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Advancing Women in Healthcare Leadership (AWHL)

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.