For International Women’s Day this year, we sat down with Christine Mozzamdar, Clinical Services Director at The Hospital Group to discuss how the role of women in the healthcare sector has changed during her career.
I’ve spent my career in both public and private healthcare in the UK, and this International Women’s Day, it’s very interesting indeed to look back at how gender equality has progressed since my early days in the industry.
Initially, I worked for a multi-functional trust in the Midlands and carried out my first leadership role there, leading the Governance team. It certainly gave me a lot of valuable insight - because there was a real lack of females in similar roles then, it became clear that women had to alter and adapt their behaviour to try to fit in to what was a man’s world.
While I was there, though, a female director was appointed to the Board. She was one of the first to hold a role at that level and I learned a lot from her, from how to position yourself in meetings to how to dress and which colours to wear, in an age where power-dressing was one of the ways that ensured you were taken more seriously. It really was a case of knowing how to play the game as a woman, and she taught me about many of the ‘rules’ in that era.
I gained a lot of knowledge during my NHS days, and attended a number of seminars which helped to coach me in the fundamentals of being a leader. Very few leaders are born with all the skills they need to succeed and I do feel that, no matter your gender, what you put into learning is what you get back out.
However, the lack of change within the organisation led me to leave for the private sector. After 15 years, I took up a role with The Hospital Group, a family-run business which was later taken over by Transform.
The owners identified that they needed to recruit someone externally to take the business to the next level and chose me based on my skills and experience. As far as I’m aware, the fact that I’m female didn’t have any bearing either way.
18 years down the line, I’ve led teams through significant organisational change. That’s been possible through implementing solid structures and robust processes, but it’s been crucial to continue to learn myself so that changes I implement make consistent improvement.
Most of all, though, I see my role as being to support my team members to develop their own skills. This enables them to carry out tasks and make decisions themselves, and in turn boosts their confidence in their abilities. Unofficially, I call this ‘Yes, we can do it.’ We’re consistently working towards a multi-disciplinary, more democratic, inclusive and collaborative culture, one where we pick people up and take them with us to move forward. It isn’t always easy, because people can be naturally resistant to change. Often, you need to nurture them to progress.
That was very apparent when The Hospital Group first partnered with the NHS during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. While our medical team members have all the necessary qualifications to carry out their roles, until then they’d generally dealt with healthy people who had elected to undergo surgery. The transition to helping, for example, end of life patients, was huge – and completely understandable.
We broke down the training and tasks required to help them gain the necessary skills and made sure they had a thorough grounding in the governance procedures required. That helped them believe they could do it, and they were able to carry out their roles to the required levels very quickly.
Our CEO is very conscious of the need for equality, and not just in relation to employing women – if the person has the right skills, qualifications and experience for a role, then they are recruited. Having said that, at one point the organisation had more women in senior positions than men, which I think would still be unusual in many businesses of our size.
And I’ve seen great improvements in women’s equality across the independent healthcare sector generally in recent years – I’m meeting many more females in senior positions, so it looks like we’re continuing to crack the ‘glass ceiling’.
The government systems these days are very supportive to women who have children, which has helped in that regard. I firmly believe that having kids doesn’t need to hold you back – ultimately, it depends on the person involved. When you have children, no matter your gender, you have to make sacrifices. It’s a fact of life, and I knew that it was one I’d have to accept.
In my case, I chose to do what I believed were the most important things for my children, such as attending sports days or school assemblies. I did have great support from their grandparents, and as they are 3 very confident, grown up people now, I don’t feel my career was detrimental to them in any way.
Women’s equality has certainly made huge strides since I began my healthcare career, but there is always more to be done. Every woman has to make her own choices. From my perspective, having a clear idea of what you want to achieve and then pushing yourself to get there are key. In a nutshell, hard work and belief will make it happen.
And if you admire a female boss or a senior colleague, just ask them if they’d consider mentoring you. The good ones will support you and help you move forward. That improves your confidence and helps you move forward in your career.
When you become a leader yourself, return the favour. Roll up your sleeves and mentor other women within your organisation. Help them to believe in themselves and play your own part in progressing women’s equality.