News

29.03.17

Only a quarter of key NHS leadership roles held by women

The NHS still has a severe lack of women holding positions in key senior roles, including as medical directors or chief financial officers, and has work to do to reach its 50:50 by 2020 target, a report released today has revealed.

Drawn up by Professor Ruth Sealy at the University of Exeter Business School in collaboration with NHS Employers, the ‘NHS Women on Boards: 50:50 by 2020’  report found that though representation of women on NHS boards had shown improvement, women were still not being sufficiently represented in key leadership roles.

The report reveals that of 245 NHS trusts and arms-length bodies (ALB), the percentage of female chief executives was found to be encouraging at 42.6%. But the representation of women in other key roles within these organisations was disappointing, as only 26.3% of finance directors and 24.6% of medical directors are women.

Meanwhile, chief nurses, chief operating officers and human resources directors are mainly female within these organisations, at 85.4%, 53.3% and 63% respectively.

Across 452 NHS organisations, including ALBs, NHS trusts and CCGs, the study found that representation of women on boards varied hugely in different organisations – from 8.3% to 80% with an average of 41% across the bodies.

Prof Sealy 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.”

But Prof Sealy added that she believed the will was there to make sure women were playing an equal role in leadership within the NHS.

“Now may be the time for people to start getting impatient if they are to meet the target of gender-balanced boards by the 2020 deadline,” she said.

Ed Smith, the outgoing chairman of NHS Improvement, added: “We make no apology for adopting the approach which Lord Davies took in his work on the FTSE 100 which is now being led by Sir Philip Hampton and Dame Helen Alexander. No apology – because his approach has led to substantial progress. 

“Our approach and recommendations can do so as well if they are embraced by the leaders of systems and of individual organisations across the NHS.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, added that he believed big strides had been made in this area, but accepted that there was plenty of 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.”

Mortimer also said that this increase in staff wellbeing could only mean good news for patient outcomes: “The number of female directors of nursing more accurately reflects the gender composition of the workforce and we must replicate this across the whole system.”

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