Do not let your gender be a barrier but a strength

by Devina Maru

It is vital current and future generations of doctors speak up to drive the changes they wish to see in the healthcare system

Location: UK
Published: Wednesday 4 May 2022
devina maru

I am very passionate about women having equal opportunities in leadership roles. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for young people to see women in positions of leadership for role modelling, mentorship, and support.

In times of change and modern leadership, equality and gender opportunity remain topics of fervid debate. Women outnumber men in entry to medical school and comprise the majority of the UK’s healthcare workforce. However, women remain significantly underrepresented in senior medical grades, on NHS boards and in leadership positions, academia, and research. There is some way to go to achieve gender balanced leadership teams that are truly representative of the populations they serve.

It is for this reason that I successfully applied for the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management’s National Medical Director’s Clinical Fellowship. This scheme enabled me to develop skills in leadership, management, strategy, project management and health policy outside of clinical practice.

An understanding of the infrastructure and the model of the NHS has never been so crucial during a time of constant change. The future of our profession depends upon our influence in the rapidly expanding and changing world of health policy, and not solely upon our clinical knowledge. Therefore, this fellowship enabled me to move away from the periphery of these leadership decisions but rather have a seat at the table itself.

I was elected as the junior doctor representative for the Council Board of the MWF (Medical Women’s Federation), the largest body of female doctors in the UK. This role gave me the opportunity to conduct national research exploring what issues women feel are important to them whilst working in medicine nationally. 

We found that responses could be grouped into five key themes: (1) mentorship and support (2) flexibility relating to maternity leave and childcare (3) differential treatment in the workplace (4) gender pay gap and (5) intersectionality.

There was variation in the prevalence of these by age, career stage and specialty. This type of research is of great importance as only through an in-depth understanding of the enablers and barriers women face in terms of career progression in medicine can we hope to develop targeted strategies that address the current gender-based disparities in workforce policies, environments and cultural views. 

The research findings demonstrated how vital it is to confront and challenge institutional leaders and national and local organisations – including medical schools, academic institutions and health trusts – to do better in tackling these barriers.

My leadership development journey has opened the door to many opportunities to have my voice heard. It was through my role with MWF that I became involved with BMA as I am the MWF representative on BMA GPs committee.

I have contributed to stakeholder engagements for the Government’s Women’s Health Strategy for England and Public Policy Projects’ ‘Our State of the Globe Report: A Women’s Health Agenda’, the latter of which will be launched at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations.

I have also spoken at the House of Lords Event on women in leadership and I was a panel member alongside Professor Dame Jane Dacre discussing the gender pay gap in medicine.

My work over the years was recognised. I was listed in We are the City’s top UK 100 Rising Star Women across all industries and winner of the ‘Healthcare’ category, and I was named the national winner of the ‘Young Achiever’ category of the Asian Women of Achievement Awards 2021. 

I am determined and passionate to ensure we don't lose momentum in recognising and rewarding female leaders across the health and social care landscape to help face the challenges of modern leadership.

Celebrating and recognising female leaders inspires those around us to also put themselves forward for these leadership roles. Just like the way taking risks can inspire others to step out of their comfort zone and take their own risks, celebrating wins can help others reflect on and recognise their own wins.

Improving diversity and inclusivity, addressing behaviour and attitudes of both women and men, and driving change is imperative to resolve the hidden gender gap in the medical profession. It is vital that existing and future generations of doctors speak up to drive the change we wish to see in our healthcare system. In this way, not only can we mind the hidden gender gaps, but we can also begin to mend them. 

Remember, do not let your gender be a barrier but a strength. 

Devina Maru is a GP registrar and a member GPC


BMA’s Voices of Women campaign aims to spotlight the stories, experiences and diversity of our members at all levels, from grassroots local negotiating committees and regional representatives to our national committees. By sharing your story as part of this campaign, we hope it will encourage more women to get involved with the work of BMA and empower them in their professional lives.

To learn more about how you can get involved, contact [email protected]