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Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Women’s Journey in Healthcare

Authors: Dishani Gupta is an MPH Scholar with the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India and Apurvakumar Pandya is an Assistant Professor with the Indian Institute of Public Health, Gandhinagar, India.

For too long, the workplace narrative has been one of silent suffering due to gender bias. Indeed, the glass ceiling is still a reality! The concept of the glass ceiling refers to the invisible barriers that prevent gender minorities, in particular women from promotion and reaching leadership positions within organizations [1]. Despite significant progress in education and workforce participation, women continue to face gender bias and obstacles in career advancement. Although women go the extra mile, they often face a tougher road compared to men. Women still fear being penalized, expelled or missing out on career opportunities.

Women’s Journeys

Our first author’s story takes a familiar turn. Her senior colleague advocated for her inclusion to doctor’s team knowing her potential. Yet, the organization initially resisted, clinging to the archaic notion that patients would feel “unsatisfied” by a woman physiotherapist, even in a nation led by a woman president! However, she persisted with her senior colleague’s constant support and her passion for work. His advice, “prove them wrong by excelling in your work,” became her guiding principle. She dedicated herself to her tasks, and the outcomes were self-evident. Patients thrived under her supervision; their confidence improved with each effective therapy. The change in perception within the organization led to a more inclusive work environment, where opportunities were not limited by gender. This also resulted in the organization placing trust in her, opening doors for new doctors to work in a respected environment.

Her senior colleague’s unwavering belief in her abilities defied the stereotype that women are inherently less capable in healthcare. His constant encouragement and recognition fostered an environment where gender became irrelevant.

In the Gender and Health class, where discussion was on gender bias, glass ceiling and gender equality at workplace attracted her attention. She could look at her previous experience from different perspective. Everyone should get a fair chance irrespective of their gender.  No one is superior based on their biological sex and gender. There was a time when she felt suffocated, inferior with the attitude of supervisor towards her. This challenged gender bias, “women can never do certain things due to biological differences.” It empowered her to shatter the glass ceiling, proving that women are equally capable of excelling in this traditionally men-dominated field.

This experience exposes the lack of trust in women professionals and keeping them away from the opportunities to excel at work. I wonder what would have happened if she did not have a supportive colleague at the workplace? There is a need for creating gender-neutral workforce that provides equal opportunities for all, and challenge the notion that only men can bring better health outcomes. 

The path to leadership for women in healthcare is a constant battle – a fight for equal opportunity, patient trust, and the strength to chase their dreams while juggling family commitments.

Some walk miles to reach heights compared to men in the same field. Some progress has been made, but much more needs to be done to eliminate gender bias. We must dismantle these obsolete stereotypes and actively promote gender-inclusive practices. It’s time to rewrite the narrative, fostering a healthcare system where talent, not gender, dictates success.

Way Forward

Globally, women make up 67% of the health and social care workforce [2] yet they occupy only 25% of senior positions and a mere 5% of leadership roles in the healthcare sector worldwide [3]. There is a need to focus on strategies to empower women to advance gender equality in healthcare sector. The present situation necessitates the implementation of gender policy at workplace that address unconscious gender biases and cultivate a supportive work environment that provides women and gender minorities with opportunities to develop their competencies, acquire knowledge, and right mentors at various stages of their professional journeys. Conducting periodic audits of pay equity and the hiring process at the workplace would be essential for promoting gender equality in healthcare sector. Gender sensitization can be a cross-cutting topic across induction and refresher trainings in the healthcare sector.

Peer and family support are equally essential in this journey.  Hence, public awareness on gender is necessary.  Let us together create a future where women and gender minority healthcare professionals can thrive without apology.


  1. Investopedia (2023, April 12). The Glass Ceiling: Definition, History, Effects, and Examples.
  2. Boniol M, McIsaac M, Xu L, Wuliji T, Diallo K, Campbell J. Gender equity in the health workforce: analysis of 104 countries. World Health Organization; 2019. Accesses on May 14, 2024.
  3. World Health Organization. Closing the leadership gap: Gender equity and leadership in the global health and care workforce. Accessed on May 14, 2024.
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