Since 2020 I have done almost 70 interviews with women in a digital leadership capacity in the NHS. The Female Leadership in Tech in the NHS (FLINT) series has focused the spotlight on women and minorities in tech; their successes, challenges and unique stories.
In an organisation which is actively working to improve diversity at all levels, there is still work to be done and this interview series is helping towards that.
The FLINT articles stemmed from HER+ DATA MCR which I have supported since its inception in 2017. HER+ Data is a community working to connect, inspire, support and empower the UK’s Women in Data.
As soon as we started those meetups, it was evident that those women wanted a safe space in which to empower each other, learn and grow. Without any men in the room, they felt much more able to discuss the types of issues that were affecting them. And very often, it all comes down to confidence.
They might talk about empowerment, they might talk about salary negotiation, they might talk about an interview. But fundamentally, confidence is at the root of all of the problems they are experiencing. Because they’re not confident to go into an interview setting. They're not confident to negotiate their salary. They're not confident to speak in a room where they think they're the least technical in front of a group of men.
I've experienced all those feelings, including imposter syndrome, and therefore I wanted to do anything I could to help others to grow their careers. It's not that those women are not talented or that they're not good at what they do. It's just that they're not always heard.
Through the FLINT series, I am enabling women and minorities to share their stories, inspire other women and celebrate their successes.
The FLINT Interviews
Each interview follows a formula to gain as much information as possible not just about the individual women themselves, but also about the broader challenges facing women and minorities.
The Route to Leadership
I have learned about where their careers started and how they have navigated them. I have spoken to women with a wide variety of backgrounds and educational levels, but all have had a factor that led them into leadership - be that a mentor who encouraged them, a willingness to put their head above the parapet or a readiness to take risks.
“So as a therapist, I always wanted to care for people and I usually did that on a one to one basis. But now, in informatics, we can really help patients at scale. I love it, because it’s a massive challenge." Phillipa Winter, CIO at Bolton Foundation Trust
Do You Need to be Technical?
The question of whether you need to be technical to be a technical leader is always interesting to discuss. There are two schools of thought - those who think a technical education is a benefit, and those who believe that those softer leadership skills such as empowerment, trust and emotional intelligence are more important.
“So just be clear about what you want to do and why you want to do it and be confident in your own skin, you don’t necessarily have to fit a particular mould."
Tracey Watson, Chief Information Officer at Northern Care Alliance NHS Group
Everyone has their own challenges to overcome, and one of the most interesting parts of the FLINT interviews is the discussion of these challenges. From divorce to harassment to a confidence crisis to the difficulties of returning to work after maternity leave, we examine the hurdles and share the inspiring ways that these leaders have excelled despite them.
“I had underestimated how challenging it would be for me just to get my act together on being a mum working part time. Getting home and dealing with the baby. It was all a lot to handle.”
Niamh McKenna, CIO at NHS Resolution
The Importance of Mentorship
The idea that we need input from others to succeed in our careers is something that comes up regularly during our interviews. Almost all of the women in the interview series have a mentor to guide their way - whether that be an official mentor, a boss that encouraged them or a coach. Another interesting point is the variety of mentors that people have, and the idea that you can end a relationship with a mentor.
“Put yourself out there. Find a mentor, someone to talk to about your career. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to share advice and open up.”
Ella Worsdale Head of Information at Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust
Of all of the women interviewed during the FLINT series, 100% have said that they have experienced imposter syndrome at some point during their careers. This mostly happens at the beginning of a new job or when there is a big event. All have been happy to share their methods of overcoming imposter syndrome and succeed despite it.
“This might be a bit old fashioned, but sometimes it feels like I don’t have enough credibility. So it means that I kind of have to work a bit harder to prove myself.”
Astrid Grant, Digital Change and Benefits Manager at Royal Surrey NHS Foundation Trust
Our customers at Evolution see the work we are doing to champion diversity and actively seek us out to help them put together a strategy to change their workforce. We have also been asked to assist with paving the way for the return to the workplace for women who have had children to make the process more comfortable.
Alongside this, the work we are doing is raising the profile of the LGBTQ+ network and shining a light on minorities.
You can find all of the articles on the Evolution NHS website here.
Bernadette Clarke is the Director of Evolutions Public Sector business with a focus on the NHS, Bernadette runs teams of consultants nationally who deliver digital interim talent into NHS organisations. She is an organiser of Her Plus Data Meet Up in Manchester, a female only women in data meet up group which works with the female data community in the North West to empower, mentor and support women with a passion for data and more broadly technology focused work. Bernadette is also a mentor for WIR - Women in Recruitment and until recently she is a fellow of the One HealthTech Manchester Hub.