‘The five women who have inspired and shaped my career’ – a blog Dr Iain McLean

Dr Iain McLean

Author: Dr Iain McLean

Managing Director for Research and Innovation

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To mark Equality, Diversity and Human Rights (EDHR) Week 2021, Dr Iain McLean reflects on how a core quality demonstrated by five female leaders throughout his career has shaped his development.

I am very glad to have been invited to write about the five people who have most influenced my career, who by default or design, all happen to be women;  strong and inspiring women I have been fortunate enough to be mentored by, and from each I have drawn a quality I consider essential to how I approach my work.

Just as our childhood years can be the most formative for the rest of our lives, the influences on our early working life can define our whole careers.

Therefore, apologies up front for excluding many other women (and perhaps a few men) I have met through work who have also been influential, and not to mention my mother and partner in my non-work life. So, let me focus just on these five leaders and the values I have learnt from them, and hopefully you will find it interesting and useful.

Professor Carolyn Kagan – Collaboration

My background is in psychology and my first job in research was as a Research Assistant in the Psychology Department at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), reporting to Carolyn Kagan. (She also supervised my PhD there.)

Very much at the social end of the psychology spectrum, Carolyn’s approach to public engagement was very ahead of its time, and co-founding the discipline of ‘community psychology’ long before the phrase public and patient involvement entered the mainstream consciousness of the NHS.

From Carolyn, I learnt the value of collaboration. Collaboration enables us to meet others as equals and create something together which is stronger than our individual efforts.

This sense of the social utility of one’s work was also very important to me; to know that my efforts are trying to make the world a better place, not just about making money or gaining status.

Professor Hilary Klee – Professionalism

Still at MMU I moved into a Research Fellow post on a Joseph Rowntree Foundation funded project, led by Hilary Klee. Hilary was a, perhaps the, prominent expert on the effects of amphetamine misuse and the project looked at education, training and employment for drug users.

Under Hilary I learnt the standards required to produce work of the highest quality, from methodological rigor, through attention to detail in analyses, to clarity in presentation and discussion of results and their meanings.

I have an innate pedantry for spelling, grammar and formatting, but learning how to channel that, harness it pragmatically and not be a slave to it, is essential.

A lovely person, as all of these five are, Hilary also had a previous early career in the arts and was a student of the sculptor Elisabeth Frink, which helps us remember we are and must be more than our current job.

Dr Raine Roberts MBE – Compassion

Raine Roberts, who sadly passed away last year, was a GP in Manchester in 1986. Together with a sympathetic senior officer from Greater Manchester Police and manager from Saint Mary’s Hospital, she founded the Saint Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) and was its Clinical Director for the next two decades.

The first of its kind in the UK, Saint Mary’s SARC delivers forensic medical examinations alongside counselling for victims, and now many other services besides.

Raine was inspired to set up Saint Mary’s SARC after performing a forensic examination on a woman who had been raped. After the examination, Raine sadly had to say goodbye to the woman and could not signpost her to any support services, as there was nothing of that kind available at that time. By combining the forensic medical needs of evidence collection with the personal support needed for the victim, and located in a safe, neutral space – not a police station – Raine knew that society could show its compassion for victims of sexual violence by addressing the immediate needs of the individual, which would then increase the chances of evidence to contribute to a subsequent legal process and the wider social benefit of that.

Sadly, convictions for sexual assaults are at a record low in England and Wales, but Saint Mary’s SARC created a blueprint which has been copied across the UK and the world. I was honoured to work at the Centre from 2001 to 2008 as their Research and Development Officer (although substantively employed by The University of Manchester), the first researcher attached to a UK SARC, and the sole male member of the team at that time. Part of what we were trying to do through research was create an evidence base that forensic physicians could point to in court when giving evidence, rather than solely rely on their experience (however professional, it is still personal and so anecdotal).

Compassion for the patient, or ‘client’ as they are known in SARCs, can be an indirect thing for the many of us engaged in research who do not have personal contact with the participants of the projects we support.

I remember assembling databases at Saint Marys’ SARC and seeing more than once when the date of an assault matched a client’s date of birth, and the impact that had on me considering how such a thing may have come about and then realising the impact that would have on that person’s life forever.

We can show our compassion through our appropriate reverence for the data, which those individuals leave us through their contact with our projects.

Dr Cath White OBE – Resilience

Raine was succeeded at Saint Mary’s SARC by Cath White, who is still the Clinical Director there. Compassion could quite easily be Cath’s watchword, and I doubt there has ever been a member of that fantastic team who does not exemplify it. The Centre was a great place to develop and grow, for the value of its impact and the intellectual and other satisfactions of being involved in pioneering work, but for me the comradeship and downright fun of the team was also a wonderful experience. That team support was essential given the nature of the work there, and they have many systems set up to formalise it beyond simply being a good team, which I need not detail here.

Resilience is important for us to quite simply be able to carry on, and Cath had a seemingly invulnerable ability to manage the many and varied demands of her career and life.

Cath said something which has stayed with me and has become somewhat of a motto. In my time there we established an annual conference which became a key event in the national, even international, calendar for these services, but one year we were struggling to attract sufficient delegates and experiencing other difficulties. I was particularly concerned as at the time the conference revenue part-funded my post, but at one planning meeting Cath delivered her immortal line of reassurance which now defines resilience for me; “The more things go wrong now, the more we’ll laugh about it later.”

I also need to give an honourable mention here to the erstwhile Service Manager at Saint Mary’s SARC in my time there (and after) Bernie Ryan OBE. A counsellor and a hugely warm person, one of the many things about management I learnt from her was to buy each of my direct reports a suitable Christmas present!

Kathy Evans – Organisation

In 2008 I joined what was then the newly-formed ‘Research and Innovation Division’ of the Trust – which later became MFT – as a Divisional Research Manager. For most of that time, I was fortunate to be directly managed by the Divisional Director of R&I, Kathy Evans. Again, a woman of many and impressive qualities, Kathy’s ability to organise and, importantly, keep things organised, was essential to the success of establishing R&I as a distinct entity within CMFT and then MFT.

Kathy got the right people together to establish the right processes for efficiently managing day-to-day operational activities, then relentlessly kept the handle turning and made sure the right people kept turning their handles too. Having a touch of what was occasionally and always affectionately referred to as the ‘New Jersey street fighter’ about her and her no-nonsense east coast American accent certainly also helped her sell a vision of how something should be.

The value of organisation, especially in such a large organisation as MFT, must not be underrated. It is the essential glue and lubricant which brings everything together, keeps them working there and allows for improvements to be more easily delivered. Surely that is the essence of Research and Innovation.

Kathy’s retirement in 2019 led (after the appropriate rigorous international search) to my succession into her place, which is a massive honour for me in many ways. I hope I can not only maintain but further Kathy’s legacy, and do justice to each of the other great women I have been fortunate to work for and with. Today I am blessed to work with the R&I Operational Management Team of Dr Katherine Boylan (Head of Innovation), Dr Claire Cole (Head of Research Delivery), Janette Dunkerley (Head of Nursing and Midwifery), Dr Lynne Webster (Head of the Research Office) and Helen Pidd (Operational Director CRF), as well as of course to have the privilege of being line-managed by Professor Jane Eddleston (Group Joint Medical Director).


The opening theme of EDHR Week 2021 is ‘being a team’ and I could not be prouder to be part of such an inclusive and diverse R&I Team, in terms of gender, ethnicities, nationalities – and many other aspects. The diversity of our team makes us who we are; and the many and varying skills, roles and indeed, personalities, within R&I contributes to our success.