Spreading change to create a balanced world – a female perspective

Elizabeth Carter is the transformation lead for NHS England’s nursing directorate. A change leader, feminist, and radical, Elizabeth is determined to enable young women in education and their careers to unlock their full potential.
On International Women’s Day 2019, Elizabeth reflects on her own career as a female leader as she considers how her time at the Spread Academy – a change programme by the South West Academic Health Science Network (SW AHSN) and Billions Institute – will help make nursing and midwifery a more gender-balanced profession.  
Here I am at the Flybe Training Academy in Exeter sat at a table as a participant in the first Spread Academy. My usual place is up at the front, leading, so this is a joy for me. It’s also fitting that I’m in an aviation training facility, since my early career was in air traffic control for the Royal Air Force (RAF). It was there that I honed my passion for leadership development among women.
So what brought me here today? When I left the RAF I joined the NHS – an institution which was already a part of my life with nurses for both a mother and a sister. My own journey in the NHS has taken me through female leadership development and into service and quality improvement via the NHS Modernisation Agency and the NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement.
When the opportunity came to work for NHS England on the Nursing Now England programme (formerly Transforming Perceptions of Nursing and Midwifery) to raise the profile of nursing, I leapt at it. It was a chance for me to bring together everything that I had learnt about quality improvement, large-scale change, community organising, and social movement theory. So when I was invited to join the SW AHSN and Billions Institute for their four-day Spread Academy for change, I had to say yes. Much of my time in the NHS has been spent working in the South West, and the Billions Institute’s Joe McCannon is my former mentor, so coming here feels like coming home.
I am working this week with wonderful facilitators and coaches to think through how we create, support, and enable local networks of ambassadors to work with young people in education to understand the breadth and depth of a career in nursing or midwifery, to become champions of the profession, and to get under the skin of decision makers …and it’s throwing up some really interesting discussions.
Our burning platform is a massive shortfall in nurses and midwives; nine million more are needed worldwide by 2030. Through research, analysis, and crowdsourcing we have identified three key areas which we need to focus on: education and young people, the current workforce, and key decision makers and policy makers. We have over 2,000 nursing and midwifery ambassadors working with us to celebrate the wonderful professions of nursing and midwifery, but we want to do more.
For me, there are equality and equity issues in the profession which are being incubated. One area we are focusing on is men in nursing and midwifery. With only 11% of the nursing and midwifery workforce male, we are missing out on a huge section of the population as potential future nurses and midwives. I find myself applying the lessons and principles from my work on women in leadership to try and solve these challenges.
We are also working on how we encourage more people from black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds to enter nursing and midwifery and how we retain those who are already in these professions.
The Spread Academy is stretching my mind, and giving me focus and purpose in my work in a wonderful environment with incredible leaders, like Becky Margiotta. I’ll be applying what I learn to the Nursing Now England and Transforming Perceptions of Midwifery campaigns and thinking deeply about how we spread and scale our work.
When I joined the RAF there were very few women at the top, so I didn’t have any strong female role models. That isn’t the case these days, thankfully. I was nurtured in a way that has shaped the woman I am today and I am determined to share what I’ve learnt with young women – and men – to unlock their potential and amplify their greatness. We have made so much progress towards becoming a gender-balanced world, but we need to continue this powerful movement to help our economies and communities thrive.
Follow Elizabeth on Twitter: @lizzieMAcarter

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