WLGH Session Highlights & Video: Powering Women in Organizations: Tackling Gender Equality Head On

To meaningfully advance gender equality in global health, health institutions must act to reshape the systems, policies and dynamics that disproportionately privilege men. Yet, there continues to be slow movement on this front, and even slower movement on gender parity in top leadership positions. According to data published by Global Health 50/50, over 70% of CEOs and Board Chairs at Global Health organizations are men.

The organizational benefits of investing in women leaders are clear. Recent research from McKinsey & Company shows that greater representation results in a higher likelihood of outperformance. According to the report findings, “A substantial differential likelihood of outperformance—48 percent—separates the most from the least gender-diverse companies.”

Organizations that intentionally design and employ gender-inclusive policies are better equipped to move towards gender parity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when there is parity in management, Global Health 50/50 reports that an organization is 6 times more likely to have a workplace diversity policy. This evidence suggests that as more women attain positions of authority, advancement toward gender parity will be accelerated by their increasingly intentional efforts to combat systemic sexism.

This session from the 2020 Women Leaders in Global Health Conference features five experts on building inclusive and equitable organizations. Each discusses experiences and perspectives on implementing and supporting inclusive workplace policies and cultures, including the importance of achieving gender equality at the leadership level in global health.

This panel features Rohini Anand, Principal, Rohini Anand LLC, Sally Saba, Chief Inclusion & Diversity Officer, Medtronic, Hannan Sulieman, Deputy Executive Director, Management, UNICEF, Jane Wanyama, CEO, Aga Khan Hospital, Kisumu, and moderator, Pat Milligan, CEO, EDGE Americas.

Here are three things we learned: 

  • Act Now to Stem Progress Setbacks and Get Back on Track. Rohini Anand notes that society has reached an inflection point where multiple crises—including the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic recession—threaten the progress made towards gender equality over the last decade. For example, the extra burden of childcare shouldered by many women has been exacerbated by the closure of schools and daycares. “Women are doing 20 hours more work than they’ve done before… we’re talking about a half-time job in addition to their regular work,” says Anand. Organizations need to recognize the adverse effects of lockdowns on women employees and ensure they are granted the support and flexibility they deserve.
  • Embrace Responsive, Flexible, and Human-Centric Work Policies. Hannan Sulieman notes that UNICEF began offering flexible work options (e.g., hybrid work-from-home and in-office arrangements) to employees even before the global pandemic, and that female staff took advantage of this opportunity more often than their male counterparts. A global staff survey recently revealed that women have been hit harder by lockdowns considering the greater frequency with which they have needed to accept, for example, more childcare and eldercare responsibilities. “We feel that moving towards a hybrid work model will actually make us more gender-responsive,” says Sulieman.
  • Be intentional about Inclusion and Diversity. Sally Saba reflects on Medtronic’s leadership, which has chosen to be intentional about putting inclusion before diversity. Saba reflects that while you can have diversity, if the environment people step into is not conducive to enabling and unleashing the potential of diversity, you aren’t set up for success.  Saba states, “Diversity is the mix, Inclusion is the environment in which it lives, and Equity is taking it that step further to make sure there is opportunity parity, integrating your processes and procedures so women really thrive in that environment…”  Wanyama also reflects on the importance of inclusion and shares that Aga Khan Hospital has given it critical importance. “We have made inclusiveness a top priority of how we engage and recruit,” she notes.


Watch the full session here: