Intended for healthcare professionals

Letters Women in medicine

Improving women doctors’ ability to achieve their full leadership potential

BMJ 2014; 349 doi: (Published 16 December 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7649
  1. Vijaya Nath, assistant director of leadership development1,
  2. Clare Marx, president2,
  3. Peter Lees, chief executive and medical director3,
  4. Krishna Kasaraneni, chair of equality and inclusion committee4,
  5. Sally Davies, president, Medical Women’s Federation5
  1. 1King’s Fund, London W1G 0AN, UK
  2. 2Royal College of Surgeons, London, UK
  3. 3Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management, London, UK
  4. 4BMA, London, UK
  5. 5Medical Women’s Federation, London, UK
  1. v.nath{at}

Most graduates leaving medical school are female,1 2 meaning that within the next 10 years, the majority of doctors in the UK will be women. Currently, 44% of doctors are women,3 yet they are under-represented in leadership positions (for example, only 23% of medical directors are female), managerial and academic, as well as in clinical specialties such as surgery.4 5 Having a number of women at the top of organisations has been shown to improve organisational performance.6

The reasons for an under-representation of women in leadership positions in the NHS are complex. The culture of an organisation and current gender balance of leadership networks can act as barriers for women, preventing them from achieving their full potential. Women’s perceptions of their own abilities and expectations combined with the way in which their career is structured can also be barriers.

Organisations can improve women’s ability to achieve their full potential by taking measures to nurture female talent. Mentoring, career planning, and talent spotting undoubtedly help and should be part of an overall leadership strategy in NHS organisations. Express commitment to such a strategy from both male and female leaders sets the tone for the whole organisation.

Now is the time for concerted action by organisations to increase the representation of women in senior positions by recognising barriers and developing proposals for tackling them. There must be committed senior leadership, giving clear messages of support and ensuring there are measurable systems and active mentoring programmes in place to support women’s careers.

We are collaborating on the Advancing Women in Medicine Summit taking place on Tuesday 16 December, as organisations and as individuals, because we are passionate about working in healthcare and are committed to taking action to address this wasted potential. More women doctors in medical leadership in the future will be a marker of the success of this initiative.


Cite this as: BMJ 2014;349:g7649


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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