Intended for healthcare professionals


Five facts on women in NHS leadership roles

BMJ 2017; 357 doi: (Published 05 April 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;357:j1701
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. BMJ Careers
  1. arimmer{at}


There are now more women on NHS boards, but still too few are holding key roles, a report by Exeter Business School has found

Target in sight

The report said that, to be gender balanced, there needs to be another 500 women sitting on NHS boards in England.1 The overall number of women holding seats on boards must increase from 2500 to 3000 between now and the end of 2020, it said.

Organisational differences

Across a sample of 238 trusts the percentage of women on boards was 43%; in a sample of 207 clinical commissioning group (CCG) boards it was 40%; and in a sample of seven of the arm’s length bodies (ALBs) it was 38%. The report said that 54% of all boards met the EU commission’s definition of gender parity of at least 40% of each sex on each board.

Variations across roles

The report found that, across NHS trusts and ALBs, 43% of chief executives were women, 26% of finance directors were women, and 25% of medical directors were women, based on three different samples of 245, 228, and 240 organisations, respectively.

Roles dominated by women

Chief nurses, chief operating officers, and human resources directors were mainly female, the report found. In NHS trusts and ALBs women made up 85% of chief nurses, 53% of chief operating officers, and 63% of human resources directors, based on three different samples of 212, 167, and 119 organisations, respectively.

Commissioning groups

The report found that 40% of chief executives and accountable officers in CCGs were women, as were 28% of finance directors, and 16% of chairs. Given that 70% of the CCG workforce is female the report said that these figures were disappointingly low.