Interview with Hilda Hayo for International Women’s Day

March 8, 2022

Hilda Hayo has been the Chief Admiral Nurse and Chief Executive Officer at Dementia UK since 2013. She has over 41 years’ experience developing and leading specialist dementia teams and services throughout the NHS.

This International Women’s Day, Hilda celebrates her career highlights and challenges some of the bias she has seen along the way. #BreaktheBias.

What are your career highlights?

The absolute highlight of my career is my current role at Dementia UK. I feel so passionate about improving the experience of people living with dementia and their families. It is a privilege to work alongside my Admiral Nurse colleagues – we are all specialist dementia nurses and help families manage complex needs, considering the person living with dementia and the people around them.

My commitment to changing dementia care for the better came about due to my negative first experiences as a Student Nurse on long-stay wards for people living with dementia. It was common practice for nurses to feed people their breakfast while they were sitting on a commode, and the nurse in charge referred to them as her ‘babies’.

Hilda Hayo at Downing Street

Hilda at an International Women’s Day event at Downing Street

I vowed early in my career that I would make a difference for people with dementia and their families.

I am very proud to have set up a nurse-led young onset dementia team in Northamptonshire which is still active to this day. We worked closely with families in much the same way as our Admiral Nurses do now – supporting them from the time of diagnosis to the end of the person’s life, helping them navigate the difficulties they face and develop coping strategies.

I love meeting nurses who I have trained and who say I positively influenced them. Some of them are even the children of people I worked with years ago, who are now nurses themselves!

What are your stand-out achievements as CEO and Chief Admiral Nurse at Dementia UK?

My biggest achievement is increasing the number of Admiral Nurses from 84 when I joined to 331 today, and this number is rising constantly. Every nurse we recruit means more people living with the effects of dementia are getting the specialist advice and support they deserve.

I have also recruited excellent staff across Dementia UK who are so skilled and knowledgeable, and who live up to the values of our charity.

Hilda at Alzheimer's Show

Hilda and Admiral Nurses at The Alzheimer’s Show

Have you ever faced barriers in your career as a woman?

I had many experiences early in my career where it was assumed that I was the secretary or the tea-maker because I was the only woman at top-level meetings. Male managers often took the credit for my work to advance their career.

I have also been asked several times at different interviews if I planned to have any more children.

When I qualified, I was told by a Nursing Officer that I could either have a family or a career, not both!

However, I have managed to be a working mother, have a successful career and complete a doctorate. It has been really hard work but worth it. My daughter says I am a great role model for what you can do as a woman.

Have you seen any biases in your line of work that you would like to challenge?

Yes, I have seen many biases towards nurses and carers, especially family carers who often get a raw deal. Many health and social care professionals take for granted what families do on a daily basis, and do not consult them enough about their needs or the needs of the person they care for.

There are also still too many situations where people make assumptions about someone just from their sex, gender, outward appearance, age, background, or just because they are different.

I have challenged all of these biases, and I think that has made people respect me more throughout my career.

Why is representation important at Dementia UK?

Dementia UK is all the stronger when our workforce comes from different backgrounds, ages, genders, interests, and viewpoints, and are representative of the society in which we live.

The values we have for our charity are very important to me and I truly believe that if we live them both in our personal lives and at work, the world will be a much better place.

Why is International Women’s Day important to you?

International Women’s Day highlights the need to break the bias and encourages women to pursue their goals. It also demonstrates and celebrates women’s achievements, despite the various obstacles in our way.

My advice to other women would be to challenge bias and stereotypes, and never let other people tell you that you can’t do something!

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