The People Manager
All posts from: August 2010
Apparently the NHS isn’t sexist. The fact that fewer than 30 per cent of consultants are women when they make up two thirds of doctors doesn’t indicate prejudice or discrimination. Women simply don’t put themselves forward for these posts.
Worryingly, this comment is from the BMA’s equality and diversity chair. This justification is not just spouted in the NHS but throughout the public sector. Those responsible for recruitment to senior posts claim they would like to appoint more women but they simply don’t apply. It would appear these days no one is saying women can’t do the top jobs - just that they don’t want to do these jobs. Is this complacency acceptable? Wouldn’t you expect that organisations would want to know why capable competent and experienced women were not applying for these jobs?
In a typical public sector organisation, women make up 80% of the workforce but only 20% of senior managers are women. In my own small survey of 50 women managers in a large local authority, women stated that they rarely came across overt discrimination. The women in the survey gave a number of reason why they were not seeking the top jobs. These included the long hours culture which did not fit with their family commitments, the perceived macho management style of senior management which they did not feel comfortable with and a tendency to undervalue their skills. Occasionally they referred to a “boys” culture where meetings started with a discussion of the weekend’s football results, but no one stated that their career opportunities had been restricted by overt discrimination or prejudice.
Here we are struggling to meet some of the biggest challenges we have faced in generations and we are content to waste 50% of our most talented people because they are not prepared to fit in with the way we have traditionally operated.
If the NHS wants to make the most of the talent it has then it needs to convince individuals their skills are valued - for example by showing it is serious about job shares for top jobs. Organisations need to judge people by what they deliver, not make assumptions about “commitment”. They need to spot those with talent who inspire their staff and show leadership skills and encourage them to aspire to the top jobs. Most of all, organisations need to recognise they are wasting talent and they need to do something about it.
I once worked for someone who never took a holiday. He would have a few days off at Christmas. but in the years I worked for him he didn’t take a summer holiday. One year at his wife’s insistence he joined her and their youngest son for a break. He was supposed to be on holiday for two weeks but he didn’t last the first week. He returned to the office saying holidays were “boring”. I don’t know what he told his wife.
Every day he was away he rang the office to check everything was alright. He said we should ring him if there were any problems. He would start the conversation with “have you been trying to get hold of me?” I hadn’t nor had anyone else. He seemed genuinely disappointed when everyone he spoke to said everything was fine. He would prolong the conversation with lots of specific questions about where the rest of the team was and what they were doing and had any of the board members or chief executive been around.
Some managers are afraid to go on holiday or be away from the office for any length of time - they think decisions will be made in their absence about their department and their future.
My boss was one of these managers. He didn’t trust his colleagues. He knew whispering campaigns could be started against people in their absence. He also knew that if he was out of the way, other departments could use the opportunity to influence budget discussions to the disadvantage of his department. It is, after all, easier to see examples of overstaffing, top heavy management structures and outdated working practices in other departments.
This is just an example of some of the worst aspects of office politics at a senior level, but in the current public sector financial climate many managers will be sweating on the beach over their future and the future of their departments. Whilst back in the office ideas are being floated about management restructurings, service reorganisations and radical solutions.