MiP Logo for MiP the Union for Health and Care Managers

The union for health and care managers

Home  >  News & Campaigns  >  News Articles  >  MiP Summit 2020: Gender equality in the NHS
Friday 06 November 2020

MiP Summit: We must never believe the NHS is immune to sex discrimination

By Alison Moore

The panel (clockwise from top-left): Mercedes Broadbent, MiP communications officer; Sian Elliot, TUC; Helen Carr, MiP head of operations; Sam Allen, chief executive, Sussex Partnership Foundation NHS Trust.

Women make up over 70% of the NHS’s workforce but still face significant disadvantages compared to men, MiP’s head of operations, Helen Carr, told members at MiP’s virtual Summit on 4 November.

This year’s Summit takes the form of 90-minute virtual meetings spread over the week. Wednesday’s session featured a panel discussion on gender equality in the workplace.

Women often have to juggle work with childcare and other caring responsibilities, may face harassment and discrimination in the workplace and don’t have the same chances of promotion as men, Carr explained. “These are key issues for MiP. We in the trade union movement must ensure the NHS is taking gender inequality seriously.”

She described how MiP has set up a women’s network to influence policy and drive change, and ensure women had a louder voice and more visibility within the union.

Discrimination has consequences

Sam Allen, chair of the Health and Care Women Leaders Network and chief executive of Sussex Partnership Foundation Trust, said the NHS was in many ways no different to the rest of society: “We must never believe that we are immune to the discrimination, the bullying and harassment, or [the effects of] the structural design of our beloved institution, which leads to poor experiences and outcomes.” She explained how discrimination is linked to productivity and sickness absence – and ultimately has an impact on patients.

One concern for all panellists was ‘intersectionality’ – where women also have other characteristics that can multiply the disadvantages they face in the workplace. The panel discussed how BAME and LGBTQ+ women can see the impact on their careers amplified – as can those who are disabled. Many employers won’t have data broken down to cover these groups – but what the data does show is bleak, Allen said.

The median pay gap between men and women across the NHS was still around 13% – but with huge variation, she explained. There are still many areas where women are under-represented, such as in finance, estates and at the higher levels of medicine. And women are still under-represented on trust boards, she said, with 150 more women needed to achieve parity with men. She also noted that that there are still 70 all-white boards, with the North East and South West having the least diverse NHS leadership.

Impact of COVID

The panel went on to discuss how older woman have less access to training and development and are more likely to leave the workforce.

Covid has thrown some of these issues into stark relief, with women often having to do the lion’s share of childcare, said Sian Elliott, the TUC’s policy officer on women’s rights at work. Working from home exposed some women to a greater risk of domestic violence, she explained, while Brexit could see some women’s rights rolled back. Evidence that women were more likely to be furloughed and lose their jobs than men meant “women are having to carry the costs of this crisis,” she said.

Elliot explained that accurate data was vital to tracking what is happening in workplaces. She pointed out that the requirement for many firms to collect data on their gender pay gap had been shelved this year, while firms employing under 250 people were exempt from collecting it anyway. Unions such as MiP had a key role to play in holding employers to account for their gender pay gap and pushing them to take action to address it, she said.

“Boards need to take this seriously. The only real way to fix it is to get more women into senior positions,” Allen added.

Elliot also urged the UK government to adopt “a Scandinavian approach” to parental leave. In the UK, paternity leave had to be taken at the expense of the mother’s maternity leave, whereas Scandinavian countries took a “use it or lose it” approach which encouraged both parents to take leave.

Culture change

Elliot stressed the importance of cultural change in encouraging women to speak up about issues like sexual harassment. “We need to create a workplace culture where people feel safe to discuss this and where there are repercussions for the perpetrator,” she said. Many employers only addressed sexual harassment through their bullying and harassment policies and ignored risk factors such as power imbalances and lone working, she explained. Carr said trade unions need to ensure proper procedures were followed sexual harassment cases and that they were not dragged out.

The panel agreed that the Care Quality Commission’s ‘well-led’ assessments could be a powerful tool to push organisations towards reducing gender inequality. “I would like to see a focus on concerted action and doing things that will really shift this and make the change,” said Allen.

Summing up the discussion, MiP’s Helen Carr said: “We have the evidence and we have the action plans – we just need to make sure that the outcomes are implemented, monitored and evaluated.”

If you'd like to read more from MiP, sign up to receive our free monthly emails – we’ll keep you up to date on news and events in health and care management

English currency in notes and coins

A majority of the public believe an above-inflation pay rise for NHS staff would be fair and workers would be justified in taking strike action if this year’s wage increase fails to match the rising cost of living, according to a new poll.

18 July 2022 | By MiP
Navina Evans, chief workforce officer, official portrait

MiP welcomes the merger of NHS England’s People Directorate with Health Education England but warns of “significant work ahead” to tackle record vacancies and high levels of staff burnout.

04 July 2022 | By MiP
audience listening at union meeting

Strong partnership working between unions, employers and government are essential to tackle the workforce issues facing the NHS. Jon Restell reports from the recent meeting of the national Social Partnership Forum.

28 June 2022 | By Jon Restell

NHS Confed survey finds racism deters 60% of ethnic minority leaders from recommending NHS management careers, with racist abuse and discrimination most likely to come from colleagues.

22 June 2022 | By MiP
Helen Carr on the MiP Stand at Confed Expo 2022 in Liverpool

MiP are excited to have a stand at NHS Confed Expo 2022 at the ACC Liverpool. We’ll be here on Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 June.

15 June 2022 | By MiP
Large mosaic of red tiles with word NEWS

MiP welcomes Sir Gordon Messenger's independent review of health and social care leadership and calls for honesty and investment in implementing its recommendations.

08 June 2022 | By MiP
Press Release
TUC demo graphic

MiP will be joining our fellow trade unions by taking part in the TUC’s "We Demand Better" march and rally on Saturday 18 June in London. Find out more here.

07 June 2022 | By MiP
Green vote logo

We have three vacancies for MiP members to represent the union on the FDA's Executive Committee. Find out more and download a nomination form here.

26 May 2022 | By MiP
Copyright © 2021 MiP