Organisational practices underpinned by a supportive workplace culture key to advancing women in leadership

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Organisations can support women in career advancement by developing a culture that is credible and collaborative, and continuously improving.

Research published today in JAMA Network Open reveals an organisational model that will inform healthcare organisations on how to best to support the advancement of women into leadership.  The findings also suggest that organisations can support women in career advancement by developing a culture that is credible and collaborative, and continuously improving.

Women continue to be underrepresented in leadership, including in health care.  There is a need for greater equity and diversity in leadership because it leads to more equitable health, social justice and healthcare outcomes for women.  Greater equity and diversity in leadership is also linked to improved organisational performance.  

This research, published by the Advancing Women in Healthcare Leadership (AWHL) initiative, an initiative led by MCHRI, is based on the experiences of women in existing leadership roles across medical and healthcare.  

The findings generated a model of organisational practice highlighting that the pathway from entering the workforce to attaining leadership was highly dependent on whether an organisation’s culture is conducive to women’s credibility as leaders.

The AWHL researchers found that a supportive workplace culture is built on practices that fostered an organisation’s credibility, collaboration and continuous improvement as they support women and their career advancement. 

“We know that gender equity targeted practices improve career opportunities for women. Our research shows that organisations need to be active in implementing these practices in a systematic way in order to impact on workforce culture. Driving and sustaining change in organisations requires that we work with women, hear their voices, and support their career advancement,” said Dr Mariam Mousa, who led this work and whose PhD has made significant impact in this field. 

The team also showed that a number of organisational practices raise women’s credibility and also enable women to assume a leadership identity.  These include identifying and actively addressing systemic barriers, challenging gendered assumptions and expectations of leadership behaviours, and providing women with mentorship opportunities.

The burden for change should not sit with individual women, effective practices are available for organisations, but this requires a leadership commitment and a culture ready for change.  This national initiative is building the evidence and creating tools for implementation to improve gender equity and advance women’s careers for women today and in the future,” said Professor Helena Teede, CI of AWHL and Director of MCHRI.

With a National NHMRC Partnership Grant, Professor Teede has brought together multiple healthcare organisations, state and federal government, industrial bodies and professional colleges, to collaboratively undertake research, co-design effective organisational interventions, implement, monitor and refine these to scale across the sector to increase the number of women in healthcare leadership. Learn more about the Advancing Women in Healthcare Leadership Initiative here.

Mousa M, Garth B, Boyle JA, Riach K, Teede HJ. Organizational Practices That Advance Women in Health Care LeadershipJAMA Netw Open. 2023;6(3):e233532. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2023.3532

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