International Women’s Day — Leading by example

The timeline of women’s history is one that continues to this day in 2021. There are still noted inequalities that women face every day, both in their personal and professional lives. International Women’s Day presents an opportunity to shine a light on the challenges and achievements of women in our communities as well as raising awareness of gender inequalities.

To mark this day, we are sharing stories and advice from women in our Trust, who lead the way for other women in our community, tackling injustice and embedded expectations.

First is our newly appointed Non-Executive Director, Dr Subashini M, who is also Associate Medical Director at Aviva Health UK and Non-Executive Director at Healthwatch Hampshire.

“Reflecting back on my career, there were 3 defining moments in my life that have contributed to where I am today and my ambitions for the future.

First moment was when my mother told me, aged 8, that she cried when I was born, not from joy but with sadness because I was a girl. I was born in India in the 80s and to be fair to my mother, she was right to think that my gender would limit my options in life.

I vowed to myself then that my gender cannot and will not limit me.”

Second moment was when I applied to medical school in the UK, having grown up in Singapore. I remember my extended family advising my parents not to spend their savings on my education as being a woman, it would be a wasted investment as my primary role was to be a good wife and a mother.

I vowed to myself then my role in life cannot and will not be determined by my gender.

Third moment was when I was pregnant with my daughter and my research supervisor at work questioned my commitment to research and career progression, as being a mother would mean that I might be distracted from work.

I vowed to myself then that my choice to be a mother cannot and will not curtail my career progression.

After these years, those assumption and societal ‘norms’ while painful to hear at that time were what stirred the fires of ambition for me. I believe that we cannot control how others view us but we are in control of how we respond to circumstances. Knowing that my career, my life and my choices are mine to make and owning them (no matter how hard it was at that time) was a key driver to overcoming those challenges.

One of the my biggest achievements was watching my daughter draw surgeons, fire fighters and police officers as females. ‘You can’t create what you can’t imagine’- so I am glad that she, and my son, live in a world where they can imagine all kinds of possibilities for their future.

We live in a world that is designed for cis-gendered, able-bodied, middle-aged white men. From medical research to engineering and architecture, everyday objects are designed based on who is seen and represented. Women make up 49.5% of the world population and yet there is a gender pay gap, there are objects that we use, medicines that we take and entire systems that are not designed with women in mind. We need to find our voice, hone our voice and use our voice. We need a seat at the table so that the world that we create is designed for all of us.

I have 3 simple pieces of advice for young women:

1. Know yourself- spend some time to really find out what you are good at, what you love, what you can get paid for and what the world needs (find your ikigai)

2. Find your rock and your tribe- we all need support, and be it a best friend or a sibling or your partner, find someone you trust you can rely on to be truthful with you and be your rock. Likewise, find your people, who spur you on, who inspire you and grow together; Life is a marathon not a sprint and since we are going far, we need to go together.

3. Lift as you rise- aim high and work hard, stay curious and be idealistic but remember to pass it forward as the poem by Rupi Kaur states so beautifully:

We also spoke to Aleksandra Woods, one of our chefs at Gosport War Memorial Hospital as well as Unison Steward and Women’s Officer.

As a Women’s Officer, I would like every woman to know how we can support each other and how important it is to know that whatever happens, you are not alone. You have us — Unison Women.

I know from personal experience how you can feel lonely and scared at times, but we are not numbers, we are real women. When I started working for the Trust almost 15 years ago, I didn’t know much about Unison and the importance of a role. I started out as a band 1 employee, barely speaking English. My hard work and dedication allowed me to learn and achieve what I have today. My manager sent me to college where I first studied English and Maths. A few years later I went onto pass the chef’s exam. I recently completed the Senior Production Chef course and a very important Food Allergy Awareness training, both passed with distinction!

Although it required a lot of work, stress and sacrifice, I never gave up. Today, when I look at myself, I see a woman, a strong, content woman. I’ve never felt this before and it’s amazing. I wish all women could feel this way, confident and happy when they see their reflection.

During my 15-year career at Southern Health, I have met fantastic women who have been a great support to me, and I hope I can pass on that support and encouragement to other women.

No matter what your skin colour, the size you wear, the language you speak or the country you come from, never give up! Never be afraid to speak out and fight for your rights. Always protect your dreams and stand up for what you believe in.

If you are not confident enough, remember that UNISON is here for you.

Happy International Women’s Day❤️❤️❤️

Our final piece is from Penny Hill, Head of Nursing for Adult Acute Mental Health Pathway in Southampton.

One of the biggest challenges I have faced throughout my career is balancing the emotional demands of being a nurse & leader with those of being a mother.

This has been a constant balancing act throughout my career. The balance has tipped at times particularly when undertaking additional studies to support my clinical and leadership development or taking on new roles whilst continuing with full time work and raising a family . I have found that building good working relationships and empowering those I work with enables others to lead and support alongside allowing me to be emotionally available when I am at home and achieve a relatively harmonious balance.

Another challenge I faced very early in my career as a mental health nurse was the challenge of being a female working in a predominantly male environment.

Challenging some of the approaches to mental health care and culture of the teams at the time was tough and made me determined to progress in my leadership journey to be able influence the necessary culture change and the development of contemporary mental health services.

I am immensely proud of the teams and services I have worked with throughout my career as a great deal of my career has been involved in improving services.

The improvements made have been my biggest achievements but the highlight of my career has been to be recognised for my leadership by receiving a Leadership award in 2017 followed by invitation only attendance at the Queen’s Garden Party in 2018. Further achievements include being promoted into my current position which I love.

It’s important for women to aim high as I believe men and women have unique and complimentary leadership abilities that are required at all levels and there are countless examples of male and female leaders throughout history and present today. It’s important for our future generation of young women to have influential role models who hold positions of responsibility demonstrating their unique blend of leadership in order to continue to grow our future compassionate leaders and influencers.

What advice would I give to young women taking first career steps?

To follow your intuition and take opportunities presented to you even if outside of your comfort zone. Keep a sense of balance and perspective and remember that you can have it all, family and a career…Learn from the role models you aspire to and never be afraid to make mistakes.

There is no limit to what we as women can accomplish” Michelle Obama

This year’s theme is #ChooseToChallenge, encouraging everyone to challenge gender inequalities, bias and assumptions. International Women’s Day gives us all an opportunity to focus on calling out inequalities in our own communities and raise awareness.

If you are a member of staff and need more information on this, please visit the Equality and Diversity page of our intranet.

Find out more about International Women’s Day here: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/

Southern Health provide community, specialist mental health and learning disability services for people across the south of England.