Question 1. Tell us about your current role and what you enjoy most about it?
I’m currently the Deputy Chief Financial Officer, NHS North West London Integrated Care System
What I most enjoy about my role is the system element. As part of my work I get to see, and help shape, the whole patient pathway and experience. I particularly enjoy working with GPs and other areas of primary care: these are often an under-resourced, and slightly forgotten part of the pathway. However, as the front door to the NHS they are an absolutely vital part of our system plans.
Question 2. Can you describe your career story?
I started on the NHS graduate management training scheme, based at the North West London regional health authority.
Over the course of my career I’ve worked at both providers and commissioners, as well as a period at the regulator. I’ve tended to spend between 2 and 3 years in a role before looking for the next challenge. My roles have encompassed IT, estates and procurement, as well as the more traditional finance elements.
Most recently I was deputy, and then acting, Chief Financial Officer at Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, and then Director of Finance at The Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
Question 3. Were there any role models who gave you a sense of what it is to be a leader or helped you on your journey?
Early in my career there were very few female leaders in finance so I did find it difficult to identify role models in the more senior bands. I think it’s really positive that more recently we have seen a significant increase in terms of women in leadership positions – although there is still more to do!
On a personal level I found Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In an inspirational book. It reassured me that having a different ‘non-traditional’ management style wasn’t a bad thing. I also found Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk The Danger of a Single Story very powerful and would recommend it to everyone.
Question 4. What barriers have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?
As I said, when I first started in finance it was very much male dominated, especially at the more senior levels, and it was difficult to see how I fitted in to this. I’ve also found that there is a persistent expectation that you should have a clear view of where you want to be in 5 years time, along with an assumption that everyone should be aiming to be a Chief Financial Officer.
For me, I’ve always just wanted to do the best I could in the role I am doing, and to do interesting and challenging work. I think it took me a while to realise that this approach was also perfectly compatible with advancing my career.
Question 5. How have you balanced the competing needs of a modern leadership role?
This is a real challenge as it sometimes feels like you could work 24 hours a day and still have work to do. I think that Covid only made this harder as people were sometimes doing 8 hours of Teams meetings back-to-back.
We talk a lot in our senior management team about ensuring that we recognise, and communicate to staff, that spending 8 hours at a laptop doesn’t necessarily mean you are being productive. People need to get away from their computer to allow themselves time for reflection – I’m not sure people often have great ideas whilst in the middle of a Teams call, it’s far more likely whilst you are away from your computer interacting with colleagues, or simply letting your mind wander.
Question 6. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias, if you could change one thing to help achieve that objective what would it be?
I think we still need to do more to counter bias and stereotypes at an earlier stage. By the time someone leaves school and enters the workplace a lot of the damage has already been done. We need to work earlier with children to reinforce the message that ability and potential career paths have nothing to do with gender (or any other protected characteristics).
I also think we need to better showcase a career in the NHS finance to continue to attract as diverse a range of candidates as possible.
Question 7. What advice would you give to finance staff in furthering their careers and becoming leaders?
Find your network, both within and outside of your organisation, and share ideas and experiences. I think getting out there and meeting and talking to as many people as possible helps you to see all the different opportunities that are available in NHS finance (and beyond!).
Question 8. What do you enjoy doing outside of the working week?
I love getting out and about in London visiting art galleries, museums and music venues.
I’m also the Audit Chair and lay member of the Board of Trustees of the School of Oriental and African Studies which I find very rewarding, and interesting as it gives a perspective from a different not for profit institution.