Women in leadership: shattering the glass ceiling

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Vivian Waissmann Lederman and Mr. Luis Othavio da Rocha Pavaneli, two Brazilian second year medical studenta at Faculdade de Medicina de São José do Rio Preto, Brazil. They are affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


It is common sense that there is a gender gap in the entire labor market, especially at leadership positions. This situation is also noticed in medicine, which – in Brazil – from 265 federal and regional counselors, women occupy 25% of presidential and director’s posts[1]. This conjecture is a direct reflection of the late achievements of the feminist movement regarding university rights, given that it only came to fruition in 1879 [2].

Currently, the youngest doctors are majorly female – up to 29 years, they represent 57,4% of the physicians [3] -, hence, there is an increasing feminization of medicine. However, there is still an obstacle that stops women from getting leadership occupations: this is what we call a glass ceiling – an invisible barricade which they cannot break to reach the top [4]. In the medical area, to attain a high role means to be a Department Chair, a Minister of Health or even a Hospital Director. All of these jobs are hardly ever employed by a female figure.

The gender inequality aforementioned does not bind just to the highly qualified job that women are not engaging, yet, even occupying the same labors, they are still paid less. In Brazil, female primary doctors make US$ 38.000 annually, while males make US$ 49.000 [5]. Thus, the statistics show that, in fact, the gender discrepancy in medicine goes back to history, since there is structural sexism rooted in our society.

Therefore, we need to close this gap in medicine, by encouraging women to be leaders and to be at the top of the hierarchy, so that they can contribute even more to the advances of this field. Scientifically speaking, there are notably important female figures in current academic productions, which are extremely relevant for the evolution of diagnostic, therapeutic and rehabilitation methods.

            Moreover, as women occupy more high-level jobs and these salary differences are extinguished, they will be even more empowered. Hence, is not just a financial matter, but of representativeness, which aims to end the roots of male chauvinism. That way, future female physicians will feel encouraged to become leaders, since they would not fear being silenced or limited by a sexist culture.

Under this perspective, despite the feminization of medicine and all of the great conquests of the feminist movement, there is still a long path to full equality between sexes in Brazil. Because of everything that has been exposed above and many more, it is compelling that the fight against male chauvinism and in favor of female rights must be constant. Finally, the glass ceiling must be shattered in order to promote leadership for women and – truly – close the gender gap in medicine.


[1] Conselho Federal de Medicina. Médicas conquistam espaço: A presença feminina na medicina é um avanço histórico e recente no Brasil, que vem crescendo a cada ano. Jornal CFM [Internet]. 2020 Apr 13 [cited 2021 Mar 22];(300):12. Available from: http://www.flip3d.com.br/pub/cfm/?numero=300&edicao=4940

[2] MOTTA D. Pesquisa analisa a trajetória de inserção das mulheres no ensino superior .[internet]; 2014  [accessed March 23, 2021]. FAPERJ. Available from: http://www.faperj.br/?id=2748.2.6

[3] Scheffer Mário, et al. Demografia Médica no Brasil 2018 [Internet]. São Paulo, SP: FMUSP, CFM, Cremesp: [publisher unknown]; 2018 [cited 2021 Mar 22]. 286 p. ISBN: 978-85-87077-55-4. Available from: http://www.flip3d.com.br/web/pub/cfm/index10/?numero=15&edicao=4278

[4] Batista E. Mulheres já produzem metade da ciência do Brasil, diz levantamento. [internet]; 2017  [accessed March 23, 2021]. Folha de S. Paulo. Available from: https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/sobretudo/carreiras/2017/03/1864542-mulheres-ja-produzem-metade-da-ciencia-do-brasil-diz-levantamento.shtml

[5]  Boesveld S. What’s driving the gender pay gap in medicine? [internet]; 2020  [accessed March 23, 2021]. CMAJ. Available from: https://www.cmaj.ca/content/192/1/E19.short

About the authors

Vivian Waissmann Lederman is a brazilian second year medical student at Faculdade de Medicina de São José do Rio Preto. She is member of IFMSA Brazil FAMERP, Local Publication and Research Director and Local Coordinator on Reproductive Health including HIV/AIDS.

Luis Othavio da Rocha Pavaneli is a brazilian second year medical student at Faculdade de Medicina de São José do Rio Preto. He is member of IFMSA Brazil FAMERP, Local Capacity Building Director and Local Coordinator on Reproductive Health Including HIV/AIDS.

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