International Women’s Day – Empowering Women in Healthcare


By Skills for Health | 8 March 2024

International Women’s Day is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the invaluable contributions of women in various sectors, particularly within healthcare. In the UK, the healthcare workforce is significantly enriched by the presence of women, who not only play pivotal roles in patient care but also drive innovation, research and leadership within the industry. 

The healthcare workforce in the UK heavily relies on the dedication and expertise of women across all levels of care provision. From doctors and researchers to nurses and midwives women contribute significantly to improving the wellbeing of individuals and communities. 

Statistics reveal the extent of women’s participation in healthcare roles in the UK. According to a staff survey and workforce data from NHS England, women account for approximately 77% of the total NHS workforce. This figure underscores the indispensable role that women play in delivering essential services, ranging from primary care to specialised treatments. 

This International Women’s Day let’s not only celebrate the achievements of women in healthcare but also commit to meaningful actions to support them.  

  • Promote Gender Diversity in Leadership
    Healthcare organisations should actively strive to achieve gender parity in leadership positions. Implementing policies that encourage and support the advancement of women into leadership roles, such as mentorship programmes, leadership training, and transparent promotion processes, can help break down barriers and create pathways for career progression. 
  • Address Pay Equity
    Closing the gender pay gap is crucial for ensuring fairness and equality in the healthcare workforce. Employers should conduct regular pay audits to identify and rectify any disparities in compensation between male and female employees. Additionally, transparent salary structures and pay negotiations based on merit can help mitigate pay inequity. 
  • Foster a Culture of Inclusion and Support
    Creating an inclusive and supportive work environment is critical for retaining and empowering women in healthcare. Employers should cultivate a culture that values diversity, promotes respectful communication, and prioritises work-life balance. Implementing policies to prevent discrimination, harassment, and bias in the workplace is essential for fostering a culture of inclusivity and ensuring all employees feel valued and supported. 
  • Celebrate and Amplify Women’s Achievements
    Recognising and celebrating the achievements of women in healthcare is crucial for inspiring future generations and promoting positive role models. Amplifying women’s voices and contributions in professional forums, conferences, and academic publications can help raise awareness of their impact and influence in the field.  

The Our Health Heroes Awards delivered by Skills for Health, stand as a testament to the dedication and hard work of thousands of healthcare support staff across the UK. In the 2023 edition, the spotlight shone brightly on the vital contributions of women in healthcare, with an overwhelming 92% of the individual finalists being women. 

Among them, Toni Star, a Neonatal Nurse, received the prestigious Lifetime Contribution to Healthcare award, recognising her remarkable 52-year career. Toni’s journey is marked by milestones such as completing the advanced diploma in midwifery in 1982 and leading quietly by example in an era when neonatal nursing was still emerging. Her advocacy for data-driven improvement continues to leave a lasting impact on healthcare practices.

Professor Dame Elizabeth Nneka Anionwu, known for her groundbreaking contributions to nursing and healthcare, is set to speak at this year’s Our Health Heroes Awards ceremony. With a career spanning decades, Professor Dame Elizabeth has played a pivotal role in advancing the understanding and management of sickle cell disease and thalassaemia, particularly within black and minority ethnic communities. 

Her pioneering research and advocacy work have not only impacted clinical practice but have also provided valuable insights into the social, cultural, and political dimensions of these conditions. Professor Dame Elizabeth’s numerous publications and co-authored influential books further underscore her significant contributions to the field. In recognition of her outstanding achievements, she was awarded a Damehood (DBE) in the 2017 Queen’s New Year’s Honours List. 

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it’s essential to honour trailblazers like Toni and Professor Dame Elizabeth, alongside the countless other women who continue to lead, innovate, and excel in healthcare. Through their dedication and determination, they pave the way for future generations of women to pursue careers in healthcare and make their mark on the world. 

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