Why women-only training creates great leaders

Women in leadership roles in Australia are underrepresented across a range of industries. In the medical industry, while women are typically the dominant gender, they often don’t hold the bulk of leadership positions.

We spoke to one of our Women in Medical Leadership program facilitators and Director Student Affairs at UQ School of Medicine, Dr Jen Schafer, about the value of professional development programs for women.

Dr Schafer says we can drive gender parity in medical leadership by providing innovative pathways to career growth. Women-only leadership programs are one approach, which challenge traditional one-size-fits-all professional development.

“There is value in mixed-cohort leadership training, but there are a number of reasons why women are seeking gender specific professional development,” Dr Schafer says.

“Men and women often have different leadership styles and values, and face different leadership challenges.

“Bringing women together to learn acknowledges these differences and barriers, and focuses on those that are more specific to women.”

It also allows them to relate to each other and develop their personal leadership style in line with their differences and unique strengths.

“Attendees tend to foster supportive relationships during women’s courses because they share their stories, challenges, and achievements with each other,” Dr Schafer says.

“We usually see consistencies in these stories – points that validate the issues and concerns that other women in the room can relate to.”

These consistencies include an abundance of male role models in the medical profession, where more female role models would be beneficial.

Additionally, Dr Schafer points out that workplace culture, networks, and pathways to promotion are often built on masculine attributes – another barrier to career growth that women identify.

“While the social fabric of the medical industry has changed, the ‘typical’ medical career today is still fairly inflexible and isn’t always family or 'other-interests' friendly,” she says.

“And while not always the case, if women are taking on a care giving role this inflexibility can stifle their opportunity to climb the ladder," she says.

“Women-only courses encourage women to embrace their career experiences and challenges with a new perspective, allowing them to establish female role models and networks, and forge their own unique pathways to leadership success,” she says.

A female leader in the medical sector reviewing documents.
“Men and women often have different leadership styles and values, and face different leadership challenges."
Dr Jen Schafer, UQ School of Medicine