Mentorship opportunities are crucial in addressing the gender inequities in medical leadership positions, but mentorship programs must be intersectional to support minority women in medicine.

While the medical and health care workforce becomes increasingly diverse, the medical leadership demography is yet to reflect this diversity.

Women hold significantly fewer leadership positions than men, with women representing only one-third of Australia’s medical deans and 12% of hospital chief executive officers.

For women from minority groups, the glass ceiling is even harder to break through.

In a perspective published in the Medical Journal of Australia, Dr Pallavi Prathivadi and Naomi MacPherson of Monash University discussed how intersectional mentorship opportunities could help address these inequities.

“The needs of women from diverse cultural, ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds, and lived experiences are commonly failed by Western-centric male-dominant mentoring models,” the authors wrote.

“Acknowledging and addressing systemic barriers that impede women from minority backgrounds reaping the benefits and opportunities intended by these mentoring efforts may help improve program outcomes and success for all women in medicine.”

Diverse women in medicine deserve more mentoring opportunities - Featured Image
Women from minority groups face even greater challenges when it comes to breaking the glass ceiling ( – Yuri A/Shutterstock).

The value of mentorship relationships

Mentorship plays a vital role in medical career progression by providing personal guidance, career support, professional opportunities and industry networks.

“Mentors can provide experienced role modelling and leadership to help an emerging professional achieve personal and professional goals,” the authors wrote.

Mentorship relationships can also include career succession planning, where a mentor prepares their mentee to take over their role in the future.

When women are intentionally or unintentionally excluded from mentorship opportunities, their career progression may be affected.

“Under-representation of women in medical leadership roles may therefore also impede advancement opportunities for emerging female leaders, unlike comparable male leadership where younger men are ‘tapped on the shoulder’ for promotion by male mentors,” the authors wrote.

Mentorship programs that intentionally pair female mentees with female mentors have had positive results, as these mentees have shown significantly more interest in pursuing surgical career pathways.

Mentorship must be intersectional

While intentional same-gender mentorship has been welcomed, this alone will not address the need for intersectional mentoring.

“‘Intersectionality’ refers to how different aspects of a person’s identity can place them at risk of discrimination and marginalisation, including but not limited to race, sexual orientation, religion, ability, socio-economic status, and language, in addition to gender,” the authors wrote.

“Many women in medicine come from culturally, linguistically, socio-economically, ethnically, and religiously diverse backgrounds, with unique lived experiences of disability, language, psychological and physical trauma, differing housing and family models of childhood and adulthood and more.”

“Intersectional mentoring of women considers such factors and recognises that women from differing backgrounds are likely to have unique enablers and barriers to personal and professional success, possibly with more sensitive needs in mentoring relationships.”

The authors made several recommendations for successful intersectional mentorship, including:

  • Increasing awareness of social and systemic causes of exclusion for minority women, such as cultural and religious conflicts that may need to be accommodated;
  • Creating more networking events and professional opportunities to connect women with potential mentors;
  • Encouraging doctors of all backgrounds to challenge outdated cultures in medicine and acknowledge the disparity in mentoring opportunities for minority women;
  • Ensuring that mentorship roles include financial reimbursement, to avoid contributing to the existing emotional and time burden women already experience.

“Ignorantly promoting mentorship opportunities for women, without intentional and respectful invitation to women from minority backgrounds fails all women,” the authors wrote.

“Increasing knowledge and promotion of intersectionality across the entire medical workforce, and prioritising intersectional approaches to women mentoring is critically important to improving women’s professional success in medicine.”

Read the perspective in the Medical Journal of Australia.

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