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Professor Ruth Sealy is a leading authority on women’s representation on boards.

Devon Hospitals Race Ahead to Hit Target on Women on Boards

Devon health trusts are setting the pace for representation of women at the top of the NHS. The local hospital trusts have hit the official target for women on NHS boards three years ahead of schedule, a report by a University of Exeter academic has found.

A national study of the representation of women doing the top jobs in the health service, commissioned by NHS Improvement and NHS Employers, has found that the four health trusts in Devon have collectively hit the 50 per cent target, and all have female Chief Executives.

The study, carried out by Professor Ruth Sealy of the University of Exeter Business School, found that on the Royal Devon and Exeter, Torbay and Devon South and the Devon Partnership Trust boards 54 per cent, 56 per cent and 57 per cent of board members are women.

North Devon Trust, however, only has 27 per cent of women on the board, according to the report. However it does have a female chief executive.

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 that although three quarters of employees in the NHS work force are women, 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 per cent.

But women are still unrepresented in key decision-making roles about clinical care and financing within these organisations. Just 26.3 per cent of finance directors and 24.6 per cent of medical directors are women. Meanwhile, chief nurses, chief operating officers and human resources directors are mainly female , at 85.4 per cent, 53.3 per cent and 63 per cent respectively.

Professor Ruth Sealy of the University of Exeter, who is a leading authority on women’s representation on boards, including of FTSE 100 companies, said: “There are lots of women working in the NHS – in fact, they make up 77 per cent of the workforce within the health service. 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.

“I am encouraged that in Devon three out of four NHS trusts have already reached the target for having at least fifty per cent of places on their boards occupied by women. They seem to be setting the pace. In many other parts of the country works need to be done if they are to meet the target of gender-balanced boards by the 2020 deadline.”

Professor Janice Kay, Provost of the University of Exeter, is a non-executive director of the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust board.

Across a total of 452 organisations, including NHS Trusts, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), and arms-length bodies, representation of women on boards varied widely from 8.3 per cent to 80 per cent, with an average of 41 per cent, the report found.

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.

“Research has shown time and time again that diversity improves the quality of decision making, improves outcomes and ultimately improves the wellbeing of staff.

“If staff feel motivated and productive then this has to be good news for patients. The number of female directors of nursing more accurately reflects the gender composition of the workforce and we must replicate this across the whole system.”

Read the full report here.

Date: 28 March 2017

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