Tackling sexism in our organisation - a message from our Chief Executive

Matthew Trainer

One of our key topics for International Women’s Day is the issue of sexism in our organisation and how we need to tackle it.

As part of this, a letter from Matthew Trainer, our Chief Executive has been issued to all consultants this morning, taking a clear stand against sexism in general, and in particular because we know that too many of our female trainees are experiencing this at work.

This has also been shown to be a wider NHS problem in two national reports last year - the Royal College of Surgeons in England’s diversity review and the British Medical Association’s ‘Sexism in Medicine’ report.

The letter issued is below.

Dear colleagues, Matthew Trainer

I am writing to ask for your support in tackling sexism at our Trust. Since I joined BHRUT last August, a number of people have spoken to me about their experiences of sexism in our hospitals. This is the first time in my NHS career that I have so many concerns raised with me about this form of discrimination.

Our last set of national training scheme results for trainees at BHRUT were generally poor. A clear theme was that too many of our female trainees are experiencing sexist behaviour in the workplace. This was borne out by follow up work with Health Education England, and by feedback from our Freedom to Speak Up Guardians.

Too many women in our Trust are being treated poorly by male colleagues. They are seeing and hearing inappropriate behaviour either directed at them, or at female colleagues. This behaviour is disrespectful, harmful, and has no place in BHRUT. It has a negative effect on patient safety, damages our reputation and makes it hard for us to attract and retain good people. Trainees who are treated in a sexist manner will not apply to work here.

Two national reports last year showed this is a broader problem in the NHS. The first is the Royal College of Surgeons in England’s diversity review (which you can read here); and the second the British Medical Association’s ‘Sexism in Medicine’ report here. Both are worth your time.

I am keen that we work in a Trust that promotes treating each other with kindness, with dignity, and with respect. We should not demean or humiliate a colleague because of their sex, any more than we would because of their ethnicity, or any other characteristic. I will be working with HR this year to make sure that we are clear about the consequences of such behaviour.

I take this matter extremely seriously. In a recent interview for a senior post at the Trust, a candidate told the panel that he had supported an “intelligent, happy girl” in her professional clinical development. I scored his answer zero, making the rest of the interview irrelevant. He would not have referred to a male trainee as an “intelligent, happy boy.”

The language we use about our colleagues speaks volumes about the respect which we have for them. Someone who uses demeaning language about someone because they are a woman, or because they are from a different ethnicity, is running out of time in the NHS.

Our Trust is rich with talent and potential. Much of this is among the women who make up the majority of our workforce (77%). I feel a strong responsibility to my female colleagues to make sure that they can fulfil their potential here at BHRUT. I am writing to ask you to think about what you can do to help.

This might be by looking at your own behaviour and considering your impact on female colleagues. It might be through your willingness to challenge a male colleague who does or says something wrong.

Anyone who holds sexist views – or racist views, or homophobic views, or any views that have no place in the NHS – needs to leave these outside our hospitals. The moment that we step across the threshold of Queen’s Hospital, or King George Hospital, or any of our sites, is the moment at which our behaviour needs to meet the standards the NHS expects.

If you want to understand the impact of prejudice at work, please take the time to open your eyes and ears to the experiences of your fellow NHS staff. Look at the people who work alongside you. Think about what it must mean to be treated like you are of less worth because of something so profoundly personal. We are never too old to recognise our own failings and weaknesses, and to seek to change for the better.

Over the course of this year, I will be working with our Women’s Network to raise the profile of our concerns about sexism at BHRUT. I would like to do this with your support.

I would like us to put our energy into supporting one another, and creating an environment built on kindness and respect; to recognise the richness of the talent that we have among our wonderful, diverse workforce, and to use it to make this a better place in which to work, and a better place in which to be cared for.

Yours sincerely,

Matthew Trainer

Chief Executive


You can also download a copy of the letter by clicking the link below:

CEO letter re sexism.pdf 132KB

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