Women are agents of change. While there has been a great deal of progress in creating opportunities for women in the health workforce, there is still much more to do to ensure equity and parity for female health workers globally. Mentorship, training and leadership development for women all around the world are proven practices to build a strong health workforce, and are urgently needed.
With the right attention and focus, together, we can create opportunities for women to lead in a field that is largely dominated by women. On International Women’s Day, we must #PressforProgress to have more women in the health workforce. Here are five reasons why.
1. Women comprise 70 percent of the global health workforce, yet occupy only 25 percent of leadership positions. The recent Global Gender Gap report found that when women are better represented in leadership, more women are hired, and more women are in turn motivated to rise through the ranks and take on leadership roles.
The report also found that true gender parity, across all sectors, is more than 200 years away. How then can we close the gender gap in the health sector, especially in parts of the world where resources and opportunities are scarce? Sigma Theta Tau International’s leadership training program provides an excellent model for training and mentoring nurse leaders in the global health workforce and developing their capacity to lead.
2. Increasing the number of women leaders makes a positive impact across many of the Global Goals. We already know that investing in the education of girls and women is cost effective and generates long-term benefits for families and communities. It’s also increasingly clear that building leadership capacity for women in the health workforce cuts across a number of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Not only does developing women health leaders contribute to ensuring healthy lives for all (Goal 3) and creating gender equality (Goal 5), attention to women leaders will create opportunities for equitable education (Goal 4) and ensure sustained economic growth and employment (Goal 8).
3. Health and economic benefits increase. More women in health leadership roles means better paying jobs for women, but the health sector is a growing source of employment, contributing to overall economic growth. A major Lancet Commission found that women contribute $3 trillion to the global health care sector – which is five percent of global GDP. New research from the Milken Institute finds that when women enter the workforce, mortality rates fall, health improves, and people are healthy and able to thrive.
4. They will drive progress toward universal health coverage. The needs of women as patients were overlooked for too long in global health care delivery. And while progress has been made, there is still a great deal of attention needed to improve maternal, adolescent and children’s health. Gender-balanced leadership in health care and at a policy level is needed to ensure equitable delivery of high-quality health care, especially for women and young people.
5. Women are transformational leaders. Women leaders in government have made a difference in driving country-level investments in health and education programs. Take Nobel Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who made history in 2005 when she was elected President of Liberia – the first woman ever elected to lead an African nation. Under her leadership, Sirleaf ushered in an era of development that focused on women’s rights, ending gender-based violence and leaving a legacy that other countries will surely follow.
Entrepreneurial women are finding innovative ways to change the game in health care too. Take the example of Nicole Joseph-Chin, who has made it her mission to improve breast health for women in her Trinidad and Tobago. Her prevention and awareness tools, and breast health seminars have been a catalyst for women to take action to improve health and led to her being recognized as a distinguished Vital Voices Fellow.
Women and girls are at the heart of sustainable development. And by creating enabling environments where they are truly empowered to make decisions and lead, we can flip the status quo for the millions of women already serving in the health workforce, and change the trajectory of human health for generations to come.
All of us—men and women alike—must commit to recognize, celebrate and mentor emerging women leaders as they set out to become change makers in their communities and for our world.