Male allies ‘part of the solution’ to gender imbalance in top NHS roles

Report says progress relies on men understanding and challenging the barriers women face

Report says progress relies on men understanding and challenging the barriers women face

Picture: Alamy

Men must act as allies to women in the health service if the NHS is to have balanced gender representation at the highest levels, according to a new report.

The report from the Health and Care Women Leaders Network (HCWLN), a group that connects senior and aspiring women leaders working in health and care, explores how men can support the development of female leaders. It includes views from men in senior roles, including Public Health England chief executive Duncan Selbie, NHS Leadership Academy chair Peter Homa and a number of chief executives at large NHS trusts.

Key findings include:

  • Greater awareness of the business benefits of diverse leadership teams can help male leaders make the case for diversity
  • Several interviewees said they believe women sometimes put up barriers to their own progress. While a man might ‘give it a go’ and apply for a senior job, a woman might see obstacles, such as lack of experience. This lack of confidence in their own abilities was seen as holding women back, even when those around them felt they were ready
  • Interviewees described a tendency of some in senior positions to recruit in their own image, with one suggesting it can lead to shortlists consisting solely of white males
  • Male leaders need to challenge gender-related assumptions made in recruitment, promotion and the everyday working environment


Supportive environment

HCWLN chair Sam Allen said: ‘To achieve progress on gender balance across the NHS, we need men, as leaders and as colleagues, to understand the barriers women can face in the workplace and be prepared to ask women how they can be better allies.

Duncan Selbie, one of the senior male
leaders who participated in the report.
Picture: Tim George

‘To attract, retain and motivate our workforce together, we all have a role to ensure the working environment in the NHS is one that supports all and helps everyone to achieve their potential.’

The report also recognises the need to reflect gender fluidity, as well as those who identify as non-binary and trans, in leadership roles across the NHS, in order to be truly inclusive.

Listening to female colleagues

    NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: ‘As men, we have to accept that our role as allies demands more than speaking on platforms against sexism or supporting networks.

    ‘It is about truly listening to our female colleagues’ stories and experiences; it is about challenging our male co-workers and friends in our day-to-day interactions. It is about recognising that as part of the problem, we are also required to be part of the solution.’

    Further information

    Read the report

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