“Glass Cliff” persists as women take on healthcare leadership roles


The representation of women in healthcare and medical leadership roles remains a pressing issue in Australia, signalling a broader challenge to equity and social justice within the industry.

A recent Perspective article in the Medical Journal of Australia sheds light on the persistent underrepresentation of women in leadership roles and calls for systemic changes to address this disparity. Pediatrician Dr Jenny Proimos, along with her colleagues, emphasises the need for organisational and cultural shifts to support women’s advancement in the field.

The Advancing Women in Healthcare Leadership (AWHL) initiative has emerged as a proactive step towards improving gender diversity in leadership roles. By partnering with professional associations and medical colleges, AWHL aims to examine existing systems and policies to facilitate the progression of women in healthcare leadership.

Member organisations involved in the AWHL initiative have shown positive engagement, indicating a growing recognition of the importance of promoting women’s representation in leadership positions. Continuous dialogue and collaboration with these organisations are essential to drive meaningful change and create more inclusive environments within the healthcare sector.

However, despite some progress, women in medicine still face significant challenges, particularly when it comes to breaking through the “glass cliff.” This phenomenon, highlighted in another Perspective article in the Medical Journal of Australia, refers to the tendency for women to be appointed to leadership roles during times of crisis.

Dr Melissa Wheeler and Dr Laksmi Govindasamy from RMIT University emphasise that although more women assumed leadership positions during the COVID-19 pandemic, they often find themselves navigating increased demands and challenges. This pattern reflects broader structural barriers that perpetuate gender inequity in medical leadership.

Traditional gender equity initiatives often fall short of addressing these systemic challenges, focusing primarily on individual professional development rather than challenging entrenched barriers. Dr Wheeler and Dr Govindasamy advocate for a more comprehensive approach that tackles structural inequalities within the healthcare system.

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