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Nine simple steps for increasing women’s participation in anaesthesiology leadership

As a profession, anaesthesiologists work collectively to ensure patient safety and improve health outcomes.  These goals will remain more difficult to achieve without the full participation of women at all levels of the health care system.

The evidence from a wide range of different sectors is that improving gender equality and equity improves service delivery, decision making, professional wellbeing and much more.

A key goal of WFSA is to increase the involvement of more women in anaesthesiology and its decision making bodies.

To this end, WFSA’s ad-hoc Gender Balance Committee continues to identify approaches to advance equality and equity. For example, in 2016 just 3 female Latin American representatives held WFSA positions, by 2020 this had risen to 13 representatives or 50% of the 26 positions available to representatives from the region. Similarly, at the 2016 World Congress of Anaesthesiologists (WCA) only 14% of speakers were female, for WCA 2021 36% of speakers on the preliminary programme are women.

There is a historic and persistent underrepresentation of women in healthcare leadership. For example, only 31% of the world’s ministers of health are women, and there is only one female among the chief executives of the 27 health-care companies listed in Fortune Global 500 in 2017. When only men dominate decision-making positions in an organization, an appreciable amount of potential is lost.

Simple concrete actions and commitments can trigger collective action.

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day, we take a look at some of the practical steps you and your organisation can take to improve gender equality and equity in across anaesthesiology.

1 – Get informed about gender equality within your organisation

Regularly auditing and publishing data on female representation in medicine will increase the visibility and causes of gender inequality in our profession

  • What is the gender balance of your general membership/staff?
  • What proportion of women have been elected to governance bodies?
  • What is the gender make up of your executive leadership?
  • Are there structural or policy barriers in place that are preventing gender equality?

2 – Develop a policy on gender equality and equity as a core component of your organization’s governance

  • Include co-option policies for situations when insufficient women apply for or are elected to the office.

3 – Make sure everyone knows about this policy

  • Make it publicly visible by sharing the policy through websites, email, WhatsApp, department notice boards, etc.
  • Talk about it in meetings and supervision.
  • Provide training to help members understand why the policy is necessary and how unconscious bias can influence decision-making about leadership.

4 – Proactively identify and encourage women to take leadership roles

  • Establish a diverse and informed recruitment advisory group to identify suitable women to mentor, sponsor and be encouraged to stand for office.
  • Build and update databases of women who might be suitable for leadership.

5 – Celebrate your organisation’s advances in gender equality and parity.

  • Share the good news in print, online and meetings.

6 – Know the facts about gender parity’s role in driving performance in governance and decision making.

7 – Gender awareness is not just for women. Neither is gender equity

  • Provide mentorship, leadership and cultural competence training to all members of the team.

8 – Embed non-gendered family friendly practices into you work

  • Consider timing and location of meetings
  • Consider childcare provision at meetings, including teleconferences.

9 – Be the change yourself

  • Put yourself forward for election and support diversity from within organization.

‘Education, legislation, regulation, participation and tailored approaches are all needed if we are to realise gender equality.’

Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations

International Women’s Day provides a welcome opportunity to renew WFSA’s commitment for true gender equality across, anaesthesia, global health and the wider international community.
We’re not going to be able to realise the sustainable development goals unless we create health systems which enable health worker equality and equity.

As the theme for this IWD, we call on you to ‘choose to challenge’ the structural and policy barriers to gender equality that linger on in our universities, wards, departments, hospitals and health centres.

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