As governments and healthcare companies across the world race to address the COVID-19 pandemic, one trend has been clear: Women are the majority on the front lines responding to the global health crisis.

Women represent 70 percent of the 43 million employed in the global healthcare workforce and 90 percent of registered nurses. IFC’s 2019 report on Women’s Leadership in Private Health Care demonstrated that despite this overwhelming presence, women continue to be underrepresented in leadership and decision-making roles in the healthcare sector. According to the 2020 Global Health 50/50 Report, under 30 percent of leadership roles in the global healthcare industry are held by women, and only 5 percent are held by women from low- and middle-income countries. The report also found that only 27 percent of health ministers worldwide are women, while World Health Organization (WHO) statistics show that just one fourth of countries have achieved gender parity in this field. Globally, there is little published data on women’s representation in health leadership. However, available evidence shows that women are underrepresented in COVID-19 task forces—comprising 20 percent of the WHO Emergency Committee, 10 percent of the US Taskforce, and 17 percent of Nigeria’s Presidential Taskforce.

To help elevate the voices, needs, and reflections of women leaders in healthcare, IFC reached out to clients and partners who are women entrepreneurs and C-suite executives at the forefront of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several have a seat at the table in local COVID-19 response committees and task forces. They shared stories of quickly adapting their operations to address the pandemic, managing work-life balance, childcare and homeschooling during quarantine orders, and their ideas for the future of healthcare after the pandemic.

Here are the lessons they learned from confronting the pandemic and their strategic vision for the future of healthcare:

“Why are we waiting for a disaster to set systems in place? Now, people want responsive and ready healthcare organizations. The reality is the strain on the health system and the reality of a lack of preparedness in the midst of a global pandemic.”

Faith Muigai

Regional Director—SafeCare Program, PharmAccess Foundation

IFC client, Kenya

“The future of work we have been talking about is now. We all have a collective responsibility to make a difference and change the narrative beyond COVID."

Clare Omatseye

Founder and Managing Director, JNC International (JNCI)

IFC client, Nigeria

“I am very grateful to my team who created a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) facility in two weeks. It was quite challenging, and we had to put a lot of efforts on the table.”

Helene Echevin

Chief Officer, Operational Excellence, CIEL Group

IFC client, Mauritius

"The pandemic has gotten me to think a lot more deeply about the responsibility we as healthcare leaders have towards our employees."

Philippa Mbonye

Regional Head - People, Quality & Performance Improvement, Hospital Holdings Investments

IFC client, Kenya

“Different regions will have different needs. The pandemic needs a customized response based on the micro-region. Overcrowded and poor areas will be affected differently.”

Prof. Fernanda Tovar-Moll, MD, PhD

President, Instituto D'Or de Pesquisa e Ensino (IDOR)

IFC client, Brazil

“Despite the fact that the majority of health workers are women, the personal protective equipment (PPE) they need to keep them safe from COVID-19 is designed for the male body, putting women at risk. It is shocking that in the 21st century we have to explain that the sexes are different.”

Dr. Roopa Dhatt

Director and Co-founder, Women in Global Health

IFC partner, United States

"Now, people will see the value in investing in a proper healthcare system in grassroot locations."

Christine Muchene

Group CFO, Pyramid Pharma Healthcare Group

IFC client, Kenya

“I can say a fair pool of women have come to the table and have stepped up and have said that they are very much ready to be on the front lines of this. That has been extremely gratifying to see.”

Fola Laoye

Founder & CEO, Health Markets Africa

IFC client, Nigeria

“Providing good healthcare information to the public is essential.”

Dr. Pamela Jackson Ajayi

CEO, Synlab

IFC client, Nigeria

“We are happy we kept people safe. This is a very proud contribution.”

Roberta Lipson

CEO and Founder of United Family Healthcare (UFH)

IFC client, China

IFC is committed to elevating the voice of women leaders, entrepreneurs, and executives in healthcare by working with clients and partners to understand the business case for gender diversity in leadership and employing strategies to address barriers to leadership in healthcare companies. IFC, under the Women’s Employment Program, will be launching a peer learning platform on Women’s Leadership in Private Health Care for IFC’s clients.

For more information, please contact Sanola Daley at sdaley@ifc.org.