New Resource Spotlight: Interview with Constance Newman on Foundations of Gender Equality in the Health Workforce

The “ideal worker” is expected to comply when asked to work extended days, maintain an inflexible schedule, travel away from home frequently, and work unimpeded by concerns for the daily welfare of dependents. The job is expected to be the sole priority in life. The ideal worker is possible in work arrangements where the employee has a spouse to assume all family caregiving and domestic responsibilities.

Health workers in KenyaThe ideal worker is a stereotype that most often disadvantages female workers, who typically carry a double burden of work and family caregiving and cannot meet such expectations. 

The concept of the ideal worker contributes to gender discrimination, and one of many barriers to achieving gender equality in the health workforce. When gender inequalities and discrimination operate in the workforce they may impede entry into health occupations and contribute to attrition, absences from work, lower productivity, poor health, and low morale of health workers.

Foundations of Gender Equality in the Health Workforce is a new eLearning course produced by CapacityPlus’s HRH Global Resource Center to expose participants to concepts, issues, and standards including legal and policy protections to promote gender equality in the health workforce.

The course also asks participants to “apply this knowledge in analyzing human resources for health policy,” says Constance Newman, senior team leader, gender equality and health, at IntraHealth International. “So this becomes a foundation of gender-sensitive policy analysis, and targets improved governance and leadership of the workforce.”

Health workers in GuatemalaNewman provides a few examples from the course. “We look at the rationale for affirmative action and go into more depth on the socioeconomic development, efficiency, and human rights rationales for gender equality in the workforce. There’s also a module on workplace violence and a lot more information about sexual harassment, from causes to forms to impacts to actions that health leaders and managers can take to prevent it. This course really puts it under a lens so people can not only understand it but start thinking about how they might deal with it.”

There are also skills-building activities, including an analysis of a case study from an assessment of health training institutions in one country. “The course asks people to look at the data so they can develop skills to recognize types of gender discrimination as they are manifest in real case data,” Newman explains.

The final section deals with creating a policy and legal environment that promotes gender equality in the health workforce. “We focus on international standards and treaties related to gender equality and specifically about discrimination against women in education and in the labor force,” says Newman. “Participants are sensitized to what makes a strong or weak policy environment in terms of gender equality. This course gives people the policy foundation to start thinking about other things: How do you improve the country’s policy environment, and how do you actually improve managers’ skills to apply this at the workplace?”

The course is aimed at health workforce program leaders and managers who have some responsibility for policy and planning, workforce development, or HR management. It is based on modules Newman developed and field-tested in four countries; Catherine Murphy provided instructional design assistance to the eLearning course, developed in collaboration with Rebecca Rhodes and Beth Massie.

Eighty-eight participants from 31 countries have already signed up. As with all courses on the HRH Global Resource Center eLearning Platform, Foundations of Gender Equality in the Health Workforce is a low-bandwidth-friendly, free course available to anyone who wishes to learn about the topic. Access the course at

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Photos by Trevor Snapp. (Health workers in Kenya and Guatemala)