Dasra study sheds light on gender gap in healthcare leadership

Upon closer inspection of career pathways in the healthcare sector, a wide gap between the proportion of women participating in healthcare employment and those who occupy leadership positions is evident

Despite women accounting for half of the healthcare workforce, they remain significantly underrepresented in leadership positions, particularly at the executive and board levels. A flagship study, An Unbalanced Scale – Exploring the Female Leadership Gap in India’s Healthcare Sector conducted by Dasra, provides insights into the representation and leadership opportunities for women in India’s healthcare sector.

The Indian healthcare sector, one of India’s largest employers, has seen substantial growth. However, statistics reveal that women in healthcare are largely concentrated on the frontline in low-paying jobs. In India, 29 per cent of medical doctors, 80 per cent of nursing staff (including midwives), and nearly 100 per cent of Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHAs) are women. And yet, women occupy only 18 per cent of healthcare leadership positions and continue to earn 34 per cent less than their male counterparts.

India’s healthcare sector is affected by the lack of standardised and publicly available data on women’s representation across entry, mid-level, and senior roles in small, medium, and large companies. With an objective to tap into the full potential of women in leadership, and to map the status of leadership and representation in the Indian healthcare ecosystem, Dasra conducted a landscape study to collect primary qualitative data and conduct an analysis of macro-trends across healthcare sub-sectors.

The results from the study stark gender disparities within the Indian healthcare sector’s leadership landscape.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Currently, within private hospitals which employ 54 per cent of the total healthcare workforce—women hold about 25-30 per cent of leadership positions. We see a similarly stark picture in Pharma and Biotech sectors, with women occupying only 5-10 per cent of leadership positions.
  • Upon closer inspection of career pathways in the healthcare sector, a wide gap between the proportion of women participating in healthcare employment and those who occupy leadership positions is evident. When we looked at roles with highest potential for influence, for every 5 such roles, 4 are from sales, marketing, or operations background, where women’s representation is found to be very low. At entry levels, women’s representation in sales, marketing, and operations is between 40-50 per cent, yet this significantly drops to 15-20 per cent in senior roles.
  • In contrast, women are amply represented in R&D, nursing, HR, administrative, quality assurance, legal, and regulatory affairs—functions that have a low potential for influence. Preferential hiring of women for entry-level HR roles results in a significant 70-80 per cent representation, but this drops to 20-30 per cent in leadership positions. A similar pattern is observed in patient service teams, F&B, etc., with preferential recruitment of women at entry levels (40-60 per cent), but with few women advancing to senior administrative levels at 15-20 per cent.
  • The key barriers to women’s advancement to leadership roles, are the lack of role models, undervaluing of women’s work, internalised biases, and the absence of a convincing cultural narrative around gender equity and diversity.

The findings in this report are based on extensive research, including expert interviews, analysis of research reports, scrutiny of company reports, and the assessment of the career profiles of leaders, with special consideration given to their educational qualifications and professional journeys.

The study also recommends holistic interventions and has identified enablers to address deeply ingrained beliefs and challenges faced by women in healthcare leadership, which can be implemented at both organisational and policy levels. Some of the solutions include facilitating women’s retention through measures like re-entry options after career breaks, providing flexible work policies, and prioritising women’s representation in historically male-dominated roles.

Dasra, in collaboration with partners, will use these insights to design and test interventions that support women’s leadership with the goal of driving transformative change. By fostering meaningful conversations, advocating for organizational change, and influencing policy reforms, the initiative seeks to create an environment that empowers women leaders, driving interconnected progress in healthcare and beyond.


ASHAssurveyWomen in healthcarewomen in leadership
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