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Women still under represented in senior NHS roles, study finds

The gender balance on NHS boards is improving, but there is still a lack of women in key roles, such as medical director and chief financial officer, a report finds.

The report, Women on NHS Boards: 50:50 by 2020, is the first in-depth look at data relating to female representation on NHS boards.

It shows there are still gaps to be filled if the NHS is to reach its target of gender parity on boards in less than three years’ time.

The report reveals that of 245 NHS trusts and arms-length bodies (ALBs), the percentage of female chief executives is encouraging, at 42.6%.

However, 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.

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

Written by Professor Ruth Sealy, of the University of Exeter Business School, and published in conjunction with NHS Employers and NHS Improvement, the study shows that although progress has been made towards the 2020 target of gender-balanced boards more must be done to ensure this goal is met.

Professor Sealy, who has been the lead researcher of the annual Female FTSE Report since 2007, 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.”

Across a total of 452 organisations, including ALBs, NHS trusts, and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), representation of women on boards varied widely from 8.3% to 80%, with an average of 41%, the report found.

Sealy added: “The will is there to make sure women are really playing an equal role running the NHS. But 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.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive, 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.”

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