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Paving the way for more women in medical leadership roles

Physicians Christina Mangurian and Carolyn Rodriguez discuss the lack of women in leadership positions in medicine, and what we can do about it.

I thought it would be easy to find an image of a woman in a business suit. Yet my search for "woman" and "suit" in a photo database returned dozens of images of women in swimsuits, several photos of women in wedding gowns (standing next to men in suits) and a smattering of photos of women in skirt suits.

My misperception is a common one — it’s often assumed there are more women leaders than they actually are, and the field of medicine is no exception. As recent article in the Harvard Business Review explains, although women have made up at least 40 percent of U.S. medical students for nearly the past three decades, they comprise only 34 percent of physicians, 18 percent of hospital CEOs and just 16 percent of all U.S. deans and department chairs.

So why aren’t more women in medicine in leadership positions? That’s the complex problem that Christina Mangurian, MD, and co-authors, Eleni Linos, MD, DrPH, Urmimala Sarkar, MD, DrPH, Carolyn Rodriguez, MD, PhD, and Reshma Jagsi, MD, DPhil, take on.

In their article, they provide examples of how sexual harassment, policies that disadvantage women and biases contribute to gender disparities. They also outline several steps we can take to help women advance their careers in medicine (and elsewhere), such as instituting family-friendly policies; mitigating bias, discrimination and sexual harassment; and improving mentorship and funding for women.

I corresponded with Mangurian and Rodriguez via email to learn more.

What prompted you to write this?

Rodriguez: Dr. Mangurian and I have a shared passion for advocacy for diversity and inclusion. We also have experience navigating the challenges of careers medicine, [serving] as each other’s peer support for the past 10 years. We are both active in the community each of us serve as mentors… We are firm believers of the importance of 'lift as you climb.'

What do you and your co-authors hope to achieve with this article?

Rodriguez: To convey that having a broader diversity in leadership can increase the amount of different perspectives and lead to better quality of decision-making (i.e., less group think) in addition to acting as inspiration for young women interested pursuing careers in medicine.

Mangurian: Diversity is a key ingredient to academic excellence. We want to give administrators the tools to achieve gender equality in their institutions.

What comes next?

Rodriguez: Given the persistent leadership disparities for women in academics, our goal is to outline specific, practical next steps to make progress immediately... We are very hopeful that together we can make meaningful change.

Mangurian: More research is needed on issues of intersectionality (how multiple identities interact) and women of color. These topics were included briefly in the article and there is more work needed.

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