I had the pleasure of speaking with Francesca Owen, a visionary leader in this field. With extensive experience, Francesca has played pivotal roles, currently serving as Programme Director at Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Her strategic vision and unwavering dedication have reshaped healthcare delivery, firmly establishing her as a leader in the industry. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s take a moment to acknowledge Francesca’s outstanding contributions and her commitment to empowering women in the industry.

Reflecting on the theme of International Women’s Day, Francesca emphasised the importance of inspiring inclusion in the digital workplace, encouraging individuals to share their stories, strengths and weaknesses to empower others.

“The importance of inclusion of all women and men in the digital workplace. Setting your story and showing your reality for other women, not to be perfect, because none of us are. Share your strengths and weaknesses, so others can learn with you on that journey of creating digital health transformation and enabling the change for the people who use our services”

Her journey in digital health began unexpectedly, starting as a temp in the NHS, falling into the digital role, before eventually taking on leadership roles. Francesca highlighted pivotal moments that propelled her into leadership roles, including being recommended for a senior role after maternity leave. She acknowledged her growth in speaking up and overcoming barriers, emphasising the importance of ongoing support networks and learning to invest in herself.

“Time and job roles will evolve as technology moves forward, there’ll be other opportunities – look for them, investigate them and seize them.”

“Make sure you know the value that you bring to the table, you bring a valuable perspective and don’t undervalue yourself.”

Francesca credited female leaders like Eileen Jessop, a previous CIO she worked with at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust for inspiring her career journey and emphasised the importance of cultivating self-belief and authenticity in leadership.

“We continue to support each other, and we’ve got that community. I would say that of course there are pivotal moments, but it’s that ongoing network and support that will also support you. Tell the people that you admire what they did is as important to you as it is to them too.”

“Keep pushing yourself in steps. Keep learning. Lots of people are experiencing the same as you and again, we’re not going to be perfect. It’s a learning experience. Remember it’s your  journey and try to keep that growth mindset.”

Looking ahead, Francesca expressed hope for future female leaders in healthcare, advocating for teamwork, self-belief, and true representation. She encouraged women to assert their authority and prioritise work-life balance.

“Give yourself the time and space to decide which areas you are going to be able to do well in, and what you need to let go”

“I think it’s really important tonsure that when women and men work as teams together, all voices are heard. I would encourage people to assume you have the power. Don’t let the power be taken from you. Assume that authority, in your own way.”

In terms of amplifying the voices of underrepresented women, Francesca emphasised the importance of being genuine, fostering wellbeing, and providing space for all viewpoints, women and men, to be heard.

“Be myself and be genuine in what I do – good, or not so good. Show my learning to encourage them to do the same. It’s about wellbeing and bringing teams together.”

“Make sure that all viewpoints are heard, encourage people to influence, and have that ownership. It’s about that power, but recognising different people’s circumstances at different times – women and men. Providing the space for women and men to share and understand what’s going on in their lives and supporting each other. I think understanding people’s perspectives at any given time is excellent for how we work as a team as you get the best from people.”

Francesca highlighted the significance of communication, listening, and supporting each other in achieving common goals within healthcare and beyond.