Meet the women of Nuffield Health - Jo Dafforn

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? 

I have been working for Nuffield Health for the past eight years as National Clinical Lead for Pelvic Health Physiotherapy - prior to this I worked in the NHS for 15 years.  

My clinical role involves me assessing and treating women (and some men) with specific pelvic dysfunctions such as urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic pain and sexual dysfunction. These issues remain a significant taboo in our society and it can take my patients years and years to pluck up the courage to come and see me. It’s a real privilege to journey with them through their recovery and I feel honoured that they trust me with their highly personal and often challenging situations.  

I also lead our team of (mainly female) Specialist Physiotherapists like myself - who work within the Nuffield Health network - providing teaching/mentoring and clinical supervision to the team and developing our services. 

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

The main difference I see as a Specialist Therapist is the ever-increasing pressure on women around body shape, body image and sexual function. This pressure has increased significantly with the advent of smart phones, social media and the increasingly sexualised culture we live in. Many young people grow up learning about body image and sex from pornography, music videos and social media which portray a very narrow (or even fake) idea of the form/function of a woman’s body. I feel that as a society we don’t always have a healthy frame of reference as to the variety that ‘normal’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘healthy’ can take when considering our bodies. Many of my female patients just want to know ‘am I normal’ or ‘is my body ok’? 

Our society puts women under huge pressure to recover from pregnancy, ’to be back in their skinny jeans’ within weeks. This is something I see in clinic on a daily basis which makes me really sad. Motherhood is something to be celebrated - it’s an extremely tough job and our bodies are so clever to produce little humans. We need more compassion and grace for new mums - let them recover at their own pace. 

What attitudes or biases do you still recognise around us? 

I find it interesting that we’re still so stuck in our attitudes and biases around gender-based characteristics, particularly with regard to emotions, e.g. women are over emotional, men should be strong, decisive and never express sadness or cry. All emotions are valid and helpful in life and we should all feel able to engage with the full gamut of our emotions - regardless of gender or sexuality - without fear of ridicule or having our feelings invalidated.  

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

‘Womanhood’ means different things to different people. I believe part of my individual womanhood is a nurturing spirit. I have a real passion to see people flourish in all areas of life and I love it when you meet or see someone who is obviously being fully themselves (exercising their gifts and skills whatever they are) and being ‘fully alive.’  

My outlook on leadership is that it is my job to support my team to flourish in their individual roles. Knowing that if they are in this place, they will not only allow their patients to flourish and be well, but also experience the joy that doing a good job can bring.  

In leadership it’s too easy to fall into the trap of looking at outcomes and forgetting to care for and celebrate the humans who are producing the outcomes. My team do an amazing job and I am so proud of them and all they do for our patients and beneficiaries. 

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

In my family, hard work and humility were celebrated (probably a little too much) and remain a strong part of who I am today. As a result, I find it hard to celebrate and share my successes publicly and I have a very harsh inner critic, both of which can be unhelpful in my work life (e.g. this interview is somewhat challenging for me).     

Which woman has inspired you and why? 

My grandmother. In the 1950s, having brought up her children, she was brave enough to walk away from a toxic and abusive relationship after 25 years of marriage. She left with nothing, was ostracised by the family, set up her own business and grafted hard to make a new life for herself. Her courage and resilience are a real inspiration to me and I wear a piece of her jewellery to remind me of these strengths. 

Last updated Wednesday 9 March 2022

First published on Sunday 6 March 2022