Today on International Women’s Day, Eve Roodhouse, director of implementation at NHS Digital, shines a light on how we can close the gender gap in the health technology sector and promote a more diverse workforce.
There has never been a more exciting time to be involved in digital transformation across health and care and it’s more important than ever to ensure that the workforce leading and delivering digital transformation is truly diverse.
As the health and care system faces increasing demand, digital transformation will help manage the impact on services. Technology will continue to help provide higher quality care and services which are quicker and more convenient to access.
It will increasingly empower people to take more control of their health and care by giving them secure online access to clinicians, personalised health information and digital tools and advice.
Gender imbalance in technology
But we will only release the true potential of digital transformation if the leaders and the workforce behind it are truly diverse. For example, evidence points to new technologies such as artificial intelligence facial recognition working better for white people due to the mix of people working on its development.
At NHS Digital, we are committed to improving diversity in our workforce. On International Women’s Day we are reflecting, in particular, about achieving an improved gender balance – a challenge across the technology sector, not just for us.
To illustrate, research by PwC found that a career in technology was the first choice for only 3% of female students. Just over a quarter said they would consider a career in the field, compared to 61% of male students.
We recently published a pay gap report for our organisation showing a median pay gap of 14% between male and female salaries.
A significant cause of this is that, on average, men still occupy more of the senior pay bands than women in our organisation. So, we have much to do.
Take up of shared parental leave is very low at NHS Digital.
Health issues which affect women, such as the menopause, are often still taboo in the workplace yet contribute to sickness absence. Research from the British Menopause Society found that 45% women felt their menopause symptoms had a negative impact on their work.
However, almost half of those who needed to take a day off work due to menopause symptoms wouldn’t tell their employer the real reason.
These are some of the issues which can result in fewer women in the workplace, especially in male-dominated sectors.
So, within our organisation, we are taking action.
Our chief executive Sarah Wilkinson has spoken of her determination to increase the number of women in senior roles and to ensuring that NHS Digital is a fantastic place to work, compatible with a rich life outside work for those who have families, for those with carer responsibilities and for those who simply have other interests in their lives.
We have set up the NHS Digital Women’s Network to support female staff to overcome the issues they face and inspire them to achieve their potential.
The network is working in partnership with human resource and organization development departments to deliver our ambitious plans to address the gender pay gap and is championing other initiatives.
Mentorship and collaboration
One of the network’s latest initiatives has been piloting a new mentoring scheme.
We have developed a partnership with One HealthTech, which aims to celebrate and promote the talent and work of women and people from diverse backgrounds in this field.
Thanks to this link-up, our staff have access to professional networks including the trailblazers in health technology, and greater opportunities to present their valuable work to the wider world.
We want to shout about our brilliant employees, so we encouraged nominations to the Women in IT Awards – and were delighted that senior project manager Marta Raper won the Editor’s Choice category at the event earlier this year.
We are attracting good female cohorts into our successful graduate and apprenticeship schemes. The proportion of female trainees, which includes graduates and apprentices, has risen from 10% in 2014 when the schemes started to 49% now.
This is all positive, but still more can be done.
The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #pressforprogress, calling for continued focus and action to achieve gender parity.
I’ve made a personal commitment to continue to #pressforprogress within NHS Digital and beyond to address the barriers which still exist for women. I am committing to forge positive visibility of women and support colleagues and peers who are visible to others.
This will also change things for the better for men, as it’s vital to give everyone a pull up the ladder.
We want to close the gender gap in the health technology sector to put everyone on an equal footing and to ensure all those working in this crucial area are valued and recognised for the wonderful work they do.
Eve Roodhouse is director of implementation and digital environment at NHS Digital.