International Women’s Day: Celebrating Women in the NHS

Freiza Mahmood, Chief People Officer at Sandwell and Birmingham NHS Trust

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day- a day dedicated to take stock and amplify women’s collective voice. We are proud to support women in the NHS, at Remedium and in wider society every day of the year, but this week we are taking the opportunity to recognise and celebrate the tremendous contribution of both women in the NHS and at Remedium.

In the first of our International Women’s Day series, we interviewed Freiza Mahmood, Chief People Officer at Sandwell and Birmingham NHS Trust, to find out what International Women’s Day means to her, and why she is proud to work in the NHS.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day for me is an opportunity to give recognition, and voice, to the wonderful contribution women give in both social life and in the place of work. I have had many inspirational women who have influenced me during my career and upbringing, and International Women’s Day is a chance for me to give recognition to that as well.

What advice would you give to women in the NHS?

Be really brave and courageous- be yourself. As women I think there is often a pressure and expectation to behave in a different way, and suppress some of the subtleties that we bring in terms of the way we think and feel, and our approach to adapting to a traditionally male dominated environment. This is true of wider society and of women in the NHS. I think you should bring all of yourself to work– being able to show a level of vulnerability, humility and empathy towards others is a huge strength, not a weakness.

How are women in the NHS supported?

There is a range of different approaches to support staff and the needs of individual groups, including women in the NHS. This has traditionally been nuanced around health and wellbeing and cultural needs, but there is a growing focus on knowing and understanding the factors that can impact the experience women have in the workplace and the extent to which they are treated fairly and receiving the support they need. We noticed women are underrepresented in consultant leadership roles– we know women in the NHS have traditionally tended to have more care-based roles, or work part time- so they often felt they did not meet the requirements for leadership positions. We know that when women don’t meet 100% of the requirements of a role, they are unlikely to apply for it. When we looked at recruiting for those positions, we spent a lot of time with women in the NHS who we know are immensely talented and have the skills needed to move into a clinical leadership role. We gained a good understanding of the barriers women face in applying for these roles- for example, the need to work flexibly, and we work to make sure these barriers do not stop women in the NHS applying for the role.

We have also been looking at some of the female specific health needs that can impact our women in the NHS workforce, for example women experiencing the menopause. We recognise the different health support needs of our staff at different stages of their life, and we have pioneered work around supporting women that other systems are now approaching us about. Just recognising and understanding the health needs of women help us keep people happy and in the workforce as long as possible. We have also been working on eliminating period poverty and ensuring women in the NHS workforce have equitable access to everything they need.

We have also been leading female leadership empowerment. We’re not shy to put things on the table and have an open and honest discussion about the discrimination or harassment women can experience at work. I’m also proud of how many male allies we have that speak out as well. It’s about everybody knowing and recognising this is important, and that it is something that effects everyone. It feels like the culture is changing and there are more open and honest dialogue about these kinds of things.

What motivates you to work in the NHS?

Personal experience about the most inspirational woman in my life- my mum. She raised me, my brother and my sister on her own, and I saw her being strong, formidable and courageous throughout my childhood. When I was 16, she contracted meningitis and septicaemia- a blood poisoning with meningitis. She experienced a significant adverse impact on her health, and as a result she was hospitalised for a year. She had to learn how to walk again, she lost her memory and she had to learn how to function again.

I saw the people in the NHS– from the porter, to the physiotherapist, to the ITU doctors and the nurses in the interdisciplinary teams- put her back together. They saw me and my siblings as people they needed to support through that difficult time as well.

I had never intended to work in the NHS- I had planned to go to Cambridge and study Law and Business- but the debt of gratitude I felt towards the NHS compelled me to seek a career here. I originally wanted to be a midwife, but I went on some work experience and realised it was not the same as Call the Midwife, and I may be too squeamish. I started to look at different opportunities and found the NHS management scheme which suited me more. I see myself now, and I did then, as a public servant. This job gives enormous opportunity to give back.

Can I work in the NHS?

If you are a doctor who is interested in a career in the NHS, register your details here and one of our experienced team will be in touch. We have helped thousands of doctors make the move to the UK, and we will support you every step of the way.

If you want to know more about how Remedium support women, including women in the NHS, check out our series of International Women’s Day blogs from previous years here.

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