorty after.
What made me think of this was having recently attended The Kings Fund Women Leaders Conference. Even though I know there is a shortage of women in senior leadership positions in the NHS, the statistics given still took me by surprise. Why I felt surprised I can’t say, I suppose it’s down to the fact its 2013! However I shouldn’t be surprised as I am one of those women who find the current challenges faced by women leaders unnecessary and frustrating. Who am I? I am a strong yet soft woman; I am resilient and courageous with buckets of passion, I have values that are aligned perfectly to the NHS. Have I got the job yet?
I am also a mummy, a partner and a daughter. This is where I struggle… I struggle to understand why I can’t have it all. A friend recently tweeted me to say she felt that as women we can’t have children and a career, we can have a job though (so that’s nice to know). I don’t know if you heard but the NHS is going through unprecedented changes and needs a new kind of leader, apparently a younger, dynamic, take on the world leader – herewith I apply!
If we need this new breed of leader then surely we need to adapt its environment in order for it to flourish? I’m currently reading ‘I am Malala’ the story of the school girl who got shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out for young women and who fight’s for her’s and others right to education, she is one of my heroines. This has really inspired me to have the courage to speak out for my right to be a mum and a senior leader within the NHS.
So why does it matter? So what if there are not many women in senior leadership positions in the NHS. Well it does matter, gender diversity is essential. We talk in the NHS frequently about doing things differently, more for less, efficiency, embracing change and being inclusive. Well I personally don’t believe we can achieve all these things with the same leadership we have had for the last decade. We need an equal mix of leaders and I believe both men and women bring different attributes that are relevant and will offer difference. Our patients and service users are equal in gender and we need to be able to represent them at every level and we currently don’t.
I could talk about barriers and why we don’t have a fair and diverse senior leadership in the NHS to which there are quite a few, I also don’t claim to know or understand all of them.
As a mum and as an aspirant leader I juggle constantly my own issues regarding being a working mum, what I ask is that of a flexible work environment that will enable me to develop and be the best I can. So here it is my public plea, to all senior leaders in the NHS, don’t focus on input, focus on the output. Do all roles need to be at a desk 9-5? And what if I work 4 days and not 5, do I do my job well? With passion? Do I inspire? Do I remember the patient in everything I do? Do I make those deadlines? Yes! Yes! Yes!
I am currently a trainee on the fantastic graduate management training scheme, a highly sought after scheme, a scheme that’s internationally recognised for producing excellent senior leaders of the NHS – current CEO NHS England and also the future one (by the way did I mention there has never been a CEO of the NHS that’s female). I love the scheme, yet I ask myself what more it could do to attract young women who have families, its full time, with a Masters (currently) alongside quite a few nights away. We are the future leaders, and I wonder if we always give out the right message in the NHS that its ok to be both mum and NHS leader and if we don’t get it right now how far we will go to achieve representation of women on our boards and in our senior positions now and in the future?
As a young mum I don’t want to have to make a choice between my children and my career, I believe most women feel compromised to make a decision, part time executive, board roles barely exist, working full time is part of the territory, late night and early morning meetings that don’t offer the room to drop our children off at schools.
Of course these senior positions are about getting the right person for the role, be it male, female, black, or white, but we need to ensure that there is a fair representation of these groups reaching the position where they can apply. Of all you families out there, just a question for you – how many of the mums work part time? How many dads work full time? Of course some of this is choice, but it’s not all, some positions are not optional for flexible working, part time and job sharing.
My vision: Imagine an NHS where women could be women and don’t have to be masculine, tough and strong to reach senior positions, where women could talk about their children, take time off on sports day and demonstrate what compassion and care actually is. By their very nature women are often great at these so called ‘soft skills’ but what is actually soft about showing emotional intelligence, it’s about putting that that human factor into leadership after all that’s what the NHS is about isn’t it?
So in my first line I say – it should have been longer, what I mean is this behaviour should have been from the dark ages, not 16 years ago, and inflexibility and an under represented female senior workforce should not be 2013, we need to catch up and start making it ok to be a mum and lead in our NHS