The lack of female clinical commissioning group leaders presents a “risk” to the financial and organisational success of the NHS, a centrally-funded report has warned.

Releasing Potential: Women doctors and clinical leadership has been published the week after HSJ exclusively revealed 85 per cent of CCGs were led by men.

The report, written by GP Penny Newman and funded by the National Leadership Council, pointed to evidence from the private sector that gender diverse boards have improved financial performance.

It said: “If women doctors fail to be represented on the new CCGs and other NHS boards, the lack of diversity presents a risk to developing the collaborative and inclusive leadership behaviour needed for organisations to succeed in a complex system.

“The NHS will fail to obtain the improved financial and organisational performance and return on investment that comes with board diversity.”

The report is based on 26 in-depth interviews with leading female GPs and consultants. The interviews were analysed to identify key themes, which were then tested at a National Leadership Council workshop with a further 43 female medical leaders and other experts.

It highlights the fact that women doctors make up approximately 60 per cent of medical school entrants, 43 per cent of GP partners and 70 per cent of sessional GPs - a “sizeable chunk of the workforce and talent pool”.

But several interviewees who had put themselves forward for CCG roles had experienced difficulties contributing. One described CCG leadership as consisting of “clubs, gangs and mafia”, implying “exclusion, inequity and disengagement of the rest of the profession”.

Others mentioned the obstacles posed by the need to juggle childcare with leadership demands and evening meetings.

The report said research indicated women GPs were more likely than men to work with marginalised and vulnerable communities.  It also listed a number of qualities that women were perceived to have a preference for.

These included being empathetic; able to ask questions and admit vulnerability; and keen to support and develop others.

The interviewees “uniformly articulated a people-centred leadership style and focus on patients, teams, relationships, engagement and inclusion”, the report said. This was “similar to the…approach required to lead the new CCGs working across organisations and with constituent practices”.

The report suggests supporting potential female leaders by providing flexible career paths, networking opportunities, mentoring and coaching.

Dr Newman said: “While the number of female doctors continues to rise, there remains an unacceptably small proportion in leadership positions within the NHS.

“Female doctors represent a valuable resource to the health service, both in terms of the style of working and individual talent.

“The NHS needs to enable them to achieve leadership positions through more flexible working and other initiatives to maximise the potential of the workforce and ultimately provide a better service for patients.”

In a foreword, Sir Neil McKay, who is overseeing the human resources implications of the transition to the new commissioning system, said: “This is a workforce issue we ignore at our peril.”