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International Women’s Day 2021

International Women's Day 8 March2021
08 March 2021

On International Women’s Day, Sheffield Children’s invited women from across the Trust to share their thoughts, inspirations, experiences and advice.

They are available to read in full below, we are very thankful to everyone who took the time to contribute their pieces. 

Pauline Williams, Head of 0-19 Community Service

How has your role contributed to providing care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Pauline Williams and auntI (left in photo) lead a workforce which includes women of diverse backgrounds which reflects the communities in Sheffield. My key role is overseeing my teams – the 0-19 Service and Paediatric Liaison – in delivering the Healthy Child (Public Health) Programme. By engaging with children, young people and their families this enables the identification of health needs early and reduces health inequalities by providing a universal, non-stigmatising service to every family. I’m proud that my staff have been able to maintain such a service throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. We have adapted modes of delivery and ensured that we support those who have been particularly impacted by the pandemic, such as those most marginalised and vulnerable people living with safeguarding concerns, domestic abuse, living loss-unemployment, emotional stress and mental health challenges.

How has another woman inspired you in your role?

I can certainly identify with the International Women’s Day theme for 2021 – “Choose to Challenge” – as from a young age, I was exposed to the stories of women in my family, friends and colleagues who had faced inequalities, discrimination and prejudices. I was inspired by my mum’s responses when experiencing such challenges when working as an Auxillary Nurse and coping with life in general, as well as my aunt (right in photo) who was a very skilled Seamstress in the Caribbean but had to change her career when she emigrated to the UK and worked in various factories and care homes. Both my mum and my aunt have shown me how to be resilient, to rise by lifting others and to lead by example.

I am also inspired by young people such as Amanda Gorman, – who wrote “The Hill We Climb” – the passion, confidence and delivery of her poem at the US inauguration was breathtaking.

“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”

I hope to continue following my mum and aunt’s ethos of leading by example, to rise by lifting others and to encourage our future generation to tell their stories and to challenge where required in order to influence change. 

Lauren Shiel, Senior Internal Communications Officer

What is it like as a woman working at Sheffield Children’s?

Lauren ShielThe last two years have been enormously life changing for me, not only as a woman but as a person.

I had a baby in July 2019 and the world was a very different place when I left the Trust to go on maternity leave in June 2019. If you told me then, I would never have believed that my return in June 2020 would involve wearing surgical masks and social distancing.

After I returned to work I continued my role in managing internal communications across the Trust, including publications such as Spotlight and You Matter, campaigns and projects. I consistently have to maintain a high standard of writing, editing and organisational skills while juggling various responsibilities. It wasn’t easy to pick everything back up again especially in the new world we were thrown into, but I had a great cover for my leave and there was a really helpful period of cross over time between us.

My role may not be directly patient facing, but I provide comms support and advice to those whose is. Good internal comms is crucial for our colleagues to feel connected, supported and involved. My work is quite high profile as well, so it’s essential to make sure the details are right as much as possible!

How has another woman inspired you in your role?

In terms of my background and family, I am the second youngest of five sisters and each of us has worked in many different professions, with my three older sisters also raising children at the same time. My mother was a huge inspiration for me as someone who worked hard while raising five children; I remember she used to work evenings so our dad could care for me and my younger sister when we were little after returning home from work.

Right now, my younger sister in particular is an enormous influence on me. She currently works for a different NHS trust in the country in their Mortuary Team as an Anatomical Pathology Technician. She assists the Pathologist by carrying out postmortems and manages viewings with families.

Even before COVID I always admired her passion to work in such a niche area of practice that many people (including myself) wouldn’t be able to do. COVID has hit her area particularly hard and as she works for a trust that covers adults as well as children, she has been handling a high number of deaths. Her strength and positivity in the face of working so many extra hours and being on call most of the time, while still keeping an incredible standard of quality control and respect for her patients just astounds me. She is amazing! 

Prof Sally Shearer OBE, Executive Director of Nursing and Quality

How has another woman inspired you in your role?

Sally ShearerHappy International Women’s Day to all Sheffield Children’s women!

I am really grateful to all of the women who helped me along my journey to become a woman in leadership today. Growing up in the 1970s was an interesting experience, with many educational institutions, including my own, having lower career aspirations for girls than those that were set for boys. I went to the same school as Margaret Thatcher, the longest serving Prime Minister of the 20th century and the first woman to hold that office. It always amazed me that even though she was hailed as a role model and visited the school whilst I was there, the aspirations that school held for girls in the 1970s were set too low.

When my son was born in 1990 I returned to work after my 26 weeks maternity leave. Whilst this is very much the norm in 2021, my family were very shocked and I was in fact a trailblazer for such practice!

I have been so lucky to have had so many positive role models over the last 30 years. Ward managers, mentors, directors of nursing and amazing colleagues who have encouraged, supported and taught me so much. So, today is a day to think of them all with gratitude and remember how important my role is in inspiring others and shaping leadership opportunities for the amazing women we have across the Trust today.

Dr Clare O'Connell, Consultant in Paediatric Emergency Medicine

How your role has contributed to providing care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Clare O'ConnellI am an Emergency Physician and in addition to that hold a number of trust roles including being the Clinical Lead for Emergency Preparedness, Resilience and Response and Major Trauma. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic I have continued to work on the frontline in the Emergency Department. In my other roles I have ensured the major trauma service has been maintained for children in our region, and have been involved in the Trust incident response to COVID-19.

What is it like as a woman working at Sheffield Children’s?

Being a female leader in Sheffield Children’s is one of my greatest achievements. I am proud of the work that I do and feel valued and respected. I think Sheffield Children’s is a workplace where everyone’s contribution is valued and there is strong representation of women at all levels.

How has another woman inspired you in your role?

I have been lucky to be surrounded by strong women all my life – my mother and four older sisters in my early years, and countless great women throughout my school years, university life and career.

If you are making me pick one person, then I have been lucky enough to become a colleague of one of my role models in Emergency Medicine, Dr Alison Smith. Alison’s leadership in Emergency Medicine and mentorship was inspiring to me when I was a trainee and I am lucky to work alongside her now.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to reflect and celebrate women across the globe. I love reading the stories told, being inspired and feeling a collective sense of joy and pride.

Is there a piece of advice you would like to give young people?

If you can chose to be one thing, be kind. Kindness is the most wonderful skill one can learn, and will always serve you well in life.

Dr Charlotte Merriman, Senior Clinical Psychologist

Personal reflection on the representation of women

Charlotte MerrimanIn response to International Women’s Day I want to speak up for women who are childless.

In my work as a Clinical Psychologist at Sheffield Children’s, I am acutely aware of my difference. Clinical Psychology, as with many other health care professions such as Nursing, is very female dominated. In Clinical Psychology departments across the country – although we have a small and growing number of male colleagues – historically the picture has been one of young, married women of child-bearing age. In many ways, up until recently at least, I fitted this picture too. The difference is that now, as a woman at the cusp of turning 45 without having had children, I find myself in the minority.

According to recent figures, one-in-five women these days are turning 45 without having children. But my question is, if this is the case, where are they all, because I certainly can’t see them where I work. To quote Jody Day, author of ‘Living the Life Unexpected’ “if you turn on the TV, watch movies, follow celebrity gossip, read women’s magazines or pay attention to how products aimed at women are marketed, you wouldn’t think there was any woman alive who wasn’t dating, engaged, trying to conceive, pregnant, married, a mother or a grandmother”. For woman over 40 without children it can feel as if we are almost edited out of life. Apparently there’s a name in academia for when a group is missing in a culture in this way. It’s called ‘cultural annihilation’. So my prompt for writing this is to take off the invisibility cloak that has been wrapped tightly around by shame and fear of cultural judgement. I want to speak up for those of us in this minority as I imagine there might be many others at Sheffield Children’s who might, like me, be sitting in the shadows, or young women who may find themselves here in the future for one reason or another. I want you to know that you are not alone.

For a long time I thought that not having been able to have children made me less of a woman, and was something I felt huge grief and shame about. However, I have come to realise that being a woman who is childless does not make me any less worthwhile, or any less able to contribute to society or the community of the NHS. Childlessness is only one part of the story of who I am, and the other parts are wide, varied and valuable. As childless women we can create a life of meaning and importance too; taking our place as equals alongside women who are mothers, as leaders, role models, guides and mentors, educated, liberated, nurturing, strong and wise.

Mel Kilner, Head of School for the Medical Needs Division at Becton School

How has your role contributed to providing care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Mel KilnerBecton School is as unique as it is wonderful and as complex as it is caring. My role oversees the education provision of the Hospital School at Sheffield Children’s, the School at the Becton Centre and the Hospital, Home and Outreach provision for Sheffield.

Throughout the pandemic we’ve been working to offer a comprehensive timetable of live lessons to the young people across our sites – schools never closed during the pandemic and within a week of lockdown we sorted lessons, delivered laptops, work packs and food parcels to young people and their families across the city.

We were open to any of our students who needed us to be at our Moncrieffe site and, from 1 June we were fully open – albeit in scrubs and PPE! – across various Sheffield Children’s sites. We have continued to offer face-to face education for as many of our pupils as possible throughout the lockdowns and a full remote offer for those too medically unwell to attend. I feel that we have been able, through education, to offer stability and normality during a time when the world was anything but.

What is it like as a woman working at Becton School?

The Becton Centre has a strong tradition of women in leadership roles and I’m proud to continue that legacy. I love working at Becton and I’m proud to work with a wonderful leadership team who have supported me to progress in my role. I am a proud Sheffielder, born and bred and am very passionate about my city. This role gives me the opportunity to really give back to my city and community. I am a working mum with two children and the past year has been a struggle navigating a global pandemic, home learning and being part of the team leading a very special school. I really don’t think I could have got through this without our wonderful team of colleagues and fabulous pupils.

How has another woman inspired you in your role?

I have had the privilege of working for and with some incredible women throughout my 20 years in education; I have taken something different from them all during various stages of my life and career. I think there is sometimes a tendency for woman to feel as though they have to work harder than men to achieve the same goals, be more decisive and strong and, unfairly, they can be perceived as intimidating or ruthless. Yvonne Bootman, the Vice Principal in my previous role, in particular demonstrated how to balance motherhood and a career and not feel guilty about either. She showed me how you can show kindness without being seen as ‘soft’, and that success can be earned by just doing a really good job with honesty and integrity. I will be forever indebted to her for her wisdom and support. She also inspired my love of data and spreadsheets!

Is there a piece of advice you would like to give young people?

I am a firm believer in the concept that everything happens for a reason. Life throws curveballs at you but they will lead to something better. I have a fantastic job and family, but I didn’t get to this point – at the ripe old age of 41 – in a linear way, my route was a bit more wibbly wobbly! However, those wobbles and wibbles helped me to get to where I am now and help me appreciate it all the more. So I would say, ‘learn from the curveballs and try to find the positives from every situation.’

Sarah Jones, Chair of Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust

What is it like as a woman working at Sheffield Children’s?

Sarah JonesInternational Women’s Day gives us a moment to reflect on how much things have changed for women in the workplace over the last few decades. I know we still haven’t resolved all the issues but it is a very different environment from when I started out as a Project Officer in an Aerospace factory being asked to make the teas and coffees for the office rather than doing the job they employed me to do! My advice to myself at the time was not to get angry but to demonstrate what I could achieve. 

Over the years I have always tried to challenge myself, seek out new opportunities, adapt to new environment, support those around me and be a reliable colleague. As a result, I have had a diverse and exciting career path including being part of the development team for the Typhoon military jet that is in service around the world today, negotiating complex defence contracts, being the CEO of the UK’s largest skills provider, through to being the Chair of an apprenticeship business today. The role I am most proud of is being part of the team here at Sheffield Children’s. In this team I feel the most supported that I have felt in my career and most able to contribute.  

Is there a piece of advice you would like to give young people?

My advice to all young people out there is to strive to be your best self and, to seek out and enjoy all the opportunities that come your way. 

Jackie Griffin, Freedom to Speak Up Guardian

How has your role contributed to providing care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Kathy GriffinIn my role, I enable staff to continue to speak up and raise concerns about patient safety and quality of care through the pandemic. This has included topics such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), practicalities around social distancing and how to support colleagues who are anxious, shielding or working from home.

What is it like as a woman working at Sheffield Children’s?

It’s great, I feel at home here, I am enabled. I did a role in adult services once and always joke that I came running back to Sheffield Children’s. I am trusted and supported to fulfil my part-time role.  I’m a mum, a partner, I have been a carer, I have long-term health conditions myself plus I have another job outside the Trust as well – it is a juggling act.  Other employers have been less supportive in the past but it is noticeably much more positive here. I’m also a Staff Governor and sit on the Council of Governors, having been voted into this role by my colleagues, which was a real honour.

How has another woman inspired you in your role?

I take inspiration from many women, from all different careers, backgrounds and areas. Baroness Lady Hale and Ruth Bader Ginsberg are just two such icons within advocacy that I value and respect. If you look around the Trust, we have women in many varied roles – our Chair, my friends who are PAs, nurses or doctors, my colleagues in support roles, non-executive colleagues, receptionists, lab assistants, the Deputy Chief Exec, governors, executive directors – I could go on! –  are all women in the NHS who continue to inspire and motivate me through challenging times.  I see them, their unique power, their strength, their tenacity and know anything is possible. I keep a copy of the well-known Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) purple and green suffragette ‘Votes for Women’ card on my desk. It acts as instant reminder of the achievements of women; past and present.

Is there a piece of advice you would like to give young people?

Remember that everyone is human. Try not to be nervous. Speak up, speak out and if in doubt, just ask. 

Katie Elsey, Eye Department Receptionist

How has your role contributed to providing care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Katie ElseyAs a receptionist I am usually the first person patients are in contact with when coming for their appointment in the Eye Department. Therefore I am quite often the one to reassure parents and patients that we are taking every necessary step to keep everyone safe. I am also there to remind people about mask wearing and social distancing in the waiting room. I like to make sure the children are relaxed and that we are still our usual lovely selves under our masks!

What is it like as a woman working at Sheffield Children’s?

I am so proud to be a woman and work for Sheffield Children’s. Our Trust does such amazing work and our Eye Department is full of wonderful clinicians, most of which are women!

How has another woman inspired you in your role?

I am surrounded by amazing women in the Eye Department so it’s hard to pick just one! I am very keen on becoming a nurse one day, so I’d say our nursing team inspire me to deliver the best care and I love helping out where I can. They are brilliant at putting children and parents at ease, as it sometimes can be a stressful visit.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International woman’s day means a lot to me. I am glad we live in a world were woman are treated as equal. Women can do anything! My colleagues are the best at building each other up and as a woman I am proud that nothing can hold us back.

Is there a piece of advice you would like to give young people?

Work hard and nothing is out of reach! It doesn’t matter how long it takes you, just put the work in. No one can tell you that you can’t do something.

Jude Ellis, Medical Education Manager

How has another woman inspired you in your role?

Jude EllisI have chosen to reflect on the inspirational and supportive women I have worked with in the 24 years since I joined Sheffield Children’s. My first manager and Director of Medical Education – and the person who recruited me to the Trust as her secretary and PA – was Dr Helena Davies. She was a Paediatric Oncology Consultant in the Trust but also had an interest in Medical Education and the training of junior doctors. She wore many hats locally, regionally and nationally, all while working, having two young children and a habit of going off and doing triathlons and mountain biking in her spare time. She really was your typical ‘Wonder Woman’, but she was also the kindest and most supportive manager you could wish for.  She wanted to know me, not just “Work Jude” and became my friend and confidant. She supported me with my development as an administrator and encouraged me to take on new skills and roles, and had the confidence in me that I sometimes lacked to take on extra responsibility and tasks. She championed the role that education and training played in the Trust, she battled to improve the working environments and rotas for the doctors in training. Sadly Helena had to take early retirement due to ill health before her 50th birthday. This was devastating for her, but also for me and my team, and the doctors in training. There is no doubt that Helena would have continued to have been a force to be reckoned with if her career hadn’t been cut short. She was pivotal in developing many of the work-based assessments that trainees still use today to show their competencies in their specialty. When she retired we reached out to doctors that had worked with her to create a memory book. The messages came from all over the world, trainees saying they would not have been the doctor they were today without her help, support and encouragement but also the personal skills they developed from her on how to deal with difficult situations and life events. Helena was someone who had a lasting impact on people, and that is why many years later she continues to be my biggest career influencer.

The second woman who has been an enormous help to me in the last few years has been Dr Carrie Mackenzie. Carrie is a Paediatric Consultant at the Trust, but was also most recent Director of Medical Education (DME) I worked with. When I first started at the Trust, Carrie was the Medical Director. Having not worked in a hospital environment before I had no idea that being female, under 40 and in one of the most demanding and influential roles within the Trust was almost unheard of elsewhere in the country! Carrie is someone who is always available to offer advice, encouragement, and assist with difficult decision making. Carrie is a do-er, you mention things to her and she makes it happen. As a team we have been working from home more or less full-time since March 2020.  Our roles and responsibilities changed drastically to start with, before returning to a different kind of normality, and Carrie has supported us all throughout the changes. Carrie has leadership roles in the Trust and national roles within the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, and I have no doubt that this recognition is due to her ability to work across different groups of staff and the skills she shows when managing teams and situations. Carrie sadly gave up her DME role recently and me and my team miss her very much, however I still have a weekly WhatsApp catch up her on a social basis and we are looking forward to sharing a few G&Ts when lockdown restrictions lift to celebrate getting through this year and all it has thrown at us!

I have been lucky to work with many supportive, knowledgeable and encouraging women, especially the two I have mentioned above, but I would also like to acknowledge and thank Jane Clawson, Tanya Ralph, Claire Allen, Kelly Fairhurst, Sharon Fernandes, Tanya Urquhart and my fellow Medical Education Managers in the Yorkshire Region for always being there to offer advice, reassurance and inspiration to me. As a Trust we are in the fortunate position to have so many enthusiastic, compassionate, encouraging and caring females in the workforce and although this is being highlighted today, it is something to celebrate daily.

Prof Marta Cohen OBE, Consultant Paediatric Pathologist

How has your role contributed to providing care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Marta CohenI am proud to be part of the Histopathology team at Sheffield Children’s. This specialty aims to study the causes and effects of diseases through the examination of tissues under the microscope. During this pandemic, there has been an explosion of scientific literature concerning all aspects of COVID-19, including SARS-CoV2 infection, prevention, symptoms, disease, treatments, and vaccines. It has been stimulating that the literature on this topic is fully accessible, and that Illingworth Library has regularly supplied us all with updates on the subject. With my “disease orientated mind”, I began to read enthusiastically since day one of the pandemic. Soon after, I started communicating the new discoveries with regular three minute videos posted to family and friends. Somehow, these became viral, and the Latin-American and Hispanic-American media started calling me for interviews, keen for unbiased scientific information. Fake-news, negationists and the anti-vaccination movement had inundated social media, and somehow people trusted my rigorous interpretation of the dynamically evolving science.

How has another woman inspired you in your role?

I am the eldest daughter of a neonatologist and a paediatrician. Everybody except me had foreseen that my destiny was to have a life in science and paediatric medicine. When I finally began my career in medicine, I knew that this was indeed the right path for me. My mother was my inspiration and role model in science. She was strong minded and determined. Only a few women were admitted to medical school in the 50’s, and she had not initially told her parents that she had swapped Biology for Medicine – she only told them after successfully concluding her first year! She trained in Paediatrics, specialising in neuro disabilities, and was a remarkable educator, enlightening parents on preventive medicine. I learnt from her that a woman can be a mother and have a successful professional career at the same time. She inspired me to embrace my profession with love, telling me the importance of maintaining continuous medical education and networking at national and international levels.

As a Histopathology resident, I soon noticed that senior positions in medicine were dominated by men, and in those early years there were few, if any, minorities or women in leadership positions.  The last decades have seen a significant improvement, but the glass ceiling has not yet been shattered. This is confirmed by a report from the Royal Society, which indicates that women are not underrepresented in the overall scientific workforce, but they are highly underrepresented at the most senior roles. From a cohort of mid-career individuals, women working in science are less likely to take career breaks than women who work in other occupations.

What is it like as a woman working at Sheffield Children’s?

I came to Sheffield Children’s in July 2003, through an international recruitment run by NHS England. Since then, I have witnessed how Sheffield Children’s has made progress down the long road towards more inclusion and diversity through behavioural changes and the lowering of barriers.

This generation has paved the way for younger generations, which will experience a surge of organisational initiatives that, embedded in guidelines and accountability frameworks, will fully substantiate equality, inclusion and diversity in science.


Claire Bull, Speech and Language Therapist (SLT)

How has your role contributed to providing care for patients during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Claire BullDuring the Covid-19 pandemic, our team have continued to work with families via telephone and video calls, delivering assessment, intervention and also trying out new ways of working such as an online support group for teenagers. There are certainly pros and cons about these new ways of working, but we have thrown ourselves in and done a huge amount of learning and growing as a team despite the restrictions. I have also really enjoyed getting to know our families on a new level; there are great benefits in having phone calls with parents without their child present, and it is great fun to meet families in their familiar surroundings and be ‘carried’ around to meet all the toys and pets!

What is it like as a woman working at Sheffield Children’s?

I started working for Sheffield Children’s in November 2019, and only had four months to settle in before the box room at home became my new office (I’m writing this on the sofa for a change of scenery!). I have loved being part of the Sheffield Children’s team and have been warmly welcomed by everyone I have met along the way. After working in a very scattered team in my previous role, the benefits of working from a large team base were immediately evident and the Speech and Language Therapy team really are an inspirational bunch!

How has another woman inspired you in your role?

It is hard to choose just one woman who has inspired me in my career, as I have worked with (and continue to work with) a number of truly inspirational individuals. Each have their individual qualities but the key lessons they have taught me are to keep our patients and families at the centre of everything we do, appreciate our fascinating field of work and what our patients can teach us, find a good work/life balance, and keep smiling. I do hope that I can inspire other people to do the same.

Working as an SLT guarantees that you spend most of your time at work around friendly, caring and motivated women who are great listeners and also enjoy a good laugh (I must add here that we have a number of men in the team too and they also exude these qualities!). This means that just going to work sometimes feels like therapy when you have left behind small children and a messy house! As a mum of a four and a six year old, not being able to step away from the chaos and go to work during lockdown has been a real challenge; I’ve had Nerf gun darts fired at my door during appointments!

Despite not being able to see each other in person, our management team put weekly wellbeing calls in place from the start of lockdown. The support I received from my clinical lead Isabel during these calls was absolutely key to me staying afloat, and this was often the only time in the week where someone asked how I was and gave me the space to talk as there was little energy left at home for this in the evenings! Team meetings and regular drop-in sessions also continue to make sure we have the opportunity for a chat and a laugh to ease the craziness. As the sun returns, I am hopeful that this spring will bring the possibility of small outdoor team meet ups and increasing face-to-face contact with clients and their families.

A piece of advice you would like to give young people

My advice to young people would be to work out what you love doing and try to keep doing it – no matter what else stakes a claim on your time. The things you loved doing as a child are a good place to start. I’ve tried to reflect on the benefits of lockdown at times, and I think the thing I am most grateful for is being encouraged to slow down and take a moment to reflect on how I spend my time. This led me to start drawing and creating again, which has brought a huge amount of joy to my year. Spending much more time in wellies and walking in the woods has had a similar effect, so I would also advise young people to get outside in nature as much as possible and enjoy the moment.

Our Deputy Chief Executive Ruth Brown also caught up with her (nearly) namesake Ruthie from the Youth Forum. Together they covered a range of subjects including female heroes, the importance of representation, diversity of thought and imposter syndrome.

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