Leadership & Management

Advancing women in healthcare leadership: First systemic review highlights strategies to drive change

Health Industry Hub | December 8, 2021 |
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Leadership & Management: Monash University research has identified effective interventions that can be implemented to advance women in leadership, with specific lessons for healthcare. 

This is the first systematic review to identify, extract and synthesise evidence on organisational interventions that measurably advance women in leadership, from within and beyond the healthcare sector. 

The research has shown that to close the gender gap and enable women to achieve their career goals, organisations need to adopt dedicated leadership and commit to ground up co-development with women and the broader workforce to meet their needs in implementing the interventions in the long-term. 

Integrating 20 years of research, the findings published in The Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine highlight the need for effective interventions that sit across five categories: organisational processes; awareness and engagement;  mentoring and networking; leadership development; and support tools. 

The research suggests a move beyond the focus on problems and barriers to gender equity and advancing women in leadership, to a focus on effective strategies to enable women to attain their career goals. These include the need for genuine leadership commitment and accountability in sanctioning and delivering multi level organisational interventions that support the workforce.

Globally, no woman alive today, or her children, will see the world achieve gender parity as on current trends we will not close the gender gap for an extraordinary 125 years. The Global Gender Gap Report from the World Economic Forum revealed that Australia was ranked 50th in the Global Gender Gap Index 2021 rankings (dropping 11 places from 2019). Despite progress in increasing awareness and policy intent, women still do not have the same opportunities as men, and this is starkly reflected in the healthcare sector that remains “delivered by women and led by men”.

Frustrated by a sector whose solutions to this inequity have been adhoc and focused on strategies to target individual women, and have not relied on evidence-based and system level change, Professor Helena Teede, Professor Of Women’s Health and Director of Monash Centre for Health Research Implementation, recognised the vital need to identify, adapt, implement and scale evidence-based solutions for healthcare.

“Organisations are inundated with research on problems and barriers that affect the advancement of women in leadership. With little research on effective solutions to address these barriers at the organisational and systems level, there has been a reliance on tokenistic gender equity policies, with a lack of evidence-based interventions, monitoring or commitment to ongoing change,” said first author Mariam Mousa, whose PhD is dedicated to this work.  

“This research has brought together existing evidence to inform and support organisations in their efforts to improve outcomes for women in leadership.”.

“As a woman who has had to navigate the health and academic system for decades, balancing parenting my two daughters alongside my research and clinical careers, I can attest to the entrenched barriers and problems facing women in these sectors,” says Professor Teede. 

“There isn’t a quick fix to solve the under-representation of women in leadership, yet this research demonstrates that effective strategies are available and lays the groundwork for a national initiative aiming to tackle barriers and deliver impact for current and future generations of women.”.

With a National NHMRC Partnership Grant, Professor Teede has brought together multiple healthcare organisations, state and federal governments, industry bodies and professional colleges, to collaboratively undertake research, co-design effective organisational interventions, implement, monitor and refine these to scale across the sector to increase the number of women in healthcare leadership. 

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