Advance the mission of your women’s leadership committee

Written by: Sheila A. Dugan
Published on: Aug 17, 2020

Women’s leadership groups are key to cultivating female leaders in our profession. But, what if your group could also serve a vital role in promoting women’s equity efforts and participate as a strategic partner to your institutional leadership?

Read on to learn more about how you can accomplish this at your organization.

Understand the history

Women’s leadership groups seek gender equity.  Women in academia face inequities in, among others areas, leadership, promotion, and NIH funding by gender (Ash, et al, 2004; Carr, et al, 1993; Kaplan, et al, 1996; Poulhaus, et al, 2011). Strategies to address actual or perceived inequities are created and implemented.  Many times these strategies include training or networking events, but impact metrics (such as subsequent changes in job status or grant achievement) are not monitored. 

While the group may glean power from a few wins, it’s not clear how these changes impact overall gender bias in the institution’s culture or result in sustainable change (which might include improved talent acquisition and retention). Many times, the women’s group acts in isolation from the greater institution, given employee resource groups (ERGs) are employee-led and offer a welcoming environment — in particular to underrepresented groups (Welbourne, et al, 2015). This may result in ERGs functioning outside of mainstream workflows. Sometimes they can even be seen as confrontational.

Identify opportunities for change

Understanding how your mission ties into the mission of the larger institution is key when it comes to increasing financial support, improving reach of your message, and changing policies. Your women’s group can’t function in a silo. It must engage senior leaders and infuse institutional strategy with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Isolated initiatives often falter when it would be possible to grow impact and reach by combining with other’s work in the DEI space, such as the office of the Chief Diversity Officer (Gillespie, et al, 2018).

Data is also key to your success. There are many resources that provide useful external data, including the American Academy of Medical Colleges (AAMC) salary by gender tool. But, using your internal data is the most effective way to frame the problem and your suggested response. Senior leaders are likely to respond to internal quantitative and qualitative data, as the information helps them see factual evidence that there is a problem. 

Making the ethical and business case is tantamount to the integration of the women’s group strategic plan into the larger strategic plan of the institution.

Not only does your health care organization want to fit the descriptor of “doing well by doing good,” leaders of the organization need to understand DEI advantages including improved finances, increased opportunity for innovation and community engagement, improved recruitment and retention, and enhanced brand and reputation (Gillespie, et al, 2018).

Build an institutional movement

First, take inventory of your group; diverse membership representation is key. Next, articulate your goals and priorities, based on internal data. Communicate the findings, develop shared short- and long-term goals, and hold leaders accountable. Further, include women’s leadership goals on the strategic scorecard. This is a powerful message to all stakeholders, including the board. In addition, providing monetary programmatic support, including an office space where your group has visibility for members and all women in the organization, sends an undeniable message about institutional readiness for change.





Dr. Dugan is Interim Chair and Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rush University System for Health. She is Chair of the Women’s Leadership Council and Co-Chair of the Racial Justice Action Committee.  She is a Carol Emmott Fellow and a member of the Board of the Equity Collaborative.

Linkedin2 [square]Follow Dr. Dugan


Ash, A.S., Carrm P.L., Goldstein, R. & Friedman, R.H. (2004) Compensation and advancement of women in academic medicine: Is there equity? Annals of Internal Medicine, 141(3).

Carr, P.L., Friedman, R.H., Moskowitz, M.A. & Kazis, L.E. Comparing the status of women and men in academic medicine. Annals of Internal Medicine, 119(9).

Gillespie, J.L., Dunsire, D. & Luce, C.B. (2018). Attaining Gender Parity Diversity 5.0 and 10 Best Practices for Global Health Care Organizations. The Health Care Manager, 37(3).

Kaplan, S.H., Sullivan, L.M., Dukes, K.A., Phillips, C.F., Kelch, R.P. & Schaller JF. (1996). Sex differences in academic advancement. Results of a national study of pediatricians. New England Journal of Medicine, 335(17).

Poulhaus J.R., Jiang, H., Wagner, R.M., Schaffer, W.T. & Pinn, V.W. (2011) Sex differences in application, success, and funding rates for NIH extramural program. Academic Medicine; 86(6).

Welbourne, T.M., Rolf, S. & Schlachter, S. (2015) Employee resource groups: an introduction, review and research agenda. Academy of Management Annual Meeting Proceedings.

Back to TOC

Next Article