Prof Dame Lesley Regan Talks Embracing Equity for International Women’s Day 2023

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Dame Lesley Regan
Dame Lesley Regan

Wednesday 8 March 2023 is International Women’s Day, a global day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

The theme for 2023 is #EmbraceEquity, which aims to highlight why gender equity needs to be part of every society’s DNA.

To mark the day we spoke with Professor Dame Lesley Regan, Non-Executive Director at NHS Resolution and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Imperial College London about this year’s theme, why celebrating the day is important, and the advice she would give her 16-year-old self.

What is your role with NHS Resolution?

I’m one of the Non-Executive Directors on the NHS Resolution Board, and I’m there having been an obstetrician and gynaecologist for many years and as a previous President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). During this time I strove very hard to try to get midwifery and obstetric staff to talk to each other, and we also managed to move the Royal College of Midwives into the new building at the RCOG, which I think will be very good for maternity safety in the long term.

Why do you think it’s important to celebrate International Women’s Day?

I’ve always been very passionate about the role of women in society, and I feel that it’s a lovely thing to celebrate the fact that women do so much to change and colour the society in which they live and work.

I have a quote I use when I’m talking about women’s health, which is: “When we get it right for women, everybody in society benefits.”

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is around embracing equity. What does this mean to you?

Equity is a bit different from equality, and I think the word equity is particularly important because equity means we give everybody the same opportunities, but we ensure that those people who start the race or journey a bit behind get extra help to be able to achieve the same goals. And that’s rather different from equality, which means you give everybody the same opportunity.

I’m particularly interested in women’s health and women’s disadvantages in the healthcare system. So I think to embrace equity is very much talking to the agenda I want to push because it’s all about ensuring that women not only have the tools to reach their potential, but that those who are starting on the journey behind due to various disadvantages have extra help to get there.

Equity means we give everybody the same opportunities, but we ensure that those people who start the race or journey a bit behind get extra help to be able to achieve the same goals.

This March is also Women’s History Month. Are there any women from history that you particularly admire?

Well, there are many, but continuing the theme of this International Women’s Day being about embracing equity, I think I’d probably want to select the campaigner Millicent Garrett Fawcett. She was a suffragist, not a suffragette, and a politician.

Her activities and her persuasion actually allowed women to enter Parliament. And for anyone who hasn’t heard about Millicent Garrett Fawcett, please go down to Parliament Square where there is a beautiful bronze statue that has been erected to her memory. It’s the only statue of a woman in Parliament Square, along with all the men. And it’s very, very beautiful.

She carries a placard which says: “Courage calls to courage everywhere”. I think what she did was extremely courageous, standing up for women’s equity and equality in terms of joining the political system. And when that statue was unveiled a couple of years ago, when Theresa May was the Prime Minister, she spoke very movingly about the fact that all the women who attended this opening ceremony needed to reflect on the fact that they would never have been in Parliament if it had not been for Millicent Garrett Fawcett. So it’s a lovely thing to go and visit.

If you could go back in time, what one piece of advice would you give your 16-year-old self?

I think probably to understand that going forward I would gain more knowledge and more wisdom from my mistakes rather than my successes. And also that you can travel an awful lot farther and a lot faster and achieve so much more if you stop worrying about who gets the credit along the way.

And most importantly, one of my absolute mantras in life, which I’ve shared with my daughters and all of my female colleagues, and my male colleagues for that matter, is that opportunity very rarely makes appointments. I’ve never regretted grabbing an opportunity even if it possibly goes wrong or I’ve made a mistake. But I think you do regret not taking opportunities because wonderful things can happen from opportunities, and if you don’t grab them they pass you by, and they may never come again.

Find out more about Professor Dame Lesley Regan’s work with NHS Resolution on improving maternity outcomes here.

Find out more about International Women’s Day here.