Reasons and remedies for underrepresentation of women in medical leadership roles: A qualitative study from Australia

Marie Bismark, Jennifer Morris, Laura Thomas, Erwin Loh, Grant Phelps, Helen Dickinson

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100 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To elicit medical leaders' views on reasons and remedies for the under-representation of women in medical leadership roles. Design: Qualitative study using semistructured interviews with medical practitioners who work in medical leadership roles. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and transcripts were analysed using thematic analysis. Setting: Public hospitals, private healthcare providers, professional colleges and associations and government organisations in Australia. Participants: 30 medical practitioners who hold formal medical leadership roles. Results: Despite dramatic increases in the entry of women into medicine in Australia, there remains a gross under-representation of women in formal, high-level medical leadership positions. The male-dominated nature of medical leadership in Australia was widely recognised by interviewees. A small number of interviewees viewed gender disparities in leadership roles as a 'natural' result of women's childrearing responsibilities. However, most interviewees believed that preventable gender-related barriers were impeding women's ability to achieve and thrive in medical leadership roles. Interviewees identified a range of potential barriers across three broad domains-perceptions of capability, capacity and credibility. As a counter to these, interviewees pointed to a range of benefits of women adopting these roles, and proposed a range of interventions that would support more women entering formal medical leadership roles. Conclusions: While women make up more than half of medical graduates in Australia today, significant barriers restrict their entry into formal medical leadership roles. These constraints have internalised, interpersonal and structural elements that can be addressed through a range of strategies for advancing the role of women in medical leadership. These findings have implications for individual medical practitioners and health services, as well as professional colleges and associations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere009384
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ Open
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes

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