Before anything else, it seems that women would just like a little corner of their working world where they feel safe to be themselves, rather than acting to fit in. In this context we made the right decision, says Jo Parris

I arrived at the launch of the HSJ Women Leaders network event last week with absolutely no idea what to expect from the evening.

I’d been informed upon invite that there would be tea available and also the possibility of being able to freely express my opinion without falling foul of any of the usual everyday “manterrupting”, “mansplaining”, or “bropropriation”.

‘The little feminist voice that lives in my head screamed: “Yeah! Smash the patriarchy!”’

I was absolutely delighted to discover that both of these things were true and, furthermore, that there was work to be done straight away.

Before attending the scheduled debate, I found myself unable to answer the question “should we let men be members of the network?” without first knowing the purpose and intention of the group.*

Good allies

Is the network the start of a movement to shift leadership culture and ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to become leaders?

Jo Parris

Jo Parris

The little feminist voice that lives in my head (the one that has been utterly ruining my enjoyment of seasonal pantomimes for some time now) screamed: “Yeah! Smash the patriarchy!”

As a member of the LGBTI community (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) I know that the importance of “straight” allies cannot be underestimated.

It’s all very well being able to express your opinions but it’s no use if you can’t get anyone else to listen to them. This is where good allies come in; they can use their position of privilege to provide a platform to amplify voices that aren’t ordinarily heard.

‘I fear that I may be trying to encourage us to run before we can walk’

With this reasoning, I entered the debate in favour of men joining the network. I met some great male allies during the launch who were perfectly adept at firstly listening to the opinions of those around them (a rare skill on all fronts really) and, second, were enthusiastic about finding ways to proliferate our messages more widely.

However, I fear that I may be trying to encourage us to run before we can walk. I may need to take a step back to revise my initial ideas about the purpose of the network.

Creating a ‘safe space’

Much more favoured by other members was simply the creation of a safe space in which to speak.

‘I feel that the right decision was made – for now – to not allow men as full members of the network’

A traditionally masculine working culture, “imposter syndrome” and unconscious bias all combine to create an environment that blocks thought diversity. Before anything else, it seems that women would just like a little corner of their working world where they feel safe to be themselves, rather than acting to fit in (which is, quite frankly, exhausting for all a/genders).

At this time and given this context, I feel that the right decision was made – for now – to not allow men as full members of the network.

This doesn’t mean:

  • we want to create an echo chamber;
  • we won’t need our valuable allies in some capacity; and
  • equate to “reverse sexism” because our messages won’t get very far without the appropriate channels of distribution.

But what we need for now is just a place where we first can have the confidence and are encouraged to speak. If we can nail that for starters, then maybe we will be heard.

Jo Parris is the programme manager for Best Possible Value, placing value for both patients and taxpayers at the heart of everything the NHS does. Find out more at www.futurefocusedfinance.nhs.uk

*The irony of debating the future inclusion of men in the network as the first item of business was not lost on anybody. Nonetheless, this topic was bound to keep rearing up unless we nipped it in the bud right away.