Image credits: Karrinyup St Luke Medical Centre
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News Article

Underrepresentation in Healthcare Calls for a Feminist Approach

By Miriam Bello | Tue, 03/08/2022 - 07:00

Despite representing 71 percent of the health workforce, women continue to be underrepresented in leadership positions, limiting their influence and hampering diversity and gender equity goals.

Female representation is key for a company to grow at a national and global level. When women are meaningfully represented and engaged in leadership bodies, laws, rulings and decisions are more likely to be inclusive, representative and take diverse views into account, explains Women Deliver. When women hold more executive leadership positions, their companies are more profitable: companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams are 21 percent more likely to outperform the national average. Furthermore, female role models support other women to advance in their careers, leading to workplace changes that benefit both genders.

The healthcare sector, despite having a primarily female workforce, is currently advancing female leadership at a glacial pace. “Challenges appear intractable with limited research into effective organizational strategies that can accelerate change,” found a study by E Clinical Medicine.

The lack of representation in this industry was permeated to the basics of care provision, from research studies to delivery. Thus, experts and academics urge for a feminist approach for global healthcare. “Women are disadvantaged structurally, being over-represented in informal care roles and underrepresented in leadership, decision making and senior research roles, resulting on programs that are often blind to the differences between women’s needs and men’s needs,” according to The Lancet’s “Why it must be a feminist global health agenda” study.

Beyond implementing quotas, achieving gender equality requires substantive institutional change that recognizes and is responsive to the formal and informal ways in which inequality occurs. For example, work–life balance is the most common barrier for women to advance on their professional careers in health, found a The Lancet study. However, gender discrimination, sexual harassment and assault “have be found to be systematic barriers as they are present in diverse institutions at a global level.”

Building a Feminist Approach

Several interventions can be used as a starting point to break this vicious cycle of underrepresentation in female leadership positions. First is to build an ongoing public promotion of gender equality in the workplace. Second is to make clear institutional policies on gender discrimination and harassment with clear reporting methods and independent committees to review and address complaints. Third is to foment individual, gender-specific leadership training to empower women and peer mentorship support groups to provide a safe forum to discuss and address barriers.

“When women support women by becoming a mentor or sponsor, another woman takes that as an example,” explained María Johnson, Vice President of Channels for Latin America, Boston Scientific.

Mentorship is also a fundamental part of a women’s support system on the journey to leadership. Women are often imposed gender role biases, which leads to professional and personal pressure. “I see many women drop out of their careers when they reach management roles because of their personal lives. I say to them ‘It can be done!’,” said Luly de Samper, International Vice President of Medical Devices in Latin America, Johnson & Johnson. She explained that it requires passion, a strong support system and embracing the challenges that help women grow.

By addressing underrepresentation, the global system can move away from its current lack of understanding on women’s healthcare and lack of adequate screening and prevention programs to provide adequate support for women, concluded a study by Global Coalition on Aging.

Miriam Bello Miriam Bello Senior Journalist and Industry Analyst