Leaders are critical to creating a culture of gender equality in health

September 17, 2021

On Friday 10 September, the VHA hosted a special Women’s Health Week event – Leadership perspectives: The case for gender equality in health.

Developed in partnership with the Victorian Health Organisation Gender Equality Network (VHOGEN), the webinar provided more than 170 health sector leaders the opportunity to hear from influential speakers, including:

  • Dr Niki Vincent, Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner
  • Dr Sue Matthews, CEO of The Royal Women’s Hospital and VHA Board Chair
  • Chris McLoughlin, Executive Director People and Culture at Alfred Health.

VHA CEO Tom Symondson opened the event, reflecting on Victoria’s ‘exciting and brave’ step to be the first Australian state to implement legislation requiring public sector organisations to make progress towards improving gender equality.

‘We know that leadership within organisations is critical to the success of the Act and gender equality more broadly,’ Mr Symondson said.

‘Our speakers today will provide you with insights into how you – as leaders within your organisations – can champion change and how this will benefit the communities you serve, your staff and improve performance, productivity, and most importantly culture of your organisations.’

Dr Sue Matthews discussed the ethical drivers for gender equality, including how increased gender equality is a primary prevention for violence against women and how the Royal Women’s Hospital is embedding gender equality in its Strategy to Prevent Violence against Women.

‘The evidence tells us that violence against women, including family violence and sexual assault, is driven by gender inequality,’ Dr Matthews said.

‘The work we’re doing now to promote and embed gender equality is precisely the work that we need to do to prevent such violence. And as we do this prevention work, it’s imperative that we also respond safely and respectfully to victims, which all Victorian hospitals do through the Strengthening Hospital Responses to Family Violence and workplace support programs.’

Dr Niki Vincent provided leaders with the business case for gender equality in the health sector, focusing on how health services will benefit from gender equality in their organisation – as well as the benefits to the broader Victorian community and economy.

‘Evidence suggests that all employees, including the young, the senior, employees with family responsibilities, young men as well, are all more likely to be engaged and motivated in workplaces with access to flexible working arrangements, so beyond the moral imperative, there’s an economic imperative to achieve gender equality,’ Dr Vincent said.

‘Research indicates that improved gender equality brings significant cost savings for employers, including reduced absenteeism, increased productivity and profitability in the workforce, and increased employee engagement.’

Chris McLoughlin shared practical examples of how the Alfred is progressing its work on gender equality, including lessons learned and recommendations for health services on how to resource, govern and promote this work.

‘I encourage you to think about gender equality champions in your organisation. To drive change in health we need leaders who set the tone and operationalise the gender equality priorities,’ Ms McLoughlin said.

‘When leaders are engaged in this work, they have the opportunity to better understand the challenges and the barriers by female and gender-diverse staff on the ground. Having a gender equality champion within your executive structure can also help other leaders become more aware of gender inequality, through peer learning and awareness raising.’


Watch the full event


The VHA has developed a resource kit including a guide to help health sector leaders navigate this important issue.


The VHA also live-Tweeted the event – check out a few of the highlights below.