• Chair of Health and Care Women’s Leaders Network calls for more work to be done to make senior roles attractive to women
  • Describes gender pay gap progress as “disappointing”
  • Wording of job adverts excludes some potential candidates 

Gender-balanced boards at NHS organisations result in “better care and safer care”, according to the leader of the Health and Care Women’s Leaders Network.

Samantha Allen, chief executive of Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust and chair of the Health and Care Women’s Leaders Network, told HSJ that “work needs to be done” to make senior roles in the NHS more attractive to women.

“Few medical directors and chief financial officers are women,” she said. “We have capable women who would make a significant contribution to those jobs and the NHS needs to be tracking this, there is no data anywhere.”

In 2015 Ed Smith, the previous chair of NHS Improvement, promised to promote gender equality in the health service and said he wanted to see 50 per cent of all senior leadership posts in the NHS held by women.

Ms Allen said: ”77 per cent of the NHS workforce are female. Roughly 41 per cent are represented at board level. When you look at women in the role they do, they are undervalued in the workplace.

“We need to look at other aspects of diversity too. We know gender-balanced boards and more diverse boards equals better care and safer care as well. We are still not making progress about this.

“[The NHS] is falling behind the private sector. Inclusivity and diversity are better for your sustainability and good for patients, good for safety, good for care.”

She welcomed the government’s mandate for trusts to report on the gender pay gap but said it was “disappointing” that there has only been a “one per cent improvement over the past five years”.

Ms Allen suggested that the wording of job adverts for senior roles, such as for a CFO, exclude people from applying.

“When was the last time you saw a role advertised that was open to job shares and flexible working?,” she said. “Organisations are doing simple things like rewording adverts and making it culturally acceptable to have job shares and people in part time roles.”

Ms Allen stressed the importance of offering flexible working, particularly in mental health trusts where the jobs are “particularly demanding”.

“If we promoted flexible working across the NHS that would retain a number of people,” she said.

She also added that training and development for nurses was an important factor when retaining staff.

“[Due to the loss in central funding] we have needed to get more creative in terms of how we get development opportunities,” she said. “The concern is the future.”