Time to 'man up'...

Kirsty Stott

08 / 3 / 2016 1.18pm

To celebrate International Women's Day, Kirstie Stott - programme lead at NHS Leadership Academy, discusses how equality is everyone's responsibility.  

Time to 'man up'...

Author: Kirstie Stott, programme lead at NHS Leadership Academy

Yes I am a feminist, what does that mean? Well in simple terms, I believe in equality. I believe that a more equal gender split in senior leadership within and across health and social care would create a different culture within organisations, and change some of the dynamics and traditions we see at the top of our systems currently. This in turn would change relationships with our staff and ultimately lead to better patient outcomes. I also believe that this shift in diversity would enable more innovation and new ways of working - which is much needed at present.

We know that inequalities still exist and that society favours the man. Women have historically been subordinate and men more dominant in society and the work place. Women are still seen as the main care provider to children and the ones who have time out of work to have children. Inequality is a disease of society, and until we change perceptions and expectations of societal norms, it will continue to be challenging to change the flexibility that is needed within work places so more women can grow and develop into their full potential.   

Gender inequality is still very much a disease of today’s society and this is evidenced in pay inequalities, and by the percentage of women in senior public sector roles. You only have to look at the senior teams within the NHS to see that if you are a white, middle aged (possibly middle class) male, you are more likely to achieve an executive role.  How can we expect to achieve the ambitious challenges that are expected of us if we have the same homogenous group think?

However the NHS performs better on gender equality in senior posts than most sectors with 41 per cent being CEO and 80 per cent of HR directors being women.  It seems that we are ahead of the game in leading the smash of the glass ceiling. For me there is now a burning ambition to be worldwide exemplars and leaders of the benefits to our society through closing the gender equality gap in senior leadership positions. 

There are two main areas I think we need to focus on to make this a reality…

Just 'lean in' more

Women are not to blame. This is the key message I want to get across in this blog.  How many times have I heard the following used as reasons why women are not reaching senior positions as much as men.
  • don’t ‘lean in’ as much as men
  • are not as confident as men
  • are not very good at selling themselves
  • don’t aspire to senior roles
  • are not as resilient as men
  • not prepared to work as long hours as men
  • Are unable to network as well as men
  • don’t speak up as much as men in meetings

It’s time to stop blaming women as the cause of the problem. It’s easy to do and I think that many women shoulder this blame relatively easily. I would encourage women to push back on this, is confidence really a gender specific issue?

Where are the men?

I have attended many gender equality events and hardly ever do I see men in attendance, why is this? I was frustrated and disappointed when the HSJ women’s Network voted to keep men out in order to provide a safe space for women to regroup. Who holds the majority of senior positions currently in the NHS? Who are the people in a position to support, encourage and actually appoint women to these senior roles? Yes its men, so why would you not involve them in the conversation?

We need to be realistic about why gender inequality still exists and we need to work together to realise the benefits and solutions to this.  I am interested to know why more men don’t actively support gender equality (actively being the key word), we all have daughters, wife’s, mums in our lives, these influential figures are vital in the future planning and deliver of care for our public, and men need to take a more leading role in making this happen. So, if you are a male leader I would urge you to not rely on women in your organisation to make this happen, but to be seen as a positive role model, challenge normal practice and the flexibility you offer staff and to recruit people who are not the same as you. Because if men don’t join the conversations, I fear things will never change. 

Equality is everyone’s responsibility.

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