Time for a change.

There are no women on the ACEM board. Ten men. Zero women. Meanwhile, 45% of ACEM trainees and 33% of FACEMs are female, according to 2017 data from the Department of Health.

There is a problem here. How can a board effectively lead an organisation if it bears so little resemblance to the membership body? Moreover, how can this organisation then deliver quality outcomes to its stakeholders, the patient populations of Australia and New Zealand, being 52% female?

These numbers cannot represent chance. Clearly there are systemic barriers to the recruitment of women to the ACEM board, and in the interests of the organisation and our community, we need to rectify this situation. This is not about tokenism, including women for the sake of satisfying political correctness. This is about seeking to repair the faulty recruitment process that is overlooking the potential contributions of over a third of ACEM’s membership.


Some possible causes have been suggested that deserve consideration:

Maybe women aren’t naturally inclined to be leaders. 

Hold on – these are FACEMs we are talking about! It would be hard to argue that FACEM women lack the skills and drive to lead. Leadership skills are a fundamental element of the curriculum that defines us as FACEMs, exactly the same curriculum as our male colleagues. We are highly qualified, capable and trained to lead. 

Perhaps the demands of executive roles are too onerous, especially for parents and full-time clinicians?

If the requirements of board membership are prohibitive these should be reviewed for the benefit of all board members. Board membership should not be incompatible with being a parent, maintaining clinical work, or holding other leadership positions such as DEMT or DEM – regardless of gender. This would deprive the ACEM leadership of many talented people with important perspectives and experience. It would also deprive the departments and families of board members of their contributions to work and family life. In this scenario, the problem is with the organisation, not the women, and this represents a real opportunity for change.

 Women haven’t earned their place in the leadership establishment, and don’t have the relevant experience.

The requirement of prior experience can create a barrier to women’s participation in leadership, as this perpetuates the existing male-dominated cohort. But is this the most important qualification? Does the existing pipeline of executive candidates really tap into the best pool of potential, or just the same ‘usual suspects’? The bulk of FACEMs are aged 40-44 years, and it is hard to imagine that the women in this age bracket lack the requisite experience. We need to examine the criteria that are used to judge suitability for executive roles to ensure there is space for fresh talent, ideas and perspectives.


There is a small chance that ACEM has truly recruited the ten best possible people for the board. The more likely scenario is that ACEM is missing out on the contributions of some very talented and qualified women.

As members and stakeholders, we need to present some better ideas to improve ACEM’S leadership recruitment strategy. The Diversity in College Governance Consultation is open until January 31st and presents ACEM Members with an opportunity to share our ideas and feedback on these processes.

  • Is it time to introduce diversity targets or quotas for the board, council and committees to ensure women are represented?

  • Perhaps the workload of executive positions needs to be re-structured to improve compatibility with existing responsibilities?

  • Are the selection criteria too rigid? Does the process shut out potentially talented candidates?

  • How do we account for the cumulative contributions made by members where there have been periods of discontinuity for family or other commitments?

  • Should we wait for existing board members to see out their terms, or should there be a ‘spill’ to shake up the balance sooner?

You can respond to the College’s consultation via the ACEM online portal until COB on 31st January.

This is a conversation that is long overdue – we are glad it is happening now. Let us make sure our voices are heard.


Rhiannon Ross-Browne, for NoWEM

Helen Rhodes1 Comment