Beryl De Souza, honorary secretary at the Medical Women’s Foundation, reflects on a recent conference hosted by the foundation which focused on building resilient leaders.

Professor Amanda Howe, vice chair of the Royal College of GPs and president elect of WONCA, in a talk entitled ‘Why resilience matters to medical wellbeing’, defined ‘resilience’ as ‘the ability to maintain a healthy trajectory in spite of adverse events and conditions. She defined leaders as ‘those who use their role, skills, resources and personal influence to make a difference’.

She explained why we need female leaders in medicine to provide role models, equity and a new style of leadership in addition to attributes which are not gender specific. Women in the medical workforce have specific vulnerabilities such as dual care responsibilities, lack of network opportunities, part-time working, inequity in promotions and hostility to successful women.

 She provided her top tips for resilience (5Cs and an M):

  • Confidence
  • Coordination (ie planning ahead, strengthen supportive relationships)
  • Control (exert influence)
  • Composure (manage negative emotions)
  • Commitment (persistence)
  • The ability to make adversity meaningful

She said that resilience has to be worked at and it is important to keep refreshing and revisiting your visions and values, to know yourself and recognise the time to speak up about issues and when to take a break.

Vijaya Nath, director of Leadership Development at the King’s Fund, also spoke at the conference. She talked about ‘Top Tips for becoming a resilient leader and why healthcare needs women at the top’. She said that resilience is ‘the ability to succeed, live and thrive despite stress and adversity’ and the key to this is self-belief – something that women sometimes lack.

 Her top tips were:

  • be proactive and know yourself
  • be curious, seek feedback, keep up to date
  • be trustworthy, confident and competent
  • take risks (but not with your virtual footprint – have you checked yours?)
  • learn from leaders in other settings

Ms Nath suggested imagining your 80th birthday – who would you want to be there and what are they saying about you?

These two keynote talks exemplified ways that women can work towards increasing their resilience and more importantly that this can be learnt. In the current climate of changes and economic constraints in the NHS, instilling resilience in staff is very much needed. This will need a variety of experiences including training, mentoring and “stretch” roles to increase resilience and confidence and thereby preparing not just women but men as well to succeed in leadership positions.

Beryl De Souza is honorary secretary at the Medical Women’s Foundation