04/11/2013 08:21 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 18:58 GMT

We Need More Women in Healthcare Management - Here's How to Do It

There aren't enough women in management in healthcare. Fact.

Figures from a Health Service Journal report show only 17 per cent of medical directors of NHS providers are women, 18 per cent of Care Commissioning Groups chairs are women, only 37 per cent of foundation trust directors are women, and only 23 per cent of health provider chairs are women.

That's despite the fact that most people working in the healthcare sector are women. NHS figures for 2010 showed that around 80 per cent of the people it employed were women.

Should we accept this status quo? Of course not. I believe to have a smooth-running, efficient and inclusive health sector we need equality and diversity.

The reality on the ground is that many women simply aren't interested in getting to the top echelons of healthcare management. Reasons for this include wanting to bring up a family, or being reluctant to battle it out in a world dominated by men.

Nevertheless, we need good women in healthcare management as they have many much-needed skills. A survey by consulting firm Caliper found women leaders to be more assertive and persuasive, have a stronger need to get things done and are more willing to take risks than male leaders. The study assessed the potential of more than two million applicants and employees for over 25,000 companies around the world. Women leaders also were found to be more empathic and flexible, as well as stronger in interpersonal skills than their male counterparts.

My own background is as a nurse, then a manager with the Department of Health. But my entrepreneurial spirit led to me fulfilling an ambition to run a thriving business.

I originally went into management because I wanted to make a difference. To see things change. I was eager for healthcare to be more caring, compassionate and committed, like me. But I didn't find it easy to progress by any means. As I have said before, getting ahead in a male-dominated world is tough.

I wasn't intimidated or lacking in confidence - but I wish I'd had a support network of like-minded people to fall back on when I did have doubts. I wish I'd had a mentor. I wish I'd had a role model in healthcare management that I could have used to help me assess what I was doing and to help drive me forward.

I'm convinced we still need a greater use of mentors, and more role models, if women are going to make it to the top in healthcare management - and also as entrepreneurs.

When we are looking to appoint senior managers at PJ Care it's a genuine surprise if we are presented with any female candidates at all. However, I do try and appoint PJ Care directors and senior managers who demonstrate the kinds of skills typically associated with women - my management team are caring, intuitive and strong but kind. And I try and replicate my style throughout PJ Care.

But, to encourage more women to make the breakthrough into senior healthcare management roles, we need to do three things. Firstly, create a better network of support and advice for young female healthcare managers; secondly, provide more effective mentoring; and thirdly raise the profile of the current crop of female senior managers to be inspirational role models.

Networking clubs for women in business already exist, and there's a thriving Women in Management group run by the Chartered Management Institute - but these organisations need more weight and influence.

I believe such support groups - where women can grow and thrive and build their confidence - is vital. A place where they can encourage each other to move forward. We need more powerful women-only business clubs. For example, many women are not comfortable going for a meeting at the Institute of Directors (IoD) or the CBI.

The IoD runs a Women as Leaders conference, which I understand is inspiring. But look at the IoD's board members - they are predominantly male. Plus, most business groups are dominated by men, and for many women heading in to a room populated by high-flying men can be intimidating and unsettling.

Business mentoring is dear to my own heart. I have worked as a mentor with some success, and am currently supporting young entrepreneur Laura Bowley in Milton Keynes who has set up her own gym and fitness business, Happy Bodies. The one-to-one nature of mentoring can work wonders, and we should do more of it in healthcare.

As I've written previously I didn't have a woman healthcare manager role model. It's helpful to have a role model who has who struggled with your problems.

I'm sure that where women are concerned changes are already happening. A Government report recently suggested women now account for 17.3 per cent of FTSE 100 and 13.2 per cent of FTSE 250 board directors - up from 12.5 per cent and 7.8 per cent respectively in February 2011. But the figures are, frankly, still not good.

I expect this trend to continue generally and I hope in the healthcare sector too. Before too long, I hope it will be possible to select my next senior manager from a shortlist comprising an equal number of male candidates and brilliantly-talented female candidates.