Population Health

November 17, 2022

Recapping the Global Perspectives: Women in Leadership in Public Health panel

Image of the four panelists at the panelThe Population Health Initiative – in partnership with the Office of Global Affairs, Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, and the School of Public Health – brought together an international, hybrid panel (pictured) on November 2, 2022 of four leading women to discuss their experiences navigating the field of public health, including how they have overcome institutionalized gender norms.

The panel was moderated by Sebawit (Seba) Bishu, an assistant professor at the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance, and consisted of the following speakers:

  • Candace Jackson, a Health Practice Director and alumni of the Evans School’s International Program in Public Health Leadership
  • Dr. Ruth Belachew, the current Chief of Staff for the Ethiopia Ministry of Health
  • Dr. Cordelia Katureebe Mboijana, the National Coordinator for HIV care and Treatment at the Uganda Ministry of Health, AIDS Control Program
  • Dr. Girija Vaidyanathan, a retired Indian Administrative Service officer and the former Chief Secretary to the Government of Tamil Nadu

Panelists were asked several questions regarding their experiences and challenges working in traditionally male-dominated roles. “There are so many young women out there, even in civil services who want to work in public health, but a lot of them aren’t given enough support or mentoring,” said Vaidyanathan.

For Katureebe, the response was similar, saying, “It’s been exciting knowing the magnitude of work that lies ahead of you but also the challenges.” She added that learning to engage with stakeholders has been an important part of her shaping as a leader.

Belachew said her experience was shaped a lot by her need to challenge the business-as-usual model. She reflected that to be in the current leadership role she is now in, she had to work through many layers of responsibility. What helped her during this journey was ensuring she knew the intended end goal, noting, “What made it possible for me to climb up the ladder was first and foremost having a vision and to know the meaning of what my contribution is, this helped me be focused and consistent in serving my community.”

A recurring theme among the panelists’ reflections on how they managed their leadership roles was having a good support system both personally and also institutionally. Jackson in specific noted that navigating white dominant spaces as a biracial black woman was difficult and that women of color, and especially black women, were a big support system for her. In particular, they were able to support her and root for her success during times when she was questioning herself.

“They [black women] were the ones to tell me, ‘Actually, what you’re bringing is really rich, what you’re bringing is what we should be aspiring for.’ To be able to have that validation and coaching, I wouldn’t be where I am today without that,” Jackson said.

Panelists were also asked to highlight some of the challenges and barriers they have come across in their leadership experience. For Katureebe, the primary obstacles she experienced was work-life balance, specifically when it came to family. She recalled a moment when these two areas of life clashed. She was attending the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and was unable to complete her degree because she had just had a baby. There was not enough support and resources to balance both growing her family and advancing her education. Now that she has gotten familiar with the duties needed to work in this field, it’s become easier to advocate for support at the table and identify and negotiate resources both personally and institutionally.

Belachew shared there were moments of discouragement and challenges throughout her journey, particularly regarding whether she even wanted to continue. Similar to Jackson’s response, Belachew shared, “There were times where I questioned, ‘Should I continue?’,” but it was the support of her husband and friends that pushed her to continue.

All panelists also affirmed the importance of having a diverse range of voices offer input into decision making, noting that having an intersectional approach to decision-making is vital and especially in a field such as public health.

Panelists ended the event by offering advice to future women navigating through the field of public health. For Jackson, this meant ditching the “if we work hard enough” mentality then we will receive that promotion, raise, or a new job. “Your skills are amazing and you’re phenomenal just as you are,” she said.

Visit the Population Health Initiative Let’s Talk Pop Health page to learn more about upcoming events similar to this panel.