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  • Writer's pictureJackie Booth

Gender Stereotypes - celebrating assertiveness in female leaders in the NHS.

Working with female leaders in the NHS, I constantly hear that they want to thrive in their roles, as well as contribute to improving patient outcomes and healthcare delivery.

Yet what often happens is they come across challenges and negative stereotypes, such as gender bias and ageism, and when they speak out they are often dismissed, which undermines their confidence. 

In this blog I’ll be looking at the importance of confidence and assertiveness, maintaining it when you feel it is negatively perceived, and some of the leadership strategies I’ve used that might help you.

Can female leaders in the NHS be confident and assertive without being negatively stereotyped?

How are they supposed to cope when they are?

If you are an assertive female leader in the NHS, constantly coping with biases, trying to balance competing demands at home and work, as well as underrepresentation in leadership roles, it can lead to feelings of isolation and imposter syndrome.

And it’s so hard when there aren’t enough role models for aspiring female leaders – despite the majority of the healthcare workforce being women.

Over time, these struggles take a toll on an individual’s confidence and assertiveness. They chip away your self-assurance and diminish your willingness to speak up and share your ideas and opinions.

Female leaders then become hesitant to take risk or advocate for themselves which hinders their desires to effect positive change within the NHS.

But I am here to remind you of why your confidence and assertiveness are important.

They are strengths!

Why confidence and assertiveness matter.

Confidence and assertiveness are pretty essential skills to have for effective leadership, especially when you’re working in the NHS.

In a fast-paced and high-pressure healthcare environment, leaders are juggling a lot all at once.

They need to be able to make difficult decisions, deal with conflict, advocate for their teams and patients, and navigate the complex dynamics that are part and parcel of working in a large organisation.

Confidence enables leaders to trust their judgement and take decisive action, while assertiveness ensures that their voice is heard, and their contributions are valued.

And because healthcare is continually evolving, leaders need to be able to innovate and drive change to meet the health needs of their patients and their teams.

Strategies for increasing your assertiveness and confidence.

You’ll be pleased to know that there are several strategies you can put in place to increase your confidence and assertiveness, even after it has been negatively perceived, or you feel you are constantly ‘knocked down’.

Know your worth – and value it. Celebrate your achievements, acknowledge the experience and expertise you have and remind yourself of what you accomplished and contributed so far.

Speak up – and advocate for yourself in the workplace; especially when it comes to going for promotions, negotiating a salary increase or taking advantage of opportunities for career advancement.

Articulate what you want – no one else is likely to do it if you don’t!

Network like mad – it’s pretty crucial when it comes to advocating for yourself and being seen as a leader in your organisation.

Plus, it can give you mentorship, sponsorship, encouragement and support, as well as the chance to be more visible, which helps pave the way for greater leadership opportunities. 

Develop your assertiveness skills – they can be honed over time with practice and perseverance. Start by understanding your communication style, your strengths and those areas you want to improve.

You could take an advanced communications skills course so you can express your thoughts and needs in a more direct way.

It can also help to reflect on past experiences where you may have lacked assertiveness and work out what you might have done differently.

Also key is clearly defining boundaries around your time, your workload and the behaviours you’re happy to accept from others.

And remember to communicate them too!

Keep learning - every day, and where you can invest in your professional development to enhance your skills, knowledge and leadership abilities.  

Champion diversity – and inclusion initiatives to create a more supportive and equitable workplace for women and other underrepresented groups.

Work on your resilience - you have it, and far more of it than you realise.

Trust you can get through challenging situations knowing you have overcome obstacles and setbacks in the past.

Remember that failure is a natural part of your leadership journey and there are opportunities for learning and growth in everything, especially from the mistakes!

Let me help you to be proud of your confidence and assertive leadership style.

What’s next for you?

When it comes to confidence and assertiveness, in my experience it is less about conforming to what’s expected of you as a woman, but more about embracing your authentic self and leading with assurance and conviction.

Whatever the challenges you’re facing, remember they’re not insurmountable and you’re not alone. Reach out to others [like me!] who can support you.

Check out my NHS Next Level Leadership Programme and start to embrace your unique strengths and empower others to do the same.

You have the power to inspire change and drive innovation in healthcare and you can pave the way for the next generation of female leaders in the NHS.


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