By Michele Barry
Drs. Ben & A. Jess Shenson Professor, Senior Associate Dean, Global Health
Director, Center for Innovation in Global Health
It is with great pleasure that I introduce WomenLift Health www.womenlifthealth.org an exciting, new initiative focused on elevating more women in global health into leadership positions. This initiative was born out of the Women Leaders in Global Health conference that began at Stanford and has spread globally. Today, we are delighted to launch our digital home www.womenlifthealth.org, with resources, evidence and ideas to support action; introduce our Global Advisory Board (https://www.womenlifthealth.org/global-advisory-board), 20 exceptional leaders committed to action for gender equality; and announce our inaugural cohort of women leaders (https://www.womenlifthealth.org/us-cohort), 24 global health stars who will be supported to rise in their workplaces and the field.
The statistics are shocking: Women continue to represent 70% of the world’s health workforce, but only 25% of the field’s leadership positions. Only 27% of the world’s ministers of health are women and 16% are medical school deans in the US. Of the 27 companies comprising the health sector of the global Fortune 500, only one is led by a woman.This isn’t just an issue of equity, it is a missing link that compromises health and wellbeing around the world. The complexity of the health landscape demands that we fully tap the world’s leadership talent. Women bring critical insights and experiences as health care users, the primary health decision makers for their families and the majority of frontline health workers.
When the first Women Leaders in Global Health conference was held here at Stanford University, the power of coming together was undeniable. Woman after woman came forward to share her story, bonding with others over common barriers, including lack of mentorship and training, bias and discrimination, unequal pay, difficulties in balancing work and family, and regressive social norms. However, they also put forth a new vision for leadership in global health, one where women have equal opportunity, influence and power to save and transform lives.
Since then, the conference has moved to the UK and Rwanda, and a global movement has grown. The call is clear: change is possible, and it must happen now.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped to fund WomenLift Health which aims to help translate this vision into action. Working with a network of partners, we aim to catalyze change at the individual, institutional and societal levels to transform the face of global health leadership.
This is just the beginning. Our ambitions are large, and our efforts will be shaped over time through partnership and collaboration, including, we hope, with many of you.
In the meantime, we hope you will take a look, share your thoughts, follow us online (@womenlifthealth) and spread the word on social media, using this suggested tweet:
We know that when women lead, good health follows. We can’t wait to see what we can achieve together.