Purpose Women have made significant gains in leadership across all disciplines in academic medicine but have not yet achieved leadership parity as department chairs. The authors investigated the challenges experienced by one cohort of women department chairs in emergency medicine (EM) and the solutions they proposed to address these challenges. Method The authors conducted a qualitative descriptive study of 19 of 20 possible current and emeritus emergency medicine women department chairs at academic medical centers between April and December 2020. Participant interviews elicited self-reported demographic characteristics and narrative responses to a semistructured interview template that focused on the role of gender in their leadership and career trajectories. Interviews were transcribed, blinded, and iteratively coded and categorized. Results The analysis demonstrated 4 common challenges and 5 enacted or proposed solutions. The challenges discussed by the participants were: feeling unprepared for the role of department chair, being one of few women in leadership, inheriting unhealthy department cultures, and facing negative faculty reactions. The individual- and institutional-level solutions discussed by the participants were: gaining and maintaining confidence (individual), maintaining accountability and mission alignment (individual), facilitating teamwork (individual), supporting women's leadership (institution), and creating safe leadership cultures (institution). Conclusions Women department chairs in EM were successful academic leaders despite confronting several challenges to their leadership. Considering the study findings through the lens of the concept of second-generation gender bias further illuminates the influence of gender on leadership in academic medicine. These findings suggest several possible strategies that can combat gender bias, increase gender parity among academic medicine's leadership, and improve the leadership experience for women leaders.
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