Although women comprise a majority of the overall health workforce, they make up a minority of leadership roles.
As leaders, women are more likely to make decisions that have a direct impact on the lives of women and children.1 Female representation in leadership positions can play a key role in prioritising women’s health issues, leading to more data being generated in women’s health that
Historically, decisions in healthcare have led to conditions primarily affecting women being understudied; in three quarters of cases, these diseases are underfunded compared to diseases that primarily affect men,2 meaning not enough data has been collected in women’s health. Further, when data is collected among men and women, it is often not subject to gender-based analysis, so how diseases impact each gender differently is generally not well-understood.
“Data builds the foundation of all decisions that are made in healthcare. This means when there are gaps in data, there are gaps in care, which can have wide reaching health implications,” Avaleigh Milne, Head of Business Development for pRED, Pharma Partnering said. “The existing gaps in health data across gender, as well as race and ethnicity, provide an opportunity for the industry to increase focus on inclusive research, which starts with inclusive leadership.”
Various social and cultural barriers prevent women from attaining leadership roles, including gender discrimination, entrenched perceptions of women’s role in society and lack of work-life balance, among many.3 This means that improving the representation of women in leadership requires commitment to systemic change.
“In a challenging and complex field such as healthcare, building a culture of different perspectives and varied expertise is key to come up with the best ideas and bring innovation forward to meet the needs of diverse patient populations,” Avaleigh shared. “At Roche, we place real emphasis on bringing together diversity in talent and in thought to enable our teams to thrive and have the greatest impact for all patients.”
Enabling the representation of women at the leadership level is an important part of this. As such, Roche fosters an environment that supports women in leadership through systemic practices and policies, such as flexible working arrangements and childcare support. One leader at Roche, Barbara Lueckel, Head of Research Technologies, Pharma Partnering, experienced firsthand the impact these can have on her career. “When my daughters were born, having flexibility in my role was critical to balancing the responsibilities of being a working mother,” she explained.
Barbara believes that another key element to addressing barriers lies in company culture and the network that supports you. “Having colleagues and leaders that see your potential and care for your success is so important. At Roche, I have been lucky to have people surrounding me who give me candid advice and strong support to ensure I pursue the career journey that fits my skills, ambitions and values. I now aim to do the same for other women, as I know how valuable this can be,” said Barbara.
More than 25 diversity networks at Roche make up the International Women's Networks, supporting professional development and advancement, through the sharing of best practices, participation in global initiatives and focus on allyship, mentorship, education and growth opportunities. Another resource is the Women’s Professional Group, which elevates, advocates, and facilitates the growth and development of women throughout the company. Roche also has initiatives in place to raise awareness of and mitigate unconscious biases in promotion patterns, performance evaluation, and selection processes.
Continuing to empower and enable women to occupy decision-making positions will help kick off a domino effect to pave the way to closing the gender data gap and lead to a greater emphasis on women’s health overall.
Sonia Bhalotra and Irma Clots-Figueras, "Health and the political agency of women", IZA Discussion Paper No. 6216 . 2011. Available at
Mirin AA. Gender Disparity in the Funding of Diseases by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2021 Jul;30(7):956-963. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2020.8682.
Mathad, J., et al. Female global health leadership: data-driven approaches to close the gender gap. The Lancet, 2019;393(10171):521-523.