Last week, Deborah Lee wrote about how being a mentor can be a rewarding experience. This week her mentee Louise Jones shares her own perspective of supportive female role models

Much has been written and published about gender inequalities in relation to opportunity within healthcare. However, are the lack of opportunities and progression purely linked to gender?

Louise Jones

Louise Jones

Weighing up all of the experiences in my career over the past seven years, my overarching view would be no, probably not.

I am not suggesting that exactly equal numbers of males and females have been influential at every level in every organisation that I have worked for, or that equal numbers have been shortlisted for every interview in every situation (nor do I think this should be the case only to tick boxes).

‘Are the lack of opportunities purely linked to gender?’

However, my perception is that generally the best people for the job have the opportunities they need regardless of gender and my career progression will not be hindered by gender discrimination.

HSJ Women Leaders network

Of course, my own unique experiences have shaped this view, and the fact that in the NHS organisations that I have worked at it has never been difficult to find examples of exceptional female leadership at varying levels and representing a significant proportion of the senior and executive workforce.

This meant I have had ready access to successful, inspirational female role models who were more than willing to share their time and experiences to support my development in a formal or informal mentor capacity.

Graduate platform

At the start of my career, I was fortunate that the NHS graduate scheme provided a platform that encouraged mentorship and networking access to numerous - male and female - senior managers and executives across multiple sectors.

It was at this time that I met my first mentor, Deborah Lee, who was a commissioning director at the time and has mentored me since. This mentor/mentee affiliation and all of our explorative discussions about development and motivations were instrumental in helping me secure my next role as an operational manager.

‘Mentor discussions have helped me focus on personal development’

Naturally, the level of support you get after the graduate scheme is significantly less to the plethora of buddies, peers, action learning groups, placements, and programme and regional managers that you can draw on while on the scheme; so I found that continuing and extending my mentor connections was invaluable at maintaining that feeling of support, particularly transitioning into a highly pressurised role.

Mentor discussions have been an opportunity for me to carve out time to focus on personal development and has been a sounding board when facing tough issues or needing to regain direction.

These have helped me make more thoughtful decisions with considered approaches, which will have inevitably led to better outcomes. There have definitely also been times when I have been able to offload in order to regain sanity and face situations with renewed energy - ultimately, realising that others have been in the same boat.

Mentoring training

Being extremely passionate myself about people development, I have undertaken mentoring training offered by the NHS Leadership Academy to offer support in the same way that I have been supported. As a mentor you also develop and learn from mentees’ experiences and approaches and there are transferable mentoring skills that I have certainly used in managing people.

Mentoring approaches such as giving people time and support, listening in order to develop solutions and shared ownership could be deployed more in NHS management in order to foster a more collaborative culture and engender the best in staff.

‘Mentoring can foster a more collaborative culture and engender the best in staff’

I have kept in touch with Deborah since leaving the NHS a year ago and her passion in a recent conversation reminded me of why I enjoyed my previous role and the challenges that came with it.

In my experience, working in the private sector (which may or may not be representative of other private organisations), I have observed that while there are still examples of exceptional female leadership in very senior positions, the ratio of equal gender representation has not been replicated, particularly in middle management and finance. This has made it more difficult to source female mentorship support. However, it has not altered my view that I can progress should I wish to.

Perhaps this view would have been different had I not already been influenced by supportive female role models since the early stages of my career.

Louise Jones is a former performance and operations manager for University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust