When I stood for election for the position of deputy representative body chair I was in a field of candidates with six men.
I was asked by some BMA members what my intentions were for the future: did I really want to take this commitment on? Should I be doing it so young and as a junior doctor? Would I be thinking about marriage and having children and would that affect the role? I had stood for many roles before and not been asked these questions.
However, those comments were perhaps not hugely surprising – I, like many women and people from minority groups, have heard the lazy stereotypes and the language of discrimination all before. They are inappropriate and unacceptable.
I am now your RB chair, a chief officer and have fulfilled all of my duties in this role and my previous role while pregnant, while on maternity leave, and while raising a newborn baby during lockdown and without any child care. I have also become a flexible worker and have taken time out of training during my time as a senior leader.
Despite the few ignorant comments I received when I stood for election, the experience I have had of leadership at the BMA as a mum who requires flexibility and the ability to prioritise my daughter has been brilliant. Most importantly, I have been supported to work differently – I am able to work from home when I need to, I am given childcare support when required and I have even chaired meetings lasting up to nine hours with my baby in a sling.
I have been able to arrange my diary around breastfeeding my daughter, taking her to play groups or putting her down for naps. My experiences show that leadership – and senior leadership – at an organisation such as the BMA are possible for people from under-represented backgrounds, or for people who need flexibility, like me.
If you have ever thought your ambitions for leadership should be tempered because you don’t have the privileges that come with being a straight, middle-aged, white, man or because your life circumstances might require adaptations around you, then think again.
I want to tell you that there are no obstacles to you taking a leadership role – there are no requests for support that we will not consider. Whatever specialty you work in, whatever grade you are, whatever your experience is, however complicated your life circumstances might be – please consider standing for election. We need your voice to represent our profession better. My experience of being a woman in medicine is that it often feels – for good reason – like huge decisions are made about our working, and personal, lives without people like us in the room.
Decisions are made about our careers without women being involved in consultation and evaluation. The BMA has been guilty of this like many organisations and institutions but there is no doubt change is under way in the association.
Our chief officer group is now 50% women and we have more women than ever before in leadership. We still need to do more – we must reflect the workforce and the membership as best we can and we are still some way from that given the NHS workforce is around 75% female.
There will be elections for leadership positions at the BMA running throughout the year and I would urge you to get involved. We need those of you whose voices haven’t already been heard, whose voices often aren’t heard, to come forward and take on these roles.
We need more women. I know that may seem daunting for some of you but I can tell you, from first-hand experience, these are positions in which you can thrive and in which you can make a difference because your BMA will work around your personal requirements.
I would also like to say to my male colleagues that if you are the sort of person who makes those comments that I received – questioning the commitment of women, intruding on their privacy by demanding future life plans or suggesting they may not have enough experience – then you are not welcome in the BMA.
It is crucial our leadership is as diverse as possible so we can advocate for our profession and our patients as comprehensively as we can.
Dr Latifa Patel is chair of the BMA representative body