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Increasing Women in Leadership in Global Health

Downs, Jennifer A. MD, MSc; Reif, Lindsey K. MPH; Hokororo, Adolfine MD, MMED; Fitzgerald, Daniel W. MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000369

Globally, women experience a disproportionate burden of disease and death due to inequities in access to basic health care, nutrition, and education. In the face of this disparity, it is striking that leadership in the field of global health is highly skewed towards men and that global health organizations neglect the issue of gender equality in their own leadership. Randomized trials demonstrate that women in leadership positions in governmental organizations implement different policies than men and that these policies are more supportive of women and children. Other studies show that proactive interventions to increase the proportion of women in leadership positions within businesses or government can be successful. Therefore, the authors assert that increasing female leadership in global health is both feasible and a fundamental step towards addressing the problem of women’s health. In this Perspective, the authors contrast the high proportion of young female trainees who are interested in academic global health early in their careers with the low numbers of women successfully rising to global health leadership roles. The authors subsequently explore reasons for female attrition from the field of global health and offer practical strategies for closing the gender gap in global health leadership. The authors propose solutions aimed to promote female leaders from both resource-wealthy and resource-poor countries, including leadership training grants, mentorship from female leaders in global professions, strengthening health education in resource-poor countries, research-enabling grants, and altering institutional policies to support women choosing a global health career path.

Dr. Downs is assistant professor of medicine, Center for Global Health, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York, and lecturer in medicine, Bugando Medical Centre, Mwanza, Tanzania.

Ms. Reif is program administrator, Center for Global Health, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York.

Dr. Hokororo is a student, Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, and lecturer in pediatrics, Bugando Medical Centre, Mwanza, Tanzania.

Dr. Fitzgerald is associate professor of medicine, Center for Global Health, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York, New York.

Funding/Support: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (AI098627), Fogarty International Center (TW00018), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Mulago Foundation.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: Reported as not applicable.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Downs, Weill Cornell Medical College Center for Global Health, 402 E. 67th St., 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10065; telephone: (212) 962-8140; e-mail:

© 2014 by the Association of American Medical Colleges