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Women In Leadership: Achieving An Equal Future In A COVID-19 World

Many reasons have been attributed for this lacuna in women leadership. Work-life balance has been one of the primary reasons with a higher burden of familial responsibilities on women.

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One hundred and thirty-five years ago, in 1886, Anandi Gopal Joshi became the first Indian female practitioner of western medicine. Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi broke the glass ceiling and paved the way for thousands of aspiring women doctors. The good news is that by 2014-15, number of women entering the medical colleges in India and South East Asia, outnumbered the men. Additionally, there are studies that say that despite all the barriers faced by them, women doctors achieve better patient outcomes than their male counterparts. Not just doctors, as of today, 70% of the entire global health workforce comprises of women. 

However, in terms of leadership, healthcare lags behind when it comes to women leaders. Today, women in healthcare hold only 25% of all leadership roles. This holds true when it comes to key roles in the apex bodies like the medical councils, corporate leadership positions or their standing in specialty associations & organizations. A WHO report published in 2019, said that healthcare across the world is primarily delivered by women, but led by men. It has also been estimated that workplace gender parity in the true sense is more than 200 years away. Gender pay gap in healthcare remains to be one of the highest. Many reasons have been attributed for this lacuna in women leadership. Work-life balance has been one of the primary reasons with a higher burden of familial responsibilities on women.

The social and family structure in India views men as the primary bread-winners of the family and the system is skewed towards making it convenient for men to work outside of home. Even today, career aspirations for women are more of an indulgence than a necessity. As a result of this, the work culture is also biased heavily towards men. The professional eco-system has been predominantly created by the men, for the men; leaving very little space for women. I am a practicing surgeon myself. 50% of our population is women and yet out of approximately 25,000 practicing surgeons in India, not even 5% are women. 

This gap seems to have been widened during the Covid-19 pandemic. Majority of the frontline workers during the pandemic have been women. They have worked relentlessly despite all barriers. In the last one year, women have borne the brunt of a double burden. While they have worked tirelessly on the field, sometimes even without basic personal protective equipment, they have had to cope up with additional responsibilities at the home front. Lockdowns also meant no house-hold help, no day care facilities and no schools. Thus, adding to the unending list of responsibilities shouldered by women. 

Despite everything, in the last one-year women in healthcare have silently continued the good work. They have taken care of others regardless of the risk to their own lives and the lives of their near and dear ones. They have helped to heal others at a huge cost to their own health. Countries led by women leaders have fared significantly better during the pandemic. They were quicker to lockdown and had lesser fatalities. Women leaders have also been more empathetic and connected better with the masses.

Covid 19 pandemic is one of the biggest disruptions of our times. Upheavals like this change the world. I am an eternal optimist and I do believe that there may be a silver lining here which may help women to navigate the glass ceiling better. We now know that it is possible to accomplish a lot of work remotely. Whether it is online video consultations or national and international courses or conferences, digitization is here to stay. This will help to increase the participation of women in multiple forums without burdening them with guilt of spending time away from home and families. It will also provide greater opportunities for them to upgrade their skills and in turn help in career enhancement. 

In the last one year, a lot has changed and new regimes and routines have been established. In the long run, these changes will help women to remain in the fray. If organizations are smart, they will be able to retain the valuable women workforce that they would have otherwise lost.  If used correctly, the disruptions caused by Covid 19 pandemic may accelerate the race for gender parity and a more equal society.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Dr Aparna Bhasker

Laparoscopic and Bariatric Surgeon, Saifee Hospital, Mumbai

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