Getting the balance right

The Director of Workforce Race Equality Standard Implementation for NHS England and Deputy President of the Royal College of Nursing marks International Women’s Day 2019:

From time to time people ask me whether I consider myself a black woman or a woman that is black.

It’s an interesting question and one I find impossible to answer because for me the two are inextricably linked. Yes, I am a woman but my experiences as a black woman are different to that of my white counterparts, therefore I have more in common with some women than with others, as I often say to people when they talk about equality for women.

The name for this was coined by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw and is known as intersectionality.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is gender balance. The saying goes that a gender balanced world is a better and fairer world and this is of course is true.

The rise of women is not about the fall of men, neither is the rise of black women about the fall or at the expense of white women. As women we have a duty to support and value each other, our many similarities, but also acknowledge, understand and appreciate our many differences.

The joy of being a woman from any background cannot be underestimated, we are wives, mothers, sisters, grandmothers and regardless of background, those things bring us happiness and delight in various measures. We are not only important people in our homes and families but in the work place.

Women in the 21st century are told they can do and be anything, yet, we know that for some women it is truer than for others, and for women it isn’t as true as it is for some men.

Women are well educated these days and hold down very demanding and high-powered jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Theresa May, Nicola Sturgeon and Michelle Obama to name but a few.  These women are at the top of their game and are role models to thousands of women all over the world, their achievements give us all hope of a more evenly balanced and fair world, yet we know that there is a gender pay gap with women, on the whole, making less money than men. There are four main reasons for this gap:

There are more men in senior positions than women, caring responsibilities meaning women are in more part time roles, more women in lower paid roles, women being paid less than men for the same role.

This year International women’s day is about balance for better, we all need to pay attention to the fact that we cannot as women achieve equity with men unless they act as our advocates and supporters, we need our male allies. We need men to speak up for the unfairness and inequity in this gap and at the same time we need white women to speak up for their black and minority ethnic (BME) sisters, because across the board BME people earn less than their white counterparts, this is the race equality pay gap.

It must be said that we have come a long way with equality issues from the days when women did not have the vote and were expected to stay at home and look after the children. However, as a society we still have work to do and a long way to go. Thankfully stereotypes are constantly being challenged and there is a little more acceptance of difference, however there is still work to be done.

Many people need to change their views and attitudes about women working in some roles like being a firefighter, crane driver or builder and, similarly, to ensure gender equity we need to see many more men in traditionally ‘female roles’ like teaching and nursing.

Remembering the role of all women in our society during International Women’s Day is positive. But we need to remember that we need men and women of all backgrounds to work together and support each other to gain gender balance and equity.

Yvonne Coghill

Yvonne Coghill CBE, OBE, JP, MSc, DMS, RGN, RMN, HV, CPT, Dip Exec Coaching.

Yvonne commenced nurse training at Central Middlesex Hospital in 1977, qualified as a general nurse in 1980 and then went on to qualify in mental health nursing and health visiting. In 1986 she secured her first NHS management job and has since held a number of operational and strategic leadership posts.

In 2004, she was appointed at the Department of Health as Private Secretary to the Chief Executive of the NHS, Sir Nigel Crisp.

Yvonne is currently the Director – WRES Implementation in NHS England, and deputy president of the RCN.

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