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Case Study: Boosting representation of women in senior roles

At the start of 2016, North West Ambulance Service launched a programme designed to address gender balance at a senior level and transform the culture of the organisation. A full-day Women in Leadership conference was held to determine where support would be most helpful. Out of this a women’s network was formed and a series of training sessions were held. In under a year, gender diversity amongst senior staff had increased by 8% to 28%. To put this into greater perspective, of the 40 Senior Paramedic positions that have been appointed to this year, 19 were taken by female staff. This represents 49% of new Senior Paramedics in the organisation.

North West Ambulance Service
Date 2017
Region North West
Size 1,000+ employees
Sector Public

launch of the programme

programme participants

%

gender diversity increase in one year

%

new female Senior Paramedics

Growing number of women joining

Providing emergency services 365 days of the year as well as other non-emergency services, and responding to around 1.3m calls and 950,000 patient episodes annually, the North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) is one of the UK’s largest. In total, it accounts for around a fifth of national activity for all Ambulance Service Trusts.

In recent years growing numbers of women have joined NWAS, but despite this pipeline it became clear that too few were reaching senior positions, especially when it came to uniformed roles. In October 2015, 80% of senior paramedics were male, only one in five was female. Not only that, but a review of the data indicated that many women were applying for top roles but not succeeding.

Aware that this imbalance was an obstacle to NWAS making the best use of talent, the Organisational Development team reviewed recruitment and development opportunities for women across the organisation and looked more broadly at the workplace culture and whether this could be improved. Two years on, the number of female senior paramedics has risen to 28%, with further increases projected over the coming year, and the team has been awarded a Princess Royal Training Award in recognition of this transformation programme.

Ensuring opportunity is open to all

Change has come as a result of NWAS’s Women into Leadership scheme which launched in January 2016. As Mick Forrest, Interim Chief Executive, explains, there was a clear business case for acting. “We were obviously not getting the best from the workforce if we were not giving female staff the opportunity to develop their careers in the way they would want,” he said.

As an initial step, a one-day ‘Women in Leadership’ conference was convened in March 2016, with 160 female leaders or aspiring female leaders in attendance. Role models including an Assistant Chief Constable were invited on stage to speak about their experiences in leadership in uniformed jobs, with discussion focused around identifying what was working well and where action was needed. “We saw it as the thing that would kick-start all the pieces of work that we wanted to do,” said Forrest.

Out of this, the team facilitated the growth of a women’s network, aiming to provide a confidential forum for issues to be raised. It also launched an initial six-session CPD programme providing training around resilience, confidence-building and other skills to support would-be leaders advancing up the career ladder. In order to ensure participants could get the most out of it, interventions were matched to learner need and supported by coaching. Changes were also made to recruitment practices. “We looked at how individually and collectively we could help women to do different things,” said Forrest.

Crucially, the programme had the full backing of the board and senior management from the outset. They understood, said Forrest, that “if you don’t get the right people in the right jobs then you’re not performing as well as you should”.

‘We were obviously not getting the best from the workforce if we were not giving female staff the opportunity to develop their careers in the way they would want.’

Mick Forrest, Interim Chief Executive at North West Ambulance Service

Transforming leadership

For the 160 who participated in the initial programme, it has been an enormous success. “We’ve had some fantastic feedback. I think we gave them the confidence to keep applying for these jobs,” said Forrest. “We still pick the best person for the job but what I think we’ve done is raise people’s expectation levels. We’ve made the organisation more open, and we’re very proud of that.”

The programme has not been just about individual development, however, but also about the value of training and development to NWAS’s future, its corporate culture and its service delivery. “It’s a business need as far as I’m concerned, it makes good business sense to have the right people in post,” Forrest said.

 

At a time of budget cuts and despite the cost of taking a frontline worker off the rota for the day, he has proudly argued the case for this extra training programme.

The OD team is already looking to the future, with plans for a conference next year specifically for women in uniformed roles. “We’re not there by any stretch of the imagination. I think we’re doing it in the right way, we’re building it slowly,” said Forrest.

In the long term, he sees it as being about investing in a pipeline of talent – as much about the 160 women who were at the initial conference as it is about those who weren’t there but could be one day. “We need to make sure that we give the right opportunities.”

 

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