Women in Leadership at Congress: Advancing gender equity in healthcare leadership

Date:  29 November 2023

We were thrilled to welcome over 60 participants from 24 countries to our session at the 46th World Hospital Congress in Lisbon, Portugal, on 24 October 2023.

The session focused on how hospital leaders can implement and measure policy changes to create a gender-equitable organizational culture.

Hosted by Deborah Bowen, President and CEO of ACHE, and chaired by Dr Sawsan Abdel-Razig, Chief Academic Officer and Chair of Medical Education at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, we were also joined by Frank McKenna from our sponsor Alumni Global, along with special guest Dr Jackie Schleifer Taylor, President and CEO, London Health Sciences Centre, Canada.

Gender equity and organizational culture

We welcomed speaker Gayle Capozzalo, Executive Director of the Carol Emmott Foundation USA, who highlighted the importance of “culture add” rather than “culture fit”, emphasising that the gender imbalance is not a supply problem nor a question of capability, but rather a pipeline problem. It is essential that both men and women leaders work together and walk the walk rather than seeing gender equity as a tickbox exercise. This includes recognizing that ‘people are entire people’ with multifaceted lives, and that leaders need to lead with empathy to create psychological safety.

Dr Sangita Reddy, Joint Managing Director of Apollo Hospitals Group India, shared her experiences as a female leader, encouraging participants to use policy, initiatives, and proclamations as “the guiding lights for the change we need to see in the world”. She called us to action, questioning why we need to wait to achieve gender equity and sharing some of the tools she has worked on (for example a tech equity platform and EMPOWER mentoring platform).

Concrete actions all organizations can take to advance gender equity

Inspired by our two speakers, we divided into groups for focused discussions on the following topics:

  • Leadership
  • Recruitment and retention
  • Mentoring and sponsorship

These were enthusiastic, important and emotional discussions – four key takeaways were:

  • The importance of including men in the discussion, and not recreating an “us and them” culture. Men may also need mentorship in how to create an equitable environment.
  • The importance of “blind” recruitment processes, and of ensuring diversity on recruitment panels.
  • Most organizations are trying, but not following through, with actions that can make an impact, e.g., policies that allow flexible working, support parental leave, and breastfeeding.
  • Many participants have had, or have been, mentors but very few have had sponsorship.

This session continued a very successful Congress in which 91 out of 181 panelists were women, and we had a wonderful handover of the IHF Presidency from Deborah Bowen to Dr Muna Tahlak.

We are excited to build on the energy created at this session to move forward on our objectives for 2024, which include creating a broader SIG with more opportunities for sharing of experiences and networking, plus events to reach a broader audience including podcasts, an international women’s day event, sharing of resources and hopefully a bigger and even better event at Congress 2024 in Rio.

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