Women 'underrepresented' in senior NHS roles

29 Mar 17

Women are underrepresented in key decision-making roles in the NHS despite making up 77% of the workforce, a study has found.

The report, Women on NHS Boards: 50:50 by 2020, found that gender balance on NHS boards was improving but key positions such as financial officer and medical director roles were not being done by women.

Researchers conclude there are still gaps to be filled if the NHS is to reach its target of gender parity on boards by 2020.

The study, from the University of Exeter, reveals of 245 NHS trusts and arm’s-length bodies the percentage of female chief executives is 42.6%.

But in other key roles within these organisations, women are still underrepresented, just 26.3% of finance directors and 24.6% of medical directors are women. 

Women still dominate in positions such as chief nurses, chief operating officers and human resources directors within these bodies, at 85.4%, 53.3% and 63% respectively. 

The report noted a significant discrepancy in the number of women on boards ALBs, NHS Trusts and Clinical Commissioning Groups, varying from 8.3% to 80%, with an average of 41%.

Ruth Sealy, University of Exeter Business School professor and author the report, said: “There are lots of women working in the NHS – in fact, they make up 77% of the workforce within the health service.

“Women have been in the NHS long enough to occupy the top roles, and I am encouraged by the progress in this area. “It is certainly not a problem of supply. But the fact that women are still underrepresented in key decision-making jobs, such as medical and finance directors, shows there is still work to be done.”

The report states to be gender balanced, NHS boards in England need another 500 women. The overall number of women holding seats needs to increase from 2,500 to 3,000 between now and the end of 2020 – that’s an additional 125 per year.

Danny Mortimer, chief executive at trade organisation NHS Employers, said: “Big strides have been made in this area, but the report highlights there is much work to be done.

"At a time when the NHS is experiencing a myriad of challenges, it is vital we make full use of the wealth of talent at our disposal, not just some of it."

He added: “Research has shown time and time again that diversity improves the quality of decision making, improves outcomes and ultimately improves the wellbeing of staff.”

The report calls for compulsory measures for trusts, CCGs, ALBs, and councils of royal colleges to annually publish data on the gender balance of board level and senior management roles.

Another recommendation was made for strong leadership to help national and local bodies achieve consensus on how to offer women developmental help and a way to address concerns about disadvantaging men.

Sealy said that half of all new appointments made through executive search firms and the NHS in-house search functions over the next three years should be female.

The study also urged gender specific learning to be built into NHS training programmes, covering topics such as unconscious bias, management of flexible working practices and specific female coaching, mentoring and sponsorship.

Did you enjoy this article?