Choose to Challenge

To mark International Women’s Day, Silla Maizey, Chair of the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) Board, takes to the blog today to discuss our right to ‘Choose to Challenge’, and encourages everyone to trust themselves and make their own path.


I have always been the sort of person who does not like being told what to do. It started early in my life – piano lessons at four years old, really? I had absolutely no talent! You must go to University. Really? I wanted to earn some money!

I left school at 16, against my father’s wishes, I got myself a job in the local bank, Midland Bank for those who remember it. The bank manager, male of course, thought it best to give the girls the cashier jobs and the boys the interesting jobs like foreign currency and share trading. I did not like being told that.  I left after four years and the boys continued to get all the good jobs.

I went to work for British Airways as an accounts clerk, in the days when booking keeping ledgers were in pencil. I never consider myself to be old but writing this made me think how things have changed and goodness, so much this past year.

I realised that I probably should have done what I was told and gone to University but, not someone to have regrets, I spent what seemed like forever going to night school to qualify as an accountant. Not the most exciting choice, sorry fellow accountants, but it was a good choice for me and gave me many options throughout my career.  Working at British Airways was brilliant, I planned to stay a few years, see the world, (that staff travel!)  and left 34 years later. My career took many twists and turns along the way.

But whilst it gave me choices, it did present challenges. Strangely, despite employing many women, it was a traditional organisation and rather male orientated. The boys got the senior jobs, sound familiar? Just like the bank!

It’s funny, when I would say I worked for British Airways it was always ‘Oh, cabin crew?’ and when I would say accountant you could feel the disappointment, that I wasn’t conforming to the usual stereotypes in those days! Throughout my career I would frequently be the only woman in the room but as the years wore on thankfully that changed. I remember the excitement of the first female pilot, Lynn Barton, in 1987 nine years after I joined. A life-changing moment for gender equality.

Someone once said to me, (a woman, so much for the sisterhood) that I would never come to anything as I was too different. This became a challenge I gladly took on.  I think my father would have been proud of where I ended up even though I did not do as he told me at 16!

I sign off with a thought, despite this blog being mainly about not being told what to do by others, I listened to someone many years ago and they inspired me with what they said:

“Be nobody but yourself, be the youest you that you can ever be”

 I liked being told that and it has served me well.