Barriers to advancing women nurses in healthcare leadership: a systematic review and meta-synthesis

Elsevier, eClinicalMedicine, Volume 67, January 2024
Pincha Baduge M.S.D.S., Garth B., Boyd L., Ward K., Joseph K., Proimos J. et al.

Background: Women comprise the majority of the nursing profession, yet nurses are underrepresented in healthcare leadership. We aimed to explore barriers for women nurses to advance in healthcare leadership to inform organisational interventions for career advancement. Methods: In this systematic review and meta-synthesis, studies examining advancing women nurses and midwives in leadership within healthcare and academia in the international literature were included. Six databases (MEDLINE, EMCARE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, PubMed, and CINAHL PLUS) were searched for studies published in English between January 1 2000 and October 17 2023. The Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation tools (GRADE) was followed to assess confidence in the findings. Retrieved full texts were assessed for methodological rigour using the Critical Appraisal Skill Programme Qualitative Studies checklist and the Joanna Briggs Institute Cross-sectional and Prevalence Studies checklists. Reported barriers for women nurses’ leadership attainment were identified and generated themes were mapped to the Abilities, Motivation, and Opportunities (AMO) framework. Findings: There were 32 eligible studies; 18 qualitative, 11 quantitative, and 3 mixed-methods. Studies included high-income countries (n = 20), middle-income countries (n = 7) and across countries (n = 3) with two unspecified. Samples included registered nurses, nurse academics, executives, and leaders. The key barriers highlighted were related to: role modelling and leadership development (ability); multiple complex and interacting factors, including gender stereotyping, perception of professionalism, human relations policies, and gender bias (motivation); and systemic issues, such as organisational setting, structure, and support (opportunity). Interpretation: The prevailing belief in the literature is that caregiving is a feminine occupation and along with societal expectations of women's subordinate position, these present substantial obstacles that limit women nurses from advancing into healthcare leadership. Ultimately, these factors restrict women nurses in career advancement and need to be addressed at a systems and organisational level. Funding: The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australia.