Personal reflections on International Women’s Day
As Chief financial officer for Imperial College Healthcare, Jazz Thind is one of still relatively few women in a top financial role within a major NHS organisation. To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, Jazz joined other women in the Trust for a panel event to discuss the challenges they have faced in their roles and the impact Covid-19 has had on them. Here, she shares personal reflections on what International Women’s Day means to her, her own career journey and how we need to support women to achieve their potential.
This week began with International Women’s Day (IWD), when I, along with a panel of inspirational women from the Trust, took part in an online event where we spoke about a wide range of issues – including the amazing women who have made a huge contribution to medicine but are not taught about in schools, flexible working post-pandemic and how Covid-19 has affected women’s physical and mental health.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, women have been at the heart of the response at every level, from strategic and scientific to saving lives on the front line.
For me, IWD is about celebrating all women in all their roles – be they leadership, personal or professional. Even if the contribution isn’t always visible, it should not go unrecognised. It’s clear that in the last few decades, we’ve taken big steps towards greater equality but there’s still much to do. So, as well as being a celebration, IWD also needs to be a reminder to everyone to stay focussed on making sure women can achieve their ambitions and realise their potential.
The events happening around IWD, including those at the Trust, act as a great prompt for us all to celebrate and reflect, especially to ask ourselves whether we are we making as much progress as we should be within our own organisation?
The latest data shows women make up 71 per cent of our staff overall, yet only 54 per cent hold senior positions. I’m confident that an ambition to do better is supported at the top of our organisation, with our chief executive, Professor Tim Orchard, chairing our equality, diversity and inclusion committee, and through increasing engagement with our women’s network, chaired by three exceptional and diverse women. But there’s more we can – and should – do.
So, what can organisations like ours do to help make sure women are able to reach the top?
We need to think about how we retain our female talent and give those aspiring to take the next step a chance to experience other roles in other areas. Flexibility is vital: the pandemic has shown us that we don’t always have to take a ridged approach to work: in a sense, it’s given us a blank sheet of paper – now we need to think what we want to write on it. Offering job rotations, secondments and more agile working can help remove barriers that may be preventing people from putting themselves forward for new or senior roles; I think this is particularly important for women, who may already be less likely to go for them than their male peers.
From my own experience, many of the barriers can be psychological. I, like many women, am familiar with ‘imposter syndrome.’ If you see an organisation that’s dominated by men, it can send the message that it isn’t open to women; and, if you’re lucky enough to get a senior position, you may feel like you don’t belong. Being open and publishing statistics about how many women work at different levels, along with plans for how you intend to improve things can be hugely empowering for anyone looking in from outside, or looking up from within the organisation. When I joined the Trust as interim chief financial officer in 2020, I was delighted and amazed to see the efforts that went into making sure we recruited women as non-executive directors, to ensure we tackled the gender gap on the board and appointed from a strong field of women.
We also need to recognise the way other characteristics intersect to affect the experiences of women. Growing up in a traditional, working-class Indian family like mine, going to university wasn’t an obvious choice for me. That can limit your horizons as you are always grateful for the opportunity rather than seeing this as your right. I celebrate and thank my mum for being strong enough to challenge the norm and supporting my dad to overcome his fears in letting me go to university. I compromised and studied finance instead of hotel management (who would marry me if I worked in a hotel!) but that was 30 years ago, and the world has moved on. I tell my daughter the world is hers to conquer!
During the IWD event, Fiona Blair (who heads up CONTACT, our counselling service) shared a quote from Mother Teresa that I’ve taken to heart: “I alone cannot change the world but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
Jazz Thind"The theme of this year’s IWD is #choosetochallenge; for senior women like me, it is our duty to help create clear pathways for women coming up behind us"
The theme of this year’s IWD is #choosetochallenge; for senior women like me, it is our duty to ‘cast that stone’ and help create clear pathways for women coming up behind us. That means doing things like the events for IWD – to raise awareness, keep the issue of equality for women on the agenda and offer our support to other women. As a group of senior finance leaders across London, we are discussing how we create gender equality. I am proud when I sit among the nine female chief financial officers across London but we look forward to the day when this is even more balanced. My male peers are to be applauded for recognising and supporting change too. In Ann Johnson, chief financial officer for NHSE London, we have a talented and powerful force of nature who has started the movement for change, openly challenging the status quo and encouraging us to do the same. Our roles come with responsibilities much wider than balancing the books!
If you’re a young woman early on in your career, you may think you have to give up everything and work all hours if you’re going to take up a senior role. But I hope you will find it’s not as difficult as you think and be encouraged that there are more women now in these roles. So, have confidence in yourself, reach out for help and support, especially from other women, and don’t think that you aren’t good enough – you are!
Please share this post on social media to raise awareness of what we’re doing to celebrate and recognise women in the NHS and read more about IWD.