The representation of women among leaders in the field of anesthesia continues to trail that of their male counterparts. This qualitative study was conducted to understand the pathway of leadership acquisition among women in the field of anesthesiology.
Using constructivist grounded theory, we sought to determine whether there were specific internal or external factors that were common to women in leadership in the specialty field of anesthesiology, and specifically, how they obtained leadership positions. Semistructured interviews were conducted for data collection. A total of 26 women in leadership positions in anesthesiology participated in this study.
The analysis of these interviews resulted in the development of 4 common themes related to career pathways for these women in leadership. Each theme was examined in depth to determine the qualities necessary for individuals to advance in the field and the pathway to obtaining leadership positions. The findings of this study showed that early-career, high-value mentorship and sponsorship were important factors in leadership acquisition. Most participants (n = 20; 76%) had early mentors. Of those with early mentorship, 13 (65%) had high-value mentors, who we define as someone with power or authority. Sponsorship was the leading factor contributing to leadership acquisition.
The results of this qualitative study may serve as a guide for encouraging female anesthesiologists with leadership aspirations. We suggest that the specialty field of anesthesiology institute targeted measures to help increase the percentage of women leadership with formal sponsorship programs at the local and national levels.