In celebration of International Women’s Day 2021, we have interviewed women working within our Trust. In this interview, we sat down with Sandra Betney, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Finance, and asked her about her experiences as a woman working within the NHS, what challenges she feels women working within the NHS still feel, and what advice she would give to herself when she started working within the NHS.
What is your role in the Trust?
I am Director of Finance and Deputy Chief executive for the Trust, my portfolio includes IT & Clinical Systems, Estates and Facilities, Contracts and Planning, Business Intelligence and of course finance.
What does your role involve day-to-day?
A lot of meetings, many of which are with my wonderful team as well as increasing with colleagues across our Integrated Care System (ICS) as we work together more. I spend a fair amount of time worrying about how we make the money go further and working out how we can get more resources, and inevitably presenting our position in formal Board/ committee meetings. When I cover for Paul my uncomplaining deputies pick up more work so I can have the capacity to cover the Chief Executive role as well.
Was there a women, or women, who inspired you to want to work for the NHS?
If I am honest I never had a clear career plan (other than not to work for profit) and came to the NHS via Housing which is obviously one of the biggest determinants of health out of an interest in the services. Since then I have been incredibly inspired by lots of women I have met in the NHS, but special mention would have to go to Dame Rennie Fritchie, former chair of 2gether who is such a fantastic role model being so sharp and astute while at the same time so kind and lovely to work with.
What has been your most proud moment working for the Trust?
I was so pleased to get the business case for the merger approved through the NHS Improvement process, it seemed a lot of work to make the right thing happen. I am passionate about our plan to integrate healthcare so getting the go-ahead was a big moment, although it seems so long ago now.
Have you faced any challenges as a woman as your career within the NHS has progressed?
Just a few! In my first job I was informed by the Chief Executive’s assistant that it was unacceptable for women to wear trousers! (1989) But seriously, from everyday stereotypes leading to assumptions made by others about my capabilities or indeed my role through to not getting shortlisted for jobs I met all the criteria for- there have been lots, although I must say I have been lucky to have some great colleagues backing me. Recently I have been reflecting on my response to those situations and thinking about how much harder it might have been if I also possessed other characteristics known to carry stereotypes, through this I have developed a better understanding of my own privilege.
What challenges do you feel women working the NHS still face today?
Gender stereotypes (along with other prejudices and norms) are alive and well in the NHS, and our organisation, these mean women (and other groups) are treated differently. This happens even though we have great values as an organisation and we want as an organisation to be fair and equal. Recently we had a discussion at the women’s leadership network about the inverse proportion of women at higher grades, which leads to an inevitable gender pay gap even though we have a good equal pay system. Women in leadership are definitely perceived and treated differently to men in the same positions even if they have similar leadership styles, and that different treatment comes from male and female colleagues equally. I feel passionately we have to change that as well as learning to value the benefits diversity can bring. We can start with small things like language, I overheard a female senior manager only last week being described as a “good girl”, and whilst I agree that the women is question is great a good male manager would probably not be referred to as “ a good boy”.
How important to you is it that women support and champion one another in the workplace?
I feel women should support each other, but we also need the support of male colleagues, many women in our organisation will have a male manager who can help them progress like many of mine did. Without women being equally represented we are missing out on half the population’s talent! Us women also need to remember to support our male colleagues, particularly those surrounded by female co-workers in some of our most important front-line roles.
If you could go back in time, is there any advice that you would give to yourself when you first started working for the NHS?
Probably, get used to the reorganisations and understand that they always bring some opportunities, especially. I joined an NHS Trust on the first day it existed with a whole new set of “financial freedoms” only to find myself in 2007 leading a process of FT authorisation to regain the chance to regain some of the same freedoms