New research from Monash University has shed light on the barriers that women nurses face when trying to advance into leadership roles in the healthcare industry. The findings of this study will be used to develop interventions and strategies to improve career opportunities for Australian nurses as part of a global initiative to promote women in health care leadership.
Researchers conducted a comprehensive review of decades of research to identify and analyze the various sociocultural, professional, organizational, and individual barriers that hinder women nurses from being considered for, applying to, or accepting leadership positions. The study, published in the journal eClinicalMedicine, revealed that healthcare systems and organizations often impede women nurses’ progress in acquiring skills, motivation, and opportunities in health care leadership due to biased policies, practices, and stereotypes.
The study found that gender stereotypes, cultural beliefs, and real-world circumstances in the healthcare field contribute to the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles. Healthcare systems are typically led by men and staffed by women, who are primarily seen as caregivers rather than leaders. Nursing is often regarded as a feminine career, which further reinforces these gender biases.
Despite the fact that nearly 70% of the global healthcare workforce is comprised of women, with 89% being nurses, only 25% of senior healthcare positions are held by women. The study also highlighted the impact of traditional gender roles, such as the disproportionate childcare responsibilities women often face, as well as the challenge of balancing family and part-time work, which limits their access to leadership opportunities that are typically seen as full-time roles.
To overcome these barriers, the study suggests that systemic changes are necessary, and the responsibility should not solely fall on individual nurses. The evidence supports the implementation of industry-wide measures such as leadership development, cultural changes, and policies that support women in working to their preferred capacity and offer part-time leadership roles.
Professor Helena Teede, the senior author of the study and the Director of Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation, emphasized that women nurses face similar challenges to other women in healthcare, where the sector is predominantly delivered by women but led by men. Professor Leanne Boyd, the Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer at Eastern Health, stressed the importance of strengthening the nursing profession to ensure workforce retention and equity, as well as to facilitate cost-effective and accessible healthcare.
Mihiri Pincha Baduge, the first author of the study, shared her personal experiences as a woman, nurse, mother, migrant, and person of color. Baduge mentioned that as a part-time nurse, she faces restrictions when applying for leadership roles due to the lack of work-life flexibility and part-time options. Her research also explores the intersections of gender with other social identities, such as culture and ethnicity, and the resulting barriers to leadership opportunities for nurses.
The study highlights the challenges that women nurses face in terms of lack of confidence in pursuing leadership roles and the reinforcement of gender biases that lead to qualified women being overlooked. Unconscious bias and discrimination further hinder women’s progress in climbing the leadership ladder, especially in nursing, which is traditionally seen as a caring and feminine role.
Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward, the CEO of the Australian College of Nursing, emphasized that registered nurses are highly skilled and professional, responsible for managing millions of patient interactions and guiding consumer experiences. However, there is still a lack of recognition for nurses as essential contributors to healthcare reform and governance at the highest levels of leadership.
The researchers believe that effective nurse leadership will contribute to better access to quality healthcare for all Australians and provide better value for the healthcare investments made by governments. The findings of this study will serve as the foundation for further research and the development of strategies to support women in nursing and other healthcare disciplines as part of the global effort to advance women in healthcare leadership.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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