Women Leader Spotlight: Dr. Michele Barry, Director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health an

As Women in Global Health are implementing partners to the inaugural Women Leaders in Global Health conference at Stanford University this October 12th, we interviewed Dr. Michele Barry, Director of the Center for Innovation in Global Health and Senior Associate Dean for Global Health at Stanford University to get an insight into the 'aha' moment that brought this conference idea to fruition and her own career path as a women leader in global health.

Tell us about the Women Leaders in Global Health conference.

The Women Leaders in Global conference is an international convening of both women and men to engage in discussions around how to address the gender gap in global health leadership. This conference is being held for the first time this year at Stanford University on October 12, 2017, which falls on the heels of the UN International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, 2017.

The day long conference is designed to give visibility to the great works of emerging and established women in global health and to cultivate and empower the next generation of women leaders. We’re excited to have many wonderful speakers already lined up, including several current and former minsters of health, and leading women from around the world. We’re also offering a pre-conference leadership skills building workshop on October 11 led by faculty from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Clayman Institute for Gender Research, though attendance will be capped at 60 participants. Due to our capacity constraints, conference admissions are being accepted on a rolling basis so we are encouraging everyone to register early!

We hope that through intersectional dialogue amongst participants from a wide variety of experiences and perspectives, we can continue to build upon this growing movement to press for greater gender equity in global health leadership. I see this conference as a really great opportunity to network, to find mentors, to build leadership skills, and importantly, for us to learn from each other. The conference also provides a platform to engage men. Part of the problem, and the solution, is actually engaging men, and we all need to be involved in the movement to make real change happen.

What inspired or motivated you to create this conference?

As a woman who has built a career working in global health, I have grown deeply frustrated by the great underrepresentation of women at the leadership table. Women represent 75% of the health work force around the world and the majority of students entering public and global health professions but we do not see this reflected at the leadership level, and too often, in public forums like global conferences and panels. It is incredibly important that we celebrate and acknowledge the achievements of our great women and to foster opportunities for the next generation in the pipeline. That starts with visibility.

I’m not the first person to have this idea of a conference for women in global health. The conference builds on the work begun by Women in Global Health and others who’ve been talking about this issue, and I thought Stanford would be a great place to convene. The 'aha' moment for me occurred last summer while attending the annual Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) meeting in Nairobi. I looked up at the panel and it was all male African deans. I stood up to ask why the panel was all men and my question was answered by an ovation from the women in the audience. I realized then the time was right for us to have a conference for women leaders in global health. The London School of Medicine and Hygiene has offered to host this conference next year, and I am hoping it will become an annual or biennial happening!

Why is this conference so important right now?

It’s particularly important now because so many of our students are women, so many of our health care providers and community health workers are women, but the leadership positions are predominantly held by men. Fewer than 24% of ministers of health are women, and fewer than 1 in 4 global health leadership positions at the top U.S. medical schools are held by women. There is a real disconnect between those who are doing the work and those who are making the decisions. So I think this conference is incredibly important right now to bring together established leaders in global health, as well as the emerging women and students to highlight the many women who are doing these jobs and doing them well.

I’m really looking to create a place for men and women to be part of the solution to the gender gap in the health workforce – from academics, NGOs, private sector and beyond. I think we all need to work together to be part of the solution to the gender gap. When you bring diversity to the problem, you get much more innovative answers.

What advice do you have for young professional women trying to break this glass ceiling we see in global health?

Some advice that I give to my students and trainees is to find a mentor and be persistent. Many of us are overwhelmed with work, but when I see someone who is really passionate about what they want to do, it gives me great pleasure to help them follow their passion. My other word of advice is to be the best at what you want to pursue. A lot of life is kismet – luck – but you must go forth doing your best work and things will fall into place. Keep an open mind for unexpected opportunities.

I’m also a big believer that excellence is what advances you, but it is also important to know how the game is played. Women need to be at the table and they need to know there is a game going on. I think sharing of experiences is important and conferences like this offer a place to build and strengthen community.

Your conference is seeking to inspire the next generation of women. Who or what inspired you to achieve success in your career?

I have to say the one person who inspired me most was my mother. My mother had to drop out of law school when I came along and was told she shouldn’t go back because she had a young child. She really pushed me to pursue my career goals and dreams.

To build on that, balancing family and career is a challenge that women in all professions face and is a topic that often comes up in discussions of women in global health leadership. I’m raising two daughters and the way I’ve been able to cope is first by serendipitously picking the right spouse, someone who’s been willing to pull up their sleeves and partner. I’ve also been very committed to bringing my children with me overseas, which is actually easier than it may seem.

I am inspired every day by the many women around the world who are making change in their communities, their clinics, and their countries and I hope this conference will inspire others.

To learn more about the Women Leaders in Global Health Conference and register, visit www.wlghconference.org.

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