4 March 2019
I was born in the 1960’s into a female dominated household. My father ‘benefited’ from a hard working wife, his mother in law and two daughters. As children our thoughts and ideas were sought and respected and it never for a moment occurred to me that women could not achieve exactly the same as men. This view was reinforced whilst attending the same Manchester girls school as the Pankhurst’s and then through nurse training at the Nightingale School of Nursing. As I learnt about the battle for the vote and read Florence Nightingale’s letters from the Crimea, I came to understand how, throughout history, powerful women had fought to be heard and respected, campaigned for equality for women. This, however, I viewed as historical because in my family what mattered was doing your best as an individual; gender was not considered to be something that would limit opportunities. I believed everyone would be respected for what they could contribute, that there was gender balance.
This outlook has served me well. I’ve never looked to blame success or failure on my gender, indeed as my career has progressed I cannot identify any opportunities that I missed due to being a woman. I have been a Dean/ Pro Vice Chancellor, a Chief Executive and Chair of two Charities and I’ve always worked with gender balanced Boards and received recompense commensurate with my male colleagues. I cannot deny that I’ve heard discontent from female colleagues about their treatment by male colleagues and I myself have been known to object to inappropriate after dinner banter at male dominated events. Self respect and confidence always wins through!
This confidence is tested when working in the LMIC international arena. The Professorial title obscures gender and I’ve witnessed the surprise of male leaders and policy makers when we are introduced and they realise that I am a woman. Entering a male dominated ministerial or hospital management meeting can be daunting and on one occasion in Africa, until introductions were completed, conversation exchange was initially directed to my male driver. I have learnt over many years how gender balance can be restored through a confident and knowledgeable approach. In depth preparation is required for every encounter so that the focus is business rather than gender. Without negating the fact that I am a woman, and through gaining the respect of those I meet, I am ever hopeful that I’m doing my bit to help everyone see that gender ‘balance for better’ benefits everyone. Indeed it is essential for economies and communities to thrive.