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International Women’s Day: we need to do more to improve work-life balance

Organisations are beginning to step up with flexible working, says NHS Employers’ Sue Covill

Organisations are beginning to step up with flexible working, says NHS Employers’ Sue Covill


Picture: Alamy

On International Women’s Day, 8 March, our attention naturally falls on women, on female achievement and what we can do to support women in the workforce.

Within the NHS, more than three quarters of the workforce is female but only 34% of boards achieve gender parity, according to 50:50 by 2020, the 2017 report by Professor Ruth Sealy of the University of Exeter.

‘Men, as leaders and colleagues, should understand the barriers women face in the workplace and be prepared to help break them down’

We know the health service is in the throes of a severe workforce shortage, and we need to focus on the people who make up the majority of our staff.

Therefore, to make real progress on gender balance in the NHS, men, as leaders and colleagues, should understand the barriers women face in the workplace and be prepared to help break them down – as discussed in Men as Allies, a new report from the Health and Care Women Leaders Network.

This free network for women working across health and care services has the explicit purpose of redressing the gender imbalance in the NHS workforce. Set up in 2015 by the NHS Confederation and NHS Employers, it connects senior and aspiring female leaders, offering support to women in their careers and professional development.

Support for women from the ground up

We need to provide a supportive environment for female staff from the ground up, and the main principles are the same for nurses as they are for the whole workforce.

NHS Employers focuses on eight key elements that have a positive impact on staff well-being: strong leadership and management; having an organisation-wide plan; understanding relevant data; clear communication; robust engagement; providing a healthy working environment; implementing health interventions; and evaluating and acting on work undertaken to make best use of positive impact.

New and expanding routes into the nursing profession, such as the nursing apprenticeship and nursing associate and advanced practitioner roles, will also help to widen participation and create more opportunities to learn and develop.

‘We know flexible working is an issue close to the hearts of NHS staff, and especially female staff, who often bear the greatest proportion of family commitments’

Vital work to support nursing staff continues across the health service, especially on flexible working.

We know flexible working is an issue close to the hearts of NHS staff, and especially female staff, who often bear the greatest proportion of family commitments. It was pleasing that the recently published NHS Staff Survey results showed a small increase in satisfaction here, with 53.1% of staff happy with opportunities for flexible working, compared with 51.8% in 2017. But there’s still much more to do.

Real world initiatives

We also know that there is a growing ‘sandwich generation’ in the NHS of people – mainly female – caring for grandchildren as well as elderly parents, and some employers are already working to support staff to manage these commitments.

We can see real world examples of support for flexible working across the NHS. At Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, Pinderfields General Hospital has employed a break midwife to make sure others can take their lunches and breaks, and Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust actively promotes flexible working, including senior nurses working part-time.

Meanwile, at Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust, Jenny Allen and Laura Smith job-share the role of director of workforce, which has helped them maintain a strong work-life balance and step up to a boardroom position.

Looking beyond International Women’s Day, we look forward to bringing greater gender balance at the highest levels, and to boosting the pipeline of talent into the nursing workforce.


 

Sue Covill is director of development and employment at NHS Employers, part of the NHS Confederation

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