Meet the women of Nuffield Health - Caroline Smith

International Women’s Day (8th March) is a chance for people all over the world to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, increasing visibility and raising awareness about gender inequality across the world.

In the lead up to the day, we have interviewed some of our inspirational women to discuss the challenges and bias women face today and the women that inspired them.

Can you tell us about your role at Nuffield Health?

As Chief Quality & Operating Officer (CQOO), I am responsible for the teams that deliver the Charity’s health and wellbeing services to all our beneficiaries across the UK and for ensuring that these teams are enabled to maintain the highest quality, regulatory and safety standards to meet the increasing demand for health and wellbeing services.

When I started my career as a nurse in 1982, it was a time when females were nurses and males were doctors, a dynamic I didn’t enjoy. I looked for fields where I could be considered an equal, so I chose the route of high dependency nursing and then worked my way up through the healthcare industry, moving from the practical, clinical side into the business arena. 

My career culminated in my role as CQOO. I am responsible for circa 14,000 employees led by my SLT where we enjoy the benefits and diversity of an equal split of strong male and female colleagues 

My key 2022 objective is to deliver public benefit by leading our front line teams with floor to board engagement and through the management and enablement of a high performing senior leadership team laying the solid foundations for growth and future operating model design to be fit for future and make Nuffield Health a more responsive and diverse place to work for our teams

What do you think has changed for women between when you started your career and now?

I think there is now greater attention on female equality. The fact we’re having these conversations so openly means that we can tackle them more effectively. There’s a lot of work being carried out to create the right environment for women to thrive in senior positions in the workplace. 

There has also been an interesting shift in the recognition of good leaders being held to account for their part in holistic leadership. Leaders have to take an active interest in their employees’ wellbeing as well as being results driven - it’s rightly no longer enough to simply be ‘good at the numbers’ and performance. This change has, and continues, to encourage diversity in the workplace which has been helped by societal changes which has developed a greater social acceptance of shared parenting and flexible working arrangements.  

What attitudes or biases do you still recognise around us?

Unfortunately, there’s still a disparity in healthcare. In the medical industry, many of our surgeons are still male and there is still an out-dated bias towards female nurses (of which I was one). 

In the fitness industry, we’re still heavily male dominated. As a Charity which promotes diversity and inclusion in its workforce, we’re committed to trying to balance this - and of course this is much worse for minority groups and something we need to consciously address.

I do feel that women have a responsibility to shake off the ‘guilt’ of not being able to do everything. There is so much pressure for what a woman ‘should’ be doing in the home, alongside a career. It took me a long time to stop this way of thinking because I enjoy the nurturing side of home life, but I also wanted a career. It was an important realisation for me that I couldn’t have it all, rather I needed to learn balance and stop feeling guilty. The right balance is hard to find, but at Nuffield Health I have never had that problem, as an organisation we realise that family comes first, and help is always available – we just have to remember to ask!

Where do you notice your womanhood boosting you as a leader?

I believe my shared experience helps to boost me as a leader. I try to lead by example, as I can relate to women who are entering the workforce or trying to balance their work and home life responsibilities. I can empathise, having felt that guilt trying to succeed at both and I try to help guide them to find a balance that works for them.  

During my career, I have been given the opportunity (by as many male leaders as I have female) to succeed and reach my potential. I want to give those opportunities to others. I have deliberately pulled through female talent for my leadership team, creating an equal balance of men and women, and try to create safe environments where women can flourish and feel empowered. 

I think that having a sense of humour, honesty and being sensible and realistic about male and female dynamics in the workplace is important. I try to work round any issues of bias through humour and then asking why they think something is acceptable and/or why they have those views. I find that approach provides a better environment for discussion and learning, rather than being lectured. 

Where do you notice your womanhood becoming a barrier for you?

I have been lucky as I haven’t really encountered any barriers, however, I have experienced moments where my womanhood has been a hindrance, for example, where I am not taken as seriously as my male counter-parts or where people think that I have achieved success because of positive discrimination. I might be lucky as these moments have been rare, but they are still raw, and I remember all of them. 

Which woman has inspired you and why?

I would have to say, Michelle Obama. I find her very relatable/human, evidenced by the fact that she has a very broad appeal from a generational and diversity perspective. She is that perfect combination of feminist (but not one shouting it from the roof tops), a strong determined woman with a strong value set, a sense of family/nurturing spirit and she uses humour well. 

I think her husband, Barak Obama, encapsulated ‘…all achieved with grace’. 

Her journey is awe inspiring.

Last updated Monday 7 March 2022

First published on Monday 7 March 2022