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Increasing gender diversity on NHS and FRC boards

5 June 2020

3 minutes to read

Increasing gender diversity on NHS and FRC boards

The representation of women on NHS Trust boards has increased to 45 per cent following the adoption of changes to hiring practices recommended in a 2017 report from Professor Ruth Sealy.


In 2016, Ed Smith, Chair of NHS Improvement announced a target of gender balance across all NHS boards of directors by 2020. However, NHS Improvement needed research-informed advice on how to achieve this.

Ruth Sealy’s research into over 400 NHS boards, revealed that women were under-presented in senior board positions with women making up only 26.3 per cent of finance directors and 24.6 per cent of medical directors.

The recommendations outlined in Professor Sealy’s 2017 report 50-50 by 2020, has resulted in changes to hiring practices and a significant increase in the percentage of women on NHS trust boards (increase of 5 per cent to 44.7 per cent between 2017 and 2020). Ruth’s findings have also led to the development of an IT system that tracks and monitors diversity data, highlighting any inequalities and potential barriers to women’s leadership positions.

The Chair of Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS Trust said: “Using the 50-50 by 2020 report, Governors agreed to an open and fair appointment process. By utilising open and fair recruitment processes, we not only have a much more ethnically diverse board but a true gender balance with a high level of skill and experience which is making a difference for our Trust in what are difficult times for the NHS.”

Since 2017, Ruth has conducted further research into the boardroom positions she previously identified as under-represented by women, conducting interviews to discover women’s experiences of working in both senior and junior positions. She presented her report to the NHS on International Women’s Day 2020 at the House of Commons, sharing her findings with over 100 senior leaders for the NHS. Her work continues to impact NHS board strategy, workplace practices and operations.

Professor Ruth Sealy

Financial Reporting Council (FRC)

Ruth Sealy’s extended period of research for the FRC, during which she interviewed Board Evaluators from 350 FTSE listed companies, proved that a diverse board improves board effectiveness through decision making. The FRC’s Corporate Governance Code in 2018 was updated to include more information about board evaluation as a result of Professor Sealy’s recommendations. She also presented evidence to the parliamentary Women and Equalities Committee on evaluation and boardroom diversity.

Ruth’s subsequent research into the quality of reporting on diversity and board evaluation recommended that FTSE company annual reports should state the proportion of women in senior roles, as well as actions they are taking to increase diversity in senior management. In October 2019 it was announced that the goal of 30 per cent of Directors of FTSE 350 to be female had finally been achieved and Sealy’s data had been effectively used for setting and tracking targets.

Ruth Sealy said: “What’s consistent across the private and public sectors is the necessity for transparent data analytics on diversity to ensure interventions are evidence-based. It’s great to see the metrics finally moving in the right direction. What is also now important is moving on from just counting the numbers to making the numbers count. This means moving towards more inclusive cultures to gain the value of diverse perspectives, that can positively influence decision-making and effectiveness at board level.”


For more information please contact:

Sophie Smith
Impact and Partnership Development Manager – Organisational Strategy


Professor Ruth Sealy


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