Career Insights from Emerging Women Leaders in Global Health

Did you know that women comprise 70% of the global health workforce, but only account for 25% of leadership positions? This landscape needs to change.

Women are clearly vital to the advancement of global health, as the COVID19 pandemic has revealed. In response, organizations such as Women in Global Health have emerged to help address this gap. And now, every 2 years, the Canadian Society for International Health launches its Canadian Women in Global Health (CWIGH) List, which aims to celebrate and showcase the achievements of Canadian women leaders in the health workforce.

This year, CWIGH recognized a new category, Emerging Leaders, who are in their early to mid-stages of their careers. We were so inspired by these individuals and how they’re advancing health equity throughout their work, that we decided to reach out to several of them to ask what tips and advice they would like to share with other youth entering public health. Get ready to be inspired through their insights below!

Please note: we were not able to reach all Emerging Leaders on the list. See the full list of nominees here, and don’t be shy to reach out to them or promote their work! 

What skills and qualities do you feel makes someone a good leader in public health?

Vivian Tsang, Medical Student, UBC

Whether they are inherent, or developed over time, I believe there are specific character traits that make a good universal leader across many disciplines. Specifically, great leaders constantly align themselves with their organization and with their own vision for the change they want to make in the world. They are diligent about communicating this vision with the people they are leading. Great leaders are also able to visualize the interdisciplinary nature of the projects they are leading such that they mitigate downside risks and unpleasant surprises.  

Michelle Amri, PhD Candidate, University of Toronto

I think the most important quality is empathy. Given that the goal of public health is to improve the health of populations, which includes those who are marginalized, we need to feel empathy to understand the varied situation individuals are in. This includes an understanding of the broader determinants of one’s health. Similarly, being able to effectively relay this understanding is important to get buy-in and elevate your agenda for united action. As such, I believe the most important skill is communication, as it is important to be able to share our knowledge, understanding, perspectives, opinions, and others, whether through written, oral, and non-verbal means. In fact, communication is recognized as one of seven core competencies for public health practitioners by the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

As an emerging leader listed on the 2020 Canadian Women in Global Health List, why do you think it’s important for us to focus on the role that women have in leading public health pursuits? And how can we do that?

Kalysha Closson, PhD Student, UBC

Historically global health has been led by men. As women often make up a large proportion of the global health workforce, their lived experiences should be valued and listened to in the leadership of global health policy and programming. Women are often underrepresented in global health funding, keynote addresses, conference presentations, and professor positions. In order to ensure equity in the field of global health in Canada, and across the global, we need to advocate for women leaders at all levels. I think the CWGH is a great start to this engagement as it provides a resource for organizers to find and promote Canadian women pursuing global health research, policy making, and advocacy.

Antu Hossain, Global Health Impact Officer, CanWaCH

Femme-identifying folx make up the majority of the public health workforce globally, and here in Canada, yet the disconnect of all this creative dedicated energy that is brought to the table is rarely recognized. When femmes uplift each other in the world, powerful ripple effects are at play. We build a world that is co-designed, co-shared and built in collaboration with values of community. It is time for femmes to kick the imposter syndrome and self-doubt perpetuated by patriarchy to the curb. It’s time for us femmes to own our talents, demand mentorship and investment from our allies around us. We need to fearlessly embrace our ability to vision a world that works for each one of us to reach our greatest potential, and then some more. 

What advice do you have for an emerging leader or youth who’s entering public health? 

Sarah Walji, Registered Nurse, Halton Healthcare; COVID19 Specialist, Region of Peel

Create your own opportunities, do not wait for someone to give you that seat or microphone… have a strong voice and know your asks, seek out mentors who can guide and motivate you. Surround yourself with individuals who you want to be like, with traits that you admire. Don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing, be confident in your unique ideas and let that carry you forward. 

Hayley Mundeva, Founder and CEO of ThriveHire

I would share 2 things:

  • Be focused on learning. Don’t shy away from taking on new opportunities, or meeting individuals who have different backgrounds and skillsets than you do. Throughout these experiences, be focused on asking questions, as this can widen your perspectives on important global health issues that you’re aiming to address through your work.
  • Develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Learning ways to identify gaps that exist within systems and programs, and finding solutions to address those gaps, is incredibly useful (and it’s a sought-after skill that many employers look for!). Don’t shy away from learning ways to develop an entrepreneurial mindset, whether that’s through pitching an idea/program to introduce at your workplace, taking a course on social entrepreneurship, or starting a student club at your university. 
Caroline Marshall, Senior Policy Analyst at Public Health Agency of Canada

I think it’s really important to have humility. Public health is an ever-changing field, and there is always so much to learn and so many people to learn from. Having humility enables you to ask lots of questions and learn from those with experience. It also helps to build a great network of people who may be able to help guide you in your career. The other absolutely critical piece of advice is to base everything you do on the needs and the priorities of the communities you are working with. If you’re developing an app, do they need it? Will they use it? What are their preferences for accessing services? Will the research study you’re carrying out help inform policy change, or is it something that can’t actually be acted on? These are critical questions that need to be answered by the community itself before you start any work or research.  

Who are some of the women-identifying public health leaders that you admire?

These emerging leaders weren’t shy to share names of women who have inspired their public health journeys to date. Read below for the list of women they shared with us: 

  • Roopa Dhatt – Founder of Women in Global Health
  • Olive Wahoush – Nurse, Professor, McMaster University 
  • Dr. Gina Ogilvie – Canada Research Chair in Global Control of HPV related diseases and cancer, Professor, UBC School of Population and Public Health
  • Dr. Angela Kaida – Associate Professor at SFU, Canada Research Chair in Global Perspectives on HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health
  • Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – Economist and former Minister of Finance of Nigeria
  • Jacinda Ardern – Prime Minister of New Zealand
  • Dr. Vera Etches – Ottawa’s Medical Officer of Health
  • Annette Kennedy – President of ICN, Nurse
  • Hayley Mundeva – Founder of ThriveHire 
  • Elizabeth Iro – WHO Chief Nursing Officer 
  • Barbara Stilwell – Executive Director of Nursing Now, Nurse
  • Stacy Johnson – Professor, University of Nottingham, Nurse
  • Laura Serrat – Professor, Nurse
  • Dr. Agnes Binagwaho – Vice Chancellor of the University of Global Health Equity and former Minister of Health in Rwanda
  • Dr. Margaret Chan – Former Director General of WHO
  • Dr. Ilona Kickbusch – Professor and Political Scientist
  • Dr. Pat O’Campo – Professor and Executive Director (Interim), Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute
  • Dr. Theresa Enright – Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science at University of Toronto
  • Dr. Erica Di Ruggiero – Associate Professor and Director, Centre for Global Health at University of Toronto
  • Dr. Arjumand Siddiqi – Professor and Social Epidemiologist at University of Toronto
  • Aisha Holloway – Professor, University of Edinburgh, Nurse
  • Mahdiyah Bandali – Paramedic
  • Cynthia Mutsiya – Nurse
  • Penni Wampmba – Former Miss Uganda/UK and NICU nurse
  • Hayley Lottery – Nurse and Masters student 
  • Paisly Symenuk – Nurse, grad student, Founder of GASNN
  • Annalise Mathers – Public Health Researcher


January 12, 2021


ThriveHire team