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Report on the Women Leaders in Global Health Conference

Posted by on March 8th, 2019 Posted in: Advocacy, Funding

by Jill Barr-Walker, MPH, MS
Clinical Librarian
Zuckerberg San Francisco General (ZSFG) Hospital Library
University of California, San Francisco

While 70% of the global health workforce is made up of women, only 25% of the leadership in this field are women. Does this sound familiar? To some extent, it should: women represent 83% of the librarian workforce in academic libraries but only 60% of university library directors [1]. Although data on health sciences library directors isn’t available, we know that women represent 87% of the health sciences librarian workforce but make almost 8% less than male counterparts in equivalent positions [2]. This salary disparity cannot be explained by the commonly held belief that women are less likely to negotiate: research shows that when librarians in non-administrative roles negotiate salary, women are less successful than men [3].

an illustrator drawing a whiteboard during a conference

The conference artist illustrates a talk on #metoo and global health.

With the help of a National Network of Libraries of Medicine – Pacific Southwest Region (NNLM PSR) professional development award and these figures in mind, I traveled to the Women Leaders in Global Health Conference at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine to learn more about the movement to empower women leaders in global health.

Learning from internationally-known women leaders from places like WHO, the UN, MSF, The International Council of Nurses, public health schools at Harvard & Colombia, The Lancet, and various government organizations throughout Africa, Europe & South America was an incredible opportunity. Conference attendees learned about the scope of this problem worldwide and discussed potential solutions; this allowed me to think about ways to position myself to be an advocate for women in global health at my institution, and start thinking about how to address this issue within the field of Library Information Studies (LIS). I learned about organizations that exist to facilitate leadership abilities for women as well as additional tools and resources for people interested in contributing to research and scholarship in this field. Most of all, this conference confirmed for me that the issues of sexism, sexual harassment, and advancing women’s leadership are legitimate and important scholarly fields of inquiry.

I was also inspired by ideas for actions that can be taken by anyone interested in helping to grow women leaders in their institution and their field. I intend to incorporate many into my own work, including actively encouraging and involving younger women in leadership; refusing to serve on panels that do not contain equal representations of men and women and rejecting conferences that support “manels”; encouraging researchers to disaggregate data by gender and race to help identify issues unique to different populations; recognizing how intersectionality and multiple identities affect women’s opportunities for and interest in leadership; and being mindful in the use of language that reinforces sexist, colonial hegemonies (e.g., instead of “giving someone a voice,” provide an opportunity for them to speak and use their own voice). Attending the conference reignited my passion for global health, and I have renewed my outreach efforts to our hospital’s Global Medicine division in order to become more involved with information provision around research and clinical work in this area.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the conference advocated a key message: we cannot attempt to correct the gender disparities in leadership without considering the intersections of race, gender, and leadership. Out of the 60% of women academic library directors mentioned above, how many are white? One ARL publication suggests up to 94% [1]! We know that librarians are overwhelmingly white (up to 87% in some fields); it should not be a surprise to learn that women of color are underrepresented in library leadership positions and overrepresented in library staff (e.g., non-librarian) positions [4]. In addition to creating space for younger women and those new to the field, white librarians must be mindful to do the same for women of color who are facing additional barriers in our predominantly white field.

What do we want librarianship to look like going forward? I encourage everyone to consider this question and think about how we as individuals, institutions, and professional organizations can work to meet this goal. To quote Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, Chief Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria and a WLGH conference favorite, “If they don’t give us a seat at the table, we bring our own chair. If they don’t allow us to bring the chair, we sit on the table.”

Thanks to NNLM PSR for supporting my attendance at this conference and showing support for women leaders in global health — and beyond!

Further reading

  • Lew S, Yousefi B. Feminists among us: Resistance and advocacy in library leadership. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2017.
  • Chou, RL, Pho A. Pushing the margins: women of color and intersectionality in LIS. Sacramento, CA: Library Juice Press, 2018.
  • Galbraith Q, Kelley H, Groesbeck M. Is there a racial wage gap in research libraries? An analysis of ARL libraries. College & Research Libraries. 2018 Nov 1;79(7):863.
  • Global Health 50/50. Global health 50/50 report. 2018.


  1. Association of Research Libraries (ARL). Annual salary survey (2009-10). 2010.
  2. Corcoran K, Medical Library Association. MLA compensation and benefits survey. 2013.
  3. Silva E, Galbraith Q. Salary negotiation patterns between women and men in academic libraries. College & Research Libraries. 2018 Apr 4;79(3):324.
  4. American Library Association. Diversity counts: 2012 update.

Image of the author ABOUT Alan Carr
Alan Carr is the Associate Director, National Network of Libraries of Medicine, Pacific Southwest Region, based at UCLA.

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This project is funded by the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, under Cooperative Agreement Number UG4LM012341 with the UCLA Louise M. Darling Biomedical Library.

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