Health leaders say NHS is one of the best places for women to progress
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As more women take on the top jobs in the NHS, health correspondent Geraldine Scott speaks to three in our region to find out if the landscape has changed.
The health service is one of the best places to work to reach the top of your field as a woman, it has been claimed.
Christine Allen, Anna Davidson, and Julia Hunt all hold top positions at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston - and the trio urged women who wanted to get far to consider working for the NHS.
Each came to their positions from different backgrounds.
For hospital chief executive Ms Allen, she started working for the NHS 34 years ago and after a year out chose not to go to university and instead took a job in medical records at her local hospital.
“I was promoted fairly quickly,” she said. “But it got to the point where I needed my degree. And by that time I was a single mother struggling to pay my rent a bit, but they allowed me to do it through part time study.”
Ms Allen said that may not have been an opportunity she got elsewhere - but she felt it was all on merit, and did not matter if she had been a man or a woman.
And she said now there were a growing number of women in top jobs in health - in our region these include Julie Cave, the new chief executive at the region’s mental health trust, Roisin Fallon-Williams, chief executive of Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust, and Melanie Craig, chief officer at Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG, amongst other.
“But when I started, I don’t think there were that many,” she said.
At the James Paget, at the early stages of recruitment the applications are blind - meaning interviewers do not even know the name of the applicant to avoid unconscious bias.
Anna Davidson, the hospital’s chairwoman, said she was one of five children and when she was young her sister had decided to become a nurse.
“But when she left school, she was given two options - become a nurse or a receptionist. Now there are a lot more opportunities.”
Ms Davidson did not start her career in healthcare, but worked at organisations where she said more of the senior positions were filled by men.
“I think sometimes applications put women off,” she said. “If you look and think I must be able to tick all those boxes.
“I think men tend to be a bit more optimistic and go for it.”
She said it was a female manager - who had come into a mostly male workforce - who taught her to believe in her skills.
“But it was a male manager who encouraged her to go for a senior position - which she got.
“I think we’ve got a pretty even split across our board, but I do think that’s quite unusual for an NHS trust.
“We just want the best people possible.”
She added: “I would say the health service offers better choice and opportunities for women, there’s a better structure of training that they are encouraged to undertake, right up to leadership and top management.
“I definitely feel women here get as good a shot as men.”
Julia Hunt, director of nursing, has spent the majority of her career working at the James Paget. She said she had always wanted to be in nursing but falling pregnant when she was young put her course off track.
“I could have been one of the stereotypical stories of Great Yarmouth, a young, teen, single mother.
“But that was my driver, to prove to people I’m not going to be a teenage mum who does not make it.
“I started at the old Northgate Hospital, I washed the floors and cleaned the dishes when I had twins of four.”
Ms Hunt said it was the only position which fit around childcare.
“And it was quite difficult to get into the hospital,
“Whether that was formal or informal, it was difficult but having young children wasn’t going to stop me.”
Ms Hunt trained as an enrolled nurse, but she said it was expected this was full time, 40 hours a week.
“This was before flexible working, you were given the shifts you were given, I think there are many more routes now.”
She pointed to apprenticeships, part-time degrees, and flexible working as initiatives which now make it easier for women to get the job they wanted.
“Now, women - and everyone actually - is a lot more supported, there are more opportunities.
“Not everyone has to come from an academic route.”
Ms Allen added: “I think my message would be don’t limit yourself, whether you’re male or female it’s about who you are as a person.”