Health Service Focus

01.06.16

Taking a look at diversity within NHS finance

Sue Lorimer, Future-Focused Finance diversity lead and business director at NHS Improvement, discusses gender and diversity within NHS finance.

Like many sectors, it’s no secret that the NHS has a long way to go in promoting diversity within senior finance roles. I’ve been exploring the lack of women in these positions, and understand they are 28% more likely than men to feel they have experienced barriers to career progression. This has discouraged them from applying for promotions or other positions. As a female senior leader in NHS finance these figures depress me. Even though there have been recent drives for gender equality, 46% of women in NHS finance are still more likely than men to think their gender is under-represented in senior roles.

Future-Focused Finance (FFF) is concerned with changing this situation and aims to inform a plan to bring more diversity to the workforce. To mark the start of this initiative and lay the foundations, we’ve launched a new report, examining the diversity dilemma. Unfortunately, we found that despite previous efforts the situation is still looking bleak. Only 26% of board level finance roles in the NHS are filled by women, despite 67% of the NHS finance workforce being female.  It’s no wonder that fewer than half of women working in NHS finance (43%) think promotion processes are fair and based on merit. This means the work we promote off the back of future-focused finance needs to keep banging on the drum for change.

It’s not just gender that is one of our areas of focus, under a third (30%) of NHS finance employees believe their organisation’s board fully represents the community it is supposed to serve when it comes to aspects of diversity, including ethnicity, age, disability and gender.

So what can be done? We brought together a taskforce of leaders from all corners of the NHS, and the individuals who attended pledged to build and implement a programme of change which aims to bring greater diversity to the health service’s 16,000-strong finance workforce and address the imbalance at senior level.

Diversity within the workforce, and in particular finance, can be used to drive business success, enabling organisations to become more successful, sustainable and better equipped to meet future challenges. The NHS finance community is pulling together so it can play its part in helping make the efficiency savings and service transformations needed to build a fit-for-the-future NHS, and tackling the diversity issue will go a long way to help this.

The initiative has four main objectives, education, influence & policy, sponsorship and narrative. Most importantly, we need to raise more awareness of the issue, whilst working with organisations to share best practice and learnings between one another and help identify practical solutions. Those at the top of organisations and in positions of influence need to challenge the status quo and highlight the benefits of a diverse workforce. Introducing new and flexible ways of working could be a small change with a big impact. It’s also important for senior leaders from all backgrounds identifying other talented staff and those with a clear potential, and supporting them in their careers. Finally, we also need ensure consistency of diversity messaging across organisations to ensure everyone is working towards the same goal.

These changes won’t happen overnight and the taskforce meeting was only the first step in a long journey. However, in a room full of determined and driven people, the tone was positive that we can all tackle this together. As a sector that is used to facing and overcoming challenges, I’m sure a more diverse workforce is achievable.

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Comments

Andrew Mountain   01/06/2016 at 12:18

I'm not quite sure what difference a more diverse workforce would make in the scheme of things. Why not concentrate on using your finances more efficiently with who you have rather than wasting time and energy ( and indirectly money) worrying that you do not have the token ethnic minority person in your department.

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