As is the case with most issues in public health, there’s good news and bad news. And the issue of women’s leadership in the field is no exception.

The good news: We’re seeing women represented in health, medicine and science more than ever before, thanks in part to increased efforts to produce more female STEM graduates and guide them toward careers in historically male-dominated fields. The bad news: Men still hold disproportionate shares of top leadership positions, and women are encountering obstacle after obstacle to catch up. Women comprise only about 30 percent of presidencies and full professorships in all higher education institutions and 24 percent of the global health leadership positions at the top 50 medical schools in the U.S.

During a Monday Annual Meeting session on women in public health leadership, a group of experts broke down the situation, discussing how women get left behind and what we can do to help them smash the glass ceiling. Because when women — especially those at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities — aren’t visible in leadership, the health care system as a whole loses out on a wealth of valuable insights, expertise and role models for future generations.

The problem is largely systemic, with academic institutions failing to make diversity a priority, said session speaker Joan Reede, Harvard Medical School’s first dean for diversity and community partnership. This is reflected in the value that institutions place on offices of diversity, which are often invisible and always at risk of funding cuts, she said.

“Our challenge is to move to a space where it is clearly understood that without diversity, our institutions can never achieve true excellence,” she said.

Higher education, and many industries for that matter, have a tendency to pat themselves on the back for hiring women and other marginalized folks, but don’t give them a seat at the table when it comes to the decision-making that will have the greatest impact on their careers, Reede said. These institutions also fail to take intersectionality into account, she noted. Reede pointed out that she can’t separate her identities as a black person and a woman — a point that was met with rousing applause from session attendees.

Dorothy Riddle, president of Service-Growth Consultants Inc., offered three explanations for the implicit bias women face in the workforce: benevolent bigotry, in which women are only respected when they embody traditional notions of femininity; stereotyping, or treating women as a monolith; and the dismissiveness of women’s issues and contributions, particularly of labor that is seen as traditionally female. Women also aren’t given the time to succeed in both their personal and professional lives, leaving them burnt out and with no time for necessary self-care, Riddle said.

That’s why we need to see more women in leadership who can advocate for policies such as flexible work schedules, she said.

“Being able to visualize yourself in a particular position is part of what keeps you going,” Riddle said.

In other words, you have to see it to believe it. And J. Nwando Olayiwola, founder of Inspire Health Solutions, is making it happen. Through the Minority Women Professionals are MVPs Conference Series, Olayiwoa has convened sessions across the country, helping women learn to build their professional networks, get the most out of mentor-mentee relationships and acquire important development skills.

“It is very, very hard for minority women to find mentors in their profession, particularly if you’re trying to get into leadership roles,” she said, which is why the conference series holds so much meaning for women navigating their career trajectories.

Larger organizations need to do their part to diversify leadership, but we can create our own networks to support women as they climb the public health ladder, Reede told session attendees. For example, she recently hosted a dinner in Boston for about two-dozen women of color. She called on the audience to use their personal networks to help other women rise up.

“It doesn’t happen by accident, moving women into leadership,” Reede said. “We must be very intentional in this use of networks.”