Women account for 70 per cent of the global healthcare-related workforce, but only 25 per cent occupy leadership positions. This glaring disparity is not just due to family-related interruptions that female doctors experience. According to a European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) study, women are over-represented in fields typically associated with femininity, such as nursing, midwifery, and social care. Although these roles are related to healthcare, career progression toward healthcare leadership is often fraught with hurdles, including the much-discussed glass ceiling.
The UAE offers optimism for women in healthcare
Thankfully, some bright spots exist, especially in countries like the UAE, where women have begun to occupy leadership roles in the healthcare industry.
Huda AlBlooki, a physiotherapist at Healthpoint explains that in recent years there has been a tremendous change in how women are viewed in the country, especially in terms of professional and leadership roles. The Emirati government has been supportive and has made policy changes encouraging women to occupy leadership roles. She described the situation thus: "The UAE has witnessed significant progress within the healthcare industry due to female contribution. The nation has supported women in helping them achieve their goals, and Emirati women have achieved remarkable goals within the sector. Whether in administrative or technical roles, they have been able to keep pace with developments and help lead change." She also added, "We are privileged to see women in advanced leadership positions as a result of direct investments from the UAE's wise leadership, and organisations like Mubadala Health."
However, Louise Cremonisini, Safeguarding Specialist at Amana Healthcare, feels there is still much to be done in terms of bridging the gap between men and women who occupy leadership roles in health care. Louise said, "While female professionals fill the majority of roles in healthcare, the ratio of women to men in leadership positions may not always reflect the same. On the contrary, I am grateful to be part of an organisation where women are well-represented in senior roles. This has inspired me to take steps towards achieving my professional ambitions."
Women's progress in the healthcare industry
Dr. Shweta Narang, Medical Director & Director of Clinical Operations at the National Reference Laboratory, has a more optimistic outlook. She explains that women from diverse backgrounds occupy leadership roles today, and this trend is likely to continue. She elaborated thus: "Women have always been integral to the healthcare system. They impact the world as consumers, as decision-makers and as leaders of their communities. They are active participants in shaping decisions and work to enhance the function of corporations and society.
"At Mubadala Health, women are valued for their skills and medical and organisational expertise. A key example of this can be found in the National Reference Laboratory, where Dr. Laila AbdelWareth and I lead the organisation as two women in senior positions. We have seen a positive correlation between women from diverse backgrounds in leadership positions leading companies to success. We also know that gender-diverse leadership teams are more innovative, develop better creative solutions to problems, avoid groupthink, and are better able to adapt to market needs. International Women's Day is about celebrating women's progress, but it is also an opportunity to reflect on some of the changes we want to see."
Women today work shoulder-to-shoulder with men in nearly all specialities, according to Dr. Nahid Ebinouff, Occupational Medicine Specialist Physician, Capital Health Screening Centre, adding that a majority of the workforce in the healthcare industry comprises women, specifically in fields such as nursing, midwifery, and family medicine.
“According to the World Health Organization (WHO), women make up 80 per cent of the total number of nurses in the UAE, and a majority of family medicine doctors. I am an Occupational Medicine Specialist physician. This is a fairly new field within healthcare, and we already see female dominance within the emirate of Abu Dhabi.
“At Capital Health Screening Centre, we welcome fresh graduates and provide them with the tools to flourish within their career. With more female employees working with us, we have looked at ways to ensure that they are reaching their full potential, and in turn, will go on to shape the healthcare industry in their own way. Personally, I find this change refreshing. It makes me proud. I firmly believe that women bring a unique viewpoint to the workplace that goes to benefit society as a whole,” she said.
Policy changes accelerate gender equality outcomes in healthcare leadership
Thankfully, observing current trends certainly fills one with the hope that women will be adequately represented in leadership roles. Of course, it's not all hunky dory for women aspiring to be healthcare industry leaders. There are significant challenges that they need to overcome, ranging from gender bias, stereotypes, pay disparities and work-life balance.
This International Women's Day, it is essential to acknowledge these challenges and make policy changes at governmental and institutional levels so that more women feel encouraged to become healthcare leaders. This can include offering mentorship programmes, taking initiatives for enhancing diversity and inclusion, providing flexible work arrangements, and recognising the achievements of women in healthcare leadership roles.