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.