April 15, 2024

Bridging Gender Gap in Healthcare


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In Kenya, women remain underrepresented in senior positions across many sectors, including healthcare. Although they constitute approximately 70 percent of healthcare workers globally, only 25 percent of women hold senior leadership roles, underscoring the urgency to challenge entrenched norms and create pathways for gender inclusion.

This reality has been highlighted in a research undertaken jointly by Kenya Healthcare Federation (KHF) and Strathmore Business School (SBS) titled Advancing Women’s Leadership in the Kenyan Health Sector through Organizational and Systems Change Efforts. The research findings shed light on the myriad factors contributing to this disparity, including unfavourable workplace policies, gender stereotyping, and a culture that perpetuates gender imbalances in healthcare institutions.

To bridge the leadership gap between men and women in healthcare, concerted efforts are required to address these multi-level barriers to women’s advancement. Such efforts should not be merely a matter of achieving parity, but rather, about increasing female representation in health leadership in what the research terms the Triple Gender Dividend – better health outcomes, gender equality in decent work opportunities, and economic growth.

However, a lack of contextually nuanced data has hindered progress in this regard. The research sought to fill this gap by examining health worker perceptions and experiences on how organisational elements such as structure, leadership, culture, and policies constrain or promote women’s career advancement in Kenya’s health sector organisations.

The data was collected from over 3,000 participants in 403 organisations across the country in five months to December 2023. The research’s recommendations are comprehensive and actionable. They emphasise the need for organisational structures that prioritise the establishment of gender-inclusive leadership development programmes tailored to address the unique challenges faced by women in healthcare leadership roles.

These programmes should encompass mentorship, skill-building, and career advancement opportunities while promoting transparency and accountability in recruitment and promotion processes to mitigate biases.

Furthermore, organizational policies should adapt to accommodate the diverse needs of women in leadership, offering flexible work arrangements, parental leave policies, and other family-friendly benefits. By fostering a culture of inclusivity and belonging, organisations can create environments where women feel valued, respected, and empowered to succeed.

Efforts should also be made to ensure gender diversity in leadership teams, including executive and board positions, to harness a full spectrum of talent and perspectives.

The findings of the research formed central discussions in a joint conference bringing together over 500 women leaders in healthcare.

Representatives from the Health Cabinet Secretary’s office pledged concrete actions to address gender barriers in the Kenyan workforce, reaffirming the government’s commitment to promoting gender equality.

Ultimately, there was a celebration of women’s achievements across diverse healthcare sub-sectors, highlighting their indispensable contributions to healthcare and beyond. It served as a call to action, inspiring leaders to bridge the gender gap and create a more inclusive future.

Dr. Angela Ndunge is the Deputy Executive Dean, Strathmore University Business School.

Adapted from Business Daily on 15th April 2024 at 16:45: https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/bd/opinion-analysis/columnists/bridging-gender-gap-in-healthcare–4581880

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