As part of International Women’s Month, we’re speaking to our colleagues in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM). Women accounted for 24% of the STEM workforce in 2019. This is only expected to rise to 29% by 2030.
To celebrate International Women’s Month and promote gender equality in the fields, we’re highlighting colleagues who are “breaking the bias” and bringing innovation into their subjects.
About Rachel Picton
Rachel Picton, Dean of the School of Allied and Community Health at the Institute of Health and Social Care, joined London South Bank University (LSBU) as an associate professor for radiotherapy diagnostics in 2017. With an extensive background in clinical and leadership roles across the health sector Rachel is a member of the Society and College of Radiographers and on the Radiographer, Education Visitor and Registration Assessor Health and Care Professions Councils. Rachel is also a successful business owner.
Over five years, her progression has aligned with the evolution of the institute, which is one of the largest providers of clinical education for allied health and related professions in the UK. Developing the workforce of the future, the school helps students to achieve their own versions of success whilst contributing to the health of society.
Bringing Innovation to the NHS & Beyond
Alongside academic delivery commitments, Rachel plays active role within research and business innovation through South Bank Innovation. Together, LSBU & SBI work with over 60 NHS partners, as well as a range of national and international private healthcare providers to find real-world solutions to global and local health challenges. This research and innovation directly impacts academic delivery - Rachel and her team ensure that findings are directly embedded into the curriculum, ensuring that students learn best practice and the latest knowledge in their courses.
"It has hard to imagine yourself in a career where you can see so few people like you. From a young age, girls need to see that routes into these professions are accessible to them and be encouraged wherever to apply. " - Rachel Picton
The Gender Pay Gap of the Health & Social Care Sector
In the wake of the pandemic, the concerns over the workforce crisis in the NHS, and health and social care sector in the UK are ongoing. The Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) are the third largest clinical workforce in healthcare, and NHS England’s ‘Into Action’ strategy identified their key role in transforming community health and wellbeing, supporting the NHS through innovation.
In a sector that is female dominated – in October 2021 women made up 76.2% FTE of the NHS Hospital and Community Healthcare Services in England – the mean gender pay gap, although down 0.4% on the previous year, was at 16.2%. The majority (79.3%) of employees in the lowest paid group were women, meaning men are more highly represented in higher paid jobs.
Read on for a personal account of Rachel’s role, work and life outside of the university.
Hello, please tell us about yourself?
My name is Rachel Picton and most people call me Rachel. My brothers sometimes shorten this to Rach but I always add the ‘el’ on the end for completeness. I am the Dean of the School of Allied and Community Health, officially since May 2021. I see my main role as being one of supporter and coach to both students and staff. I am very proud of the professions this school represents and I want to be a strong advocate for the incredibly important work that they do. My school covers Occupational Therapy, Physiotherapy, Diagnostic Radiography, Therapeutic Radiography, Operating Department Practice, Social Work, Sports Rehabilitation, Chiropractic and Advanced Clinical Practice in Adults, Children and Mental Health. I often talk about them as ‘the best careers you may have never heard of’. There is much more to health and social care than a doctor or nurse.
"I can remember on a couple of occasions just being completely ignored. It made me determined to keep finding my voice and being able to express it wisely and with authority when appropriate."
I am a mum of three wonderfully unique children (a business and finance teacher, an actor and a soon to be RAF fitness instructor),also nan to an 8 year old little boy. He arrived in this world through some very difficult circumstances with my eldest being in a very abusive relationship and at the time, I couldn’t see the positives, but he is certainly our treasure from a dark place.
My newfound hobby in lockdown is sea swimming. I live five minutes from the sea in Shoeburyness, and I started last March with snow on the ground and have kept going ever since. I have managed several swims a month and have just signed up for Cancer Research to do a cold water dip every day in March.
How long have you been working at LSBU?
I joined LSBU in November 2017 as the Associate Professor for Diagnostic Radiography. I became the Interim Head of Department in December 2018 and then the substantive Head of Department in July 2019. Due to a restructure, I then became Deputy Dean in January 2020 and formally Dean in 2021. It has been a bit of a whirlwind to say the least! In my various roles, I have worked with the SBI team and enjoyed setting up the first Health Hackathon in 2019. I often direct staff to link with the team and recently discussed a poster designing competition for our Affinity Groups in the school to gain some ownership over their branding and to raise the profile of this important work.
Please describe to us what your day-to-day life looks at your job?
I always start the day with a cup of tea. I then get ready for a packed day of mostly online meetings, although I am really enjoying the switch back to more in person events. Most recently this has been attending all the National Student Survey completion sessions with my courses, ending with a slice of pizza or two.
I recently spent the day at the new Croydon Campus with some physiotherapy students who were there as part of a simulated practice day. I had the great task of role playing a social worker as part of a multi-disciplinary discharge meeting. I manage around 100 staff and like to have an open and responsive space for all of them. It has been a very tough couple of years, and I get very concerned about how staff are coping and how I can help make this better for them.
I attend many senior team meetings reviewing student recruitment, enrolment, new course proposals, and morealongside many other systems and processes that make the school and university work. There is much to be done to move towards improvements all the time and I enjoy the challenge of working together for the common goal of student success.
There is more to be done to connect with local businesses, but of course, we have a large network of hospitals, community services and local councils and charities as our partners for student placement.
Many of the academic’s work with SBI on enterprise bids and we also refer to them for support with embedding these skills in the curriculum.
Before I started at LSBU, I owned my own high street business in North London called Zebra (a ceramics café). I absolutely loved the whole business ownership process and was very proud to pitch to John Lewis and successfully get an innovative product into their flagship stores. I sold the business in 2014 and it is still going strong.
Why do you believe celebrating International Women's Day/Month is important?
I think International Women’s Day is so important to celebrate. I have two girls and I have always wanted them to feel equal and never second-class citizens in our society. I have always encouraged my children to follow their own dreams and ambitions and to not stereotype wherever possible. My eldest girl was passionate about football, playing for Tottenham from the age of 14 and my youngest daughter is a boxer, having her first fight in May. Their chosen careers highlight the variety that is open to them but what I am most proud of is their commitment to diversity, inclusion, and social justice. They will therefore influence these professions with more than just their gender but in other areas of impact.
"I manage around 100 staff and like to have an open and responsive space for all of them. It has been a very tough couple of years, and I get very concerned about how staff are coping and how I can help make this better for them."
Have you had any challenges in your education or career because of your gender? How did you overcome them?
I have to think hard about this one as nothing easily springs to mind. However, I did work for a regulatory body several years ago and it very much felt like an ‘old boys club’. I was a registrant member of fitness to practice panels made up of myself, a lay member and the chair. It was always two men in these other roles, and it was often hard to have my voice heard and I can remember on a couple of occasions just being completely ignored. It made me determined to keep finding my voice and being able to express it wisely and with authority when appropriate.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you've ever received?
I cannot think of a specific example, but I have watched my parents lead a life of open hospitality to people from all backgrounds and I have tried to model my own life on this way of living. We have lived in many different places both in the UK and overseas and for 20 plus years my husband has been a Baptist minister. Having a welcoming and hospitable home has been central to my family life. It has enabled a rich diversity of encounters and friendships to be made and hopefully made me a more open and accepting person.
"We need women to see their potential in this rapidly developing landscape."
What can we do to encourage more women to enter STEM?
I used this phrase ‘See Me, Be Me’ to celebrate Allied Health Professions Day last year with the intention of showing positive B.A.M.E role models within the professions. It has hard to imagine yourself in a career where you can see so few people like you. From a young age, girls need to see that routes into these professions are accessible to them and be encouraged wherever to apply. We need to ensure the policies and campaigns we employ are widely inclusive of women and make the clear statement that they are welcome, will be supported and can progress.
What is the most crucial message you would like to express to young women considering careers in STEM?
Many of the courses I run in Allied Health need a strong science background and yet also offer such a wide range of opportunities within the professions to diversify into different areas of interest. For example, while opportunities for application of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are emerging across specialties and clinical services, radiology has led in this progress, with AI algorithms used for everything from scanning protocols and pathology detection to referral systems and workflow optimisation. These are exciting areas to get involved with and we need women to see their potential in this rapidly developing landscape.
Is there somebody in your professional life who inspires you?
Millions of health care workers — doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, technicians, other health care professionals, hospital support staff, as well as first responders including emergency rescue personnel, social workers and many others who provide essential services from across the globe, have faced the challenge of providing care for patients with COVID-19, often risking their own lives to save the lives of others. They certainly inspire me with their commitment, dedication, and professionalism. If I was to name only one, it would be Becca, my sister-in-law who is a paramedic and has juggled home life with three children and work and numerous household bouts of covid with a grit and determination to always give of her best.
Why do you believe workplace diversity is so important?
We can all learn so much from each other. My school has a higher ratio of women overall, but I believe we work well as a team, recognising our differences and respecting each other’s gifts and skills. Our challenge is to make sure the workplace is more ethnically diverse, as this again will bring a richness to our team approach.
Which inspirational women, living or dead, would you invite to dinner and why?
I would invite Harriet Tubman – she was an American abolitionist and political activist. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 enslaved people, including family and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. During the American Civil War, she served as an armed scout and spy for the Union Army. In her later years, Tubman was an activist in the movement for women's suffrage.
I would invite Doreen Lawrence. She has never wavered in her campaigning for justice following the murder of her son and to bring about lasting reform.
I would invite my two daughters, Aimee and Bethanie so they could be in the presence of such women.
If you'd like to support Rachel's cold water challenge on behalf of Cancer Research UK, you can donate here.
If you're considering entering healthcare, like Rachel, take a look at our new programme, ASPIRE London. ASPIRE London is giving Londoners over the age of 18 and earning less than the London Living Wage access to accredited units in healthcare, as well as construction, creative and digital.
Start your journey today at www.aspire-london.com.