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Advancing Women in Healthcare Leadership

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RACMA has stepped up its commitment to gender equality as a partner in Advancing Women in Healthcare Leadership (AWHL), a large-scale national research and impact project.

Supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Partnership Project grant, AWHL aims to explore, co-design, implement and evaluate organisational strategies that increase the capacity, credibility, and capability of women and advance women in healthcare leadership.

When the College was approached by AWHL Chief Investigator Professor Helena Teede, from Monash University, the Board believed participating in the initiative would provide strong evidence to inform and assist RACMA in improving gender equity policy and practices in its education and training programs that lead to both Fellowship and Associate Fellowship.

According to AWHL, women comprise 75% of the Australian healthcare workforce. Yet, 30% of Deans, Chief Medical Officers, College board or committee members and 12.5% of large hospital CEOs are women. In some surgical streams only 3-5% are women. However, research shows that the transformational and collaborative leadership style, more characteristic of women, has direct and positive impacts on health care outcomes.

AWHL aims to overcome the current ad hoc, duplicative and ineffective research with a systematic, organisational approach to achieve a sustainable impact on the advancement of women in healthcare leadership positions.

RACMA and its Members are active in their commitment to gender equality. As a College, RACMA has a long history of female Members in lead roles such as College President, Dean, and Censor-in-Chief. Currently, the Board of RACMA has 6 out of 11 members who are female, while 34% of RACMA’s Members are women.

RACMA’s involvement is focused on the four-year, Organisational Change Management research which will be conducted over four phases. The first phase of the project comprises a series of in-depth interviews of RACMA Members to understand what matters, what works and what can be done to increase the number of women in healthcare leadership via RACMA and more broadly within the healthcare sector.

This is a great opportunity for RACMA to be part of such a robust research project to further promote the College’s role as the medical college specialising in Medical Leadership. The College is a lead partner organisation in this research, and seeks to generate new evidence to provide real, effective action and methods the College can use to increase the number of women in its training program, and increase engagement and the promotion of women in the specialty of Medical Leadership.

It is clear that current strategies to try to increase the number of women in medical leadership roles have not been very effective based on the observed data available, and new avenues are needed. Structural changes may be needed to change the systemic barriers that may be in place making such roles unavailable or unattractive to female health professionals. It is evident that there is no simple solution to what is a complex issue. The issue of women in leadership is a wider societal issue, that affects all industries, not just health, and it may require cultural and generational change. The movement for gender equality may seem to have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.

It is important that there are male champions of change to advocate to highlight the need for transformation, and it is also important to ensure that women have a voice through this piece of research so that their viewpoint is heard.

Advancing Women Healthcare Leadership Background

The healthcare sector is a major Australian employer with a 75% female workforce, yet women remain underrepresented in healthcare leadership, with leadership failing to reflect our community or workforce. Progress towards equity is slow and inadequate. Research into barriers, enablers and effective models to promote gender equity in leadership, optimise career goal attainment and improve quality of working life for women in healthcare is limited. Investment is scarce, duplication rife and Australia struggles to implement and measure improvement across disciplines and at multiple levels. Here Monash University multidisciplinary academics and health professionals bring together leading health public and private health services from Monash Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre, NHMRC accredited to integrate research into healthcare, with professional societies and policy makers. Inn this large-scale collaborative partnership, we aim to meet partner priorities and co-develop an evidenced based, healthcare tailored, strategy at an organisational and individual level, to promote gender equity in healthcare leadership and improve attainment of career goals for women. Intervention mapping and an implementation research framework will enable exploration of gaps, needs, beliefs and determinants, supported by evidence synthesis. Agreed objectives and measurable outcomes will be developed and integrated into an innovative digital benchmarking platform. We will do-design of a multi-level intervention across individual, and organisational levels to advance women and promote diversity in healthcare leadership and implement and evaluate it with partners, generating an implementation tool kit. Ultimately, we seek to implement and scale this generalisable, evidence-based, measurable multifaceted intervention across health services nationally via the Academic Health Science Centres network and partners.

Areas of focus

Capacity: Caring responsibilities limit work capacity and often create non-linear career paths, with opportunities and success shifted to later career stages. Lack of workplace flexibility further enhances the impact career disruption and capacity issues.

Credibility: A persistent masculine bias and a lack of gender diversity including cultural

diversity in leadership and organisational culture affects leadership credibility, compounded by a lack of women role models. Unconscious bias also presents significant leadership barriers.

Capability: Perceived reduced capability and lack of confidence or self-advocacy stalls progress, leaving women outside strategic networking positions, vital for advancement. Compounded by inadequate leadership training and mentoring at an individual and organisational level.

Intersectionality: Addressing the compounding impacts experienced by women in healthcare leadership who identify with broader diversity attributes.

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Author: Felicity Gallagher

21st October 2021

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