Tech careers in the NHS: addressing the gender gap

Roslyn Churchill, chief information officer, NHS Property Services (NHSPS) explores how to overcome the gender gap in NHS tech careers

Women make up 75 per cent of all NHS staff from clinicians, porters to admin roles and senior positions. The NHS is one of the largest employers of women in the world. However, figures show that in health technology specifically, only one woman in five people are working in the industry.
The COVID-19 pandemic has merely exacerbated this issue. In 2021, the Institute of Coding (IoC) has estimated the UK alone needs at least 1.5 million people with advanced computer science and data skills. With the current graduate pool being around 28,000 in this field, there is an urgent need to address this gap, as it is only going to grow.
What can be done to make up this gap? Having a more diverse workforce – we need to be introducing more training and compulsory classes at an education level. Traditionally, computer science has always been seen as a man’s job. While this perception is slowly changing, and we are seeing more girls and women becoming interested in computer science and data, much more needs to be done to not only encourage women into embarking on this career path, but also empower them to stay on and flourish.

Addressing the gender gap challenge
Having been an executive director in my organisation for over four years, my passion for data and technology is just as strong as it was when I studied IT at school. But technological advancements have skyrocketed since I first ventured into the field rather naively.
Women are still under-recruited, under-retained and under-promoted, which is contributing to the widening technology skills gap. We are now in an age where digital data has become the essence of what we do, and with the continuous evolution in digital technology, we need to consider how information can be used to our advantage in all aspects of healthcare.
For digital transformation in healthcare to be truly successful, we need digital inclusion.

Women must be at the heart of healthcare technology, as their inclusion, perspective and experience can help improve patient outcomes. With existing technologies and data processes still heavily biased against women, having more women working in data and technology can help address this, as well as help tackle broader issues such as health inequalities.

Featuring role models
An important way to address the gender gap in healthcare technology is showcasing women who are already working in it, particularly spotlighting those who are in leadership positions. This can come from women networks within an organisation, networking events dedicated to women in tech, and mentoring programmes. It is crucial that we normalise the notion that women can be at the forefront of this sector and especially in leadership roles alongside men.
Research has shown that a ‘maternal-style’ leadership, which embraces an empathetic, open and caring approach to leadership, has led to higher levels of job satisfaction, staff retention, as well as improved company culture. By having different approaches in leadership, particularly one that allows employees to be more open and feel safe to do so, it can also help address the gender gap. Over my 20-year career, I must admit that I am proud to be working for an organisation that is truly walking the walk when it comes to improving diversity in digital and data. As of 2022, over 35 per cent of digital and data roles at NHS Property Services (NHSPS) are filled by women, a significant increase from 2018 when this figure was only 5 per cent. We have also improved representation of women in senior levels, with 80 per cent of senior technical roles now being undertaken by women.

Transforming health estates for the better
Data intelligence is becoming much more important and has become lifeblood of the healthcare setting. Looking at health estates specifically, we have data intelligence within the digital and data team and leverage these insights to inform the business on how our buildings are utilised and run, and therefore the strategies that can improve the way we manage the health estate.
By having that visibility, we have a more proactive approach to monitoring the health of our workforce. For example, many of the services that NHSPS support have women at the centre of their operations – social prescribing sites, community centres, childcare hubs and more. To ensure that our buildings are fit for purpose, we must have precise data on the needs of the women and people who use these facilities, how they are using them, and any areas for improvement. More importantly, we need to be able to interpret and analyse this data and turn insights into meaningful actions to improve the health and wellbeing of our site users. Having a diverse team on the ground and in the data teams will be critical to making this a success.
To support the NHS now and in the future, we have to stay at pace with the ever-changing life cycle of technology. Beyond the usual constant upgrades and replacements, we need to look at our workforce and come up with tangible ways to ensure that they are equipped with the skills needed to keep up with these rapid changes. Having more women and diversity generally will be a critical component to this. By focussing on strategic investments in digital and data technologies, as well as solid training and recruitment, the NHS’ continuous change in a time of uncertainty, adapting and influencing to be able to deliver the quality of services that we continue to provide for the benefit of patients.

About the author
Roslyn is accountable for the digital, technology and data strategy and enablement through delivering to NHSPS plans. Roslyn brings significant technology and property experience to the role, as well as a strong track record of directing complex, operational environments. She has over 20 years of experience delivering strategic transformation and solutions and has a keen interest in continuous improvement to meet the evolving needs of the business.