Equity is at the core of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including SDG 3: ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’. Improving health requires accelerated efforts to address inequity, in particular, among marginalised populations who are most affected by the burden of disease. Increasingly, the importance of gender equity within global health leadership is being recognised, and SDG 5: ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ is supported by a target on ensuring women’s equal opportunities for leadership. In many countries, more than 75% of people engaged and working in global health are women, but this proportion of women is not reflected at the top levels of leadership. Governance is a core pillar of health systems and greater parity and gender responsive, transformative leadership are essential in our efforts to strengthen health systems and meet the gender- and health-related SDGs Gender bias is apparent in personal, political, economic and public life. The health sector is no exception. Empirical research by Women in Global Health (WGH) and the Research in Gender and Ethics (RinGs) consortium draws on three data sources to explore the ways in which gender affects progression and leadership in global health at many levels. Researchers present a radical new agenda for change aimed at strengthening health systems, and making them more equitable and responsive.