Around the world, women comprise more than 75 percent of the health workforce in many countries but occupy the top health post in just 28 percent of World Health Organization countries. In fact, the majority of health administrators, health-sector CEOs and deans are men.
As chief of staff at DC Health, I am happy to report that we flip these statistics on their head. I have the privilege of working alongside some of the best and brightest women in public health every day. My boss, the director of the department, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, is the district’s chief health strategist and a phenomenal woman leader, and the majority of the DC Health senior executive team are also women. In fact, fully 68 percent of the staff at DC Health are women. Even the mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser, is a woman.
Research shows that there are considerable benefits to having women in leadership positions in public health. To begin with, women leaders tend to act on women’s health issues, which have historically been overlooked. Other research shows that healthy girls and women correlate with healthier and more productive societies overall.
This is certainly borne out at DC Health, where women’s health is pursued with the entire community in mind. A good example is our recently-launched agenda for perinatal health. While a traditional approach to healthy moms and babies might focus solely on prenatal care, this agenda is far broader. It’s focused on principles that lay a foundation of health for girls long before they can even become pregnant and seeks to build communities that nurture and support moms and babies. I’m convinced that initiatives like our perinatal health agenda wouldn’t be nearly as robust if DC Health wasn’t a welcoming home for talented women.
DC Health is also an incubator of women leaders who can not only excel in our department, but also use their experiences here to carry the cause of public health to other government agencies, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations and the private sector. Strong women leaders are why DC Health is doing great things today and why we are hopeful that we can one day achieve our vision to make the District the healthiest city in America.