Women leadership barriers in healthcare, academia and business

Stavroula Kalaitzi (Department of International Health, School CAPHRI Care and Public Health Research Institute, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands)
Katarzyna Czabanowska (Department of International Health, School CAPHRI Care and Public Health Research Institute, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands)
Sally Fowler-Davis (Centre for Health and Social Care Research, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK)
Helmut Brand (Department of International Health, School CAPHRI Care and Public Health Research Institute, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Publication date: 19 June 2017



The purpose of this paper is to map the barriers to women leadership across healthcare, academia and business, and identify barriers prevalence across sectors. A barriers thematic map, with quantitative logic, and a prevalence chart have been developed, with the aim to uncover inequalities and provide orientation to develop inclusion and equal opportunity strategies within different work environments.


A systematic literature review method was adopted across five electronic databases. Rigorous inclusion/exclusion criteria were applied to select relevant publications, followed by critical appraisal of the eligible articles. The geographical target was Europe, with a publication time range spanning the period from 2000 to 2015. Certain specialized international studies were also examined. The key themes were identified using summative content analysis and the findings were analyzed using qualitative meta-summary method to formulate hypotheses for subsequent research.


In total, 26 barriers were identified across the aforementioned sectors. A high degree of barriers commonalities was identified, with some striking differences between the prevalence of barriers across sectors.

Research limitations/implications

The results of this study may need further validation using statistical methodology given the knowledge base gaps regarding the range of barriers and the differences in their prevalence. Bias and interpretation in reporting anchored in different theoretical frameworks ought to be further examined. Additional variables such as ambiguously stated barriers, sector overlap, women’s own choices, cultural and educational background and analysis in the context of the economic crisis, ensuing austerity and migratory pressure, are also worth exploring.

Practical implications

Women’s notable and persisting underrepresentation in top leading positions across sectors reflects a critical drawback in terms of organizational and societal progress particularly regarding inclusion and balanced decision making. Practice-related blind spots may need to be further examined and addressed through specific policies.


The comparative nature of barriers to women leadership across three sectors allows the reader to contrast the differences in gender inequalities and to comprehend inclusion challenges in healthcare, academia and business. The authors draw attention to varying degrees of barriers prevalence that have been understudied and deserve to be further explored. This gap in knowledge extends to policy, thus, highlighting the need to address the gender equality and inclusion challenges in a context-specific manner across work environments.



Kalaitzi, S., Czabanowska, K., Fowler-Davis, S. and Brand, H. (2017), "Women leadership barriers in healthcare, academia and business", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 36 No. 5, pp. 457-474. https://doi.org/10.1108/EDI-03-2017-0058

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