The Role of Self-Efficacy in Developing Women Leaders

The Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Program for Women implemented basic principles of self-efficacy to improve the leadership skills of women in academic medicine. ELAM fellows gained the basic tools necessary to become leaders in their field. Academic medicine is a male-dominated field. Although women enter and graduate medical school at rates similar to men, few women achieve leadership roles. It takes women much longer to secure tenure or become department chairs.

This case study used interviews with ELAM fellows to explore how the program strengthens self-efficacy in its participants. Members of the ELAM classes of 1996, 1997 and 1999 participated in follow-up telephone interviews up to 13 months after completing the program. The interview questions asked participants what specific skills they acquired and about their subsequent development as leaders in their home institutions.

Key Findings:

  • More than 80 percent of interviewees reported a sense of being more capable on the job as a result of developing their overall skills through ELAM. References to increased financial management and communication skills were common.
  • Eighty-five percent of ELAM fellows indicated the program opened new professional possibilities.
  • Leadership development through self-efficacy is a gradual process. It took ELAM fellows several years to move into leadership roles.

Like corporate settings, academic medicine presents women with many “off-ramps,” characteristics of the field that steer women away from career advancement. Self-efficacy, the belief in one’s own ability to carry out a course of action in pursuit of a goal, is one “on-ramp” that women can take to leadership positions in academic medicine.