Four UHS Digital staff members have recently completed the Minerva Programme, a development course for women working in health technology, who aspire to lead.

The programme mixes online learning with face-to-face, group sessions held across the year in Leeds.

Here UHS participants Adile Clarke-Zapata, Ailleen Goodman, Emma Joy, and Michelle Andoh reflect on the 10-month course and what it means for women leaders in digital health.

UHS Digital staff members

The UHS Digital Minerva course attendees in Leeds for a group session

What is Minerva?

Ailleen: I was drawn to the Minerva Programme because of its specific focus on developing the leadership skills of women in Health Technology.

I also liked the design of the modules.

They aimed to provide a ‘tool-kit’ for approaching different personal and organisational challenges and build our self-awareness and confidence as leaders.

This was a course without textbooks and homework which, I have got to be honest, was also part of the appeal.

We completed a personal strengths assessment before joining the course and the first session focused on helping us appreciate the value our unique strengths, or ‘superpowers’, and how to use them!

Recognising ourselves in the profiles and sharing our thoughts with the group was an emotional process.

The team about to start the long journey to Leeds

Michelle: I chose to do the Minerva course after it was shared around the department by a senior management.

I was looking to improve and build on skills around my role specifically and wider skills, so the Minerva course came along at the perfect time.

The course appealed to me because it was not assessed in the usual way like through exams, it was more of a reflective course based on ourselves and what we chose to take from it.

One thing that really stuck in my mind from the course was that they taught us different ways we can use our individual power in everyday situations.

That could mean being self-reliant and always positive, as opposed to how our other actions, such as being doubtful and playing safe, might reduce the amount of power we have in those situations,

Group sessions

Emma: On our first day of our Minerva course it was incredibly powerful to be in a room with so many women, all in healthcare IT from a variety of hospitals and companies.

Over the next few weeks, we got to know each other better, as well as ourselves.

The course started by looking at our own strengths and talents, and gradually expanded out.

There was time to reflect, time to chat to each other, and time to learn, not just from the presenters with their incredible backgrounds, but from each other.

It’s so easy to live and work in your bubble, so to step out of that and hear from other people and their experiences was eye-opening and rewarding.

Meeting fellow professionals was part of the attraction of the course

Adile: There were many moments of deep reflection and emotions whilst sharing our experiences and feelings.

You are full on, all day getting so much information in and learning new things that you end up the day very tired but with a great feeling of gratitude for being there learning so much about yourself and others.

Being able to share your experiences and thoughts out loud in a safe space was a great enabler for our learning

And it was somewhat liberating and strengthening, especially when you hear stories of other colleagues going through similar experiences or more difficult situations.

My main take away from the course is the empowerment it has given us to use our own voice and to stand in our power, learning how to be more confident in our abilities and capacity to achieve great things and putting ourselves out there not shying away from opportunities – using our strengths but also allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

Overcoming challenges and building strengths

Michelle: During the course, I think I learned that becoming a leader is not just about strengthening all the weaknesses but being able to find my strengths and make them even stronger to lead myself before trying to lead others.

Just because I am not in a managerial role does not mean I cannot start to become a leader.


Ailleen: Some women had experienced discrimination and challenges as their careers progressed.

However, the group overall felt optimistic about the future and were grateful to have learnt new tactics to help navigate common challenges.

The course included women at different stages of their careers and with range of experience, etc. but the group dynamic was egalitarian, and everyone’s voice was heard – would this have happened on a mixed-sex course?

The final module was the most powerful for me – hearing the personal stories of several women who have made a real difference during their careers in health technology.

They were generous in sharing the valuable lessons and tactics they used to on the road to success – a strong theme being the importance of going where your passion lies!

Swimming in the Leeds docks was not a mandatory part of the course


Friendship on the journey

Emma: As well as the learning, the time spent with the rest of the “Southampton lot” as we came to be known as great.

We had so many laughs on our journeys, our evenings before, and our breakfasts before we walked over to the course.

There’s nothing that brings you together more than getting lost driving into Leeds and ending up in a truck car park in darkness!

I definitely think our relationships grew, this group of four such different women put together for a shared experience, and I’m very glad for it as we continue to work together and socialise.

Emma crocheting on the road trip

Adile: It was a great experience getting to know each other in a more personal way during our long road trips from Southampton to Leeds.

We’ve shared the driving and got different activities going on during the five-hour road trip including: talking about our personal lives, knitting, reading books, working and meetings, phone games like Wordle, Wordscapes, Sudoku, eating snacks that we all shared together.

Final thoughts

Emma:  It’s brilliant that this course is out there.

While healthcare still has huge numbers of female staff, in my personal experience, there are often meetings where I’m the only female leader.

The Minerva programme gave me the opportunity to examine my qualities as a leader, learn from and with others, think about all the things I already do well and what I can do next to be even better.

Hopefully this course will inspire more women to go into leadership roles and do amazing things.