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Game of snakes and ladders: barriers and enablers for aspiring women leaders in healthcare


Background Women comprise over three-quarters of the National Health Service workforce, yet remain underrepresented in senior medical grades, on managerial boards and in senior leadership roles. This is attributed to a wide range of internalised, interpersonal and structural factors.

Objective To explore the experiences of aspiring clinical leaders working with senior female leader colleagues and the perceived impact of these interactions on professional development and future aspirations.

Methods Healthcare professionals, self-identifying as female aspiring clinical leaders, were recruited via email and social media to participate in a focus group or semistructured interview. Interviews were recorded and reviewed and the key enablers, barriers and actions to facilitate opportunities for female clinical leaders in the workplace identified.

Results Participants (n=11) had varied experiences of working with senior female colleagues. Reported barriers from existing leaders included ‘Queen Bee’ phenomenon and reticence to talk about barriers faced. Enablers included ‘nudging’ towards opportunities and women leaders sharing challenges they had faced and overcome.

Conclusion Supporting women to achieve their leadership potential requires individualised support, role modelling and mentorship, and organisational change to tackle workplace biases and microaggressions. These are crucial to ensuring gender balance across leadership in health and social care.

  • clinical leadership
  • career development
  • mentoring
  • trainees

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