Celebrating women’s leadership in medicine, science, and public health

This month, we profile five women leaders in public health to maintain awareness of gender equality and encourage others to follow their ambitions

By Dr Amelia Lake


While the vision of the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) is for “women and men to be equally represented, valued and rewarded in the workplace”, the current gender equality scorecard leaves much to be desired. Gender pay gaps persist and senior management roles remain dominated by men. Frustratingly, the WGEA identified that in many cases, gender equity policies did exist but were not being implemented. The Lancet has highlighted the absence of women in senior management positions in the medical sciences as a ‘leaky pipeline’.  On the positive side, individuals and organisations are driving change by identifying, acknowledging and supporting women, and calling out under-representation (check out #allmalepanel and #bechdel for some light-hearted, and some not-so-funny examples). This month, we add our voice by celebrating five women leaders in the diabetes, research and public health sectors.

Helena_HeadshotProfessor Helena Teede is an endocrinologist and academic with Monash University and Monash Health. In addition to her many leadership roles, Helena delivers the Women in Leadership Program supported by Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation. Her views, reported last month in ABC Health Report and Medical Journal of Australia, are that although women are no longer deliberately excluded from leadership roles, active change is needed to address persistent unconscious individual, societal and systems-level bias. Professor Teede also highlighted generalised differences in leadership styles between men and women, noting that where the traditionally masculine style of leadership is ‘command, control, top-down’, the traditionally feminine style is ‘distributive, collective and engaging’, with the latter enabling transformative change.

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Kirsten Armstrong is Director, Knowledge and Innovation at The Fred Hollows Foundation, a leading Australian charity and non-government organisation (NGO) which aims to end avoidable blindness. Kirsten was named a 2019 Woman of Influence by The Australian Financial Review for her work in attracting investment in eye health, including for diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in working age adults.

Professor Jane Den Hollander

Emeritus Professor Jane den Hollander AO, is the former Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University. Jane was recently inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in recognition for her advocacy of education as a power for positive change for individuals and communities. With specific focus on women, Jane worked with government and industry to improve access to training and re-skilling at times of change, both in the tertiary sector and within her local community in Geelong.

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The Honourable Judi Moylan AO, is a former Federal Member of Parliament with a long and distinguished history of advocacy for women and the diabetes community. Recently profiled in Great Australian Lives, Judi founded and Chaired the Parliamentary Diabetes Support Group (PDSG) which continues today. The aim of the PDSG is to raise awareness of diabetes, promote development of public policies, and engage with research and medical groups. Judi was also the former President and Chair of Diabetes Australia, promoting support and optimal health-care for people living with the condition.

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Finally, we also acknowledge our own ACBRD Foundation Director, Professor Jane Speight; chartered psychologist and researcher. In 2018, Jane’s diabetes research and advocacy work was profiled by The Lancet as part of the #LancetWomen initiative which highlights outstanding women in science, medicine and health. In addition to working to ensure that people with diabetes have the knowledge, skills, and support to self-manage their condition, Jane provides demonstrable mentoring and support to an Australian team of more than ten researchers at various stages of their careers, as well as to other women and early career researchers internationally. To read more about Professor Speight, see her ACBRD profile here and summary of The Lancet article here.

Like The Lancet, AFR, WGEA and others, the aim of profiling leaders in the health sector is to maintain awareness of the importance of gender equality in the workplace, highlight the value of diversity and encourage other women to follow their ambitions. At the ACBRD, we really value the leadership and example shown by these women leaders, and will be delighted to share more profiles of inspiring women leaders in the future.