Director of Marketing
Melinda Gates recently pledged $1 billion to promote gender equality. She has pledged that her company, Pivotal Ventures, will focus on three priorities surrounding gender equality:
- Dismantling the barriers to women’s professional advancement
- Fast-tracking women in sectors with outsized impact on society, like technology, media and public office
- Mobilizing shareholders, consumers and employees to amplify external pressure on companies and organizations in need of reform
Although none of these priorities specifically point the finger at healthcare, it’s clear that help is needed. Just look at the numbers: There are more women in the healthcare workforce than any other sectors, including finance or tech. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 80% of the healthcare workforce.
Those numbers fall woefully short at leadership levels. Only 30% of COOs and 23% of CFOs and chief actuaries in healthcare companies are women, according to “Women in Healthcare Leadership 2019” by Oliver Wyman.
In healthcare technology, there’s only one female CEO among the 50 largest companies in the sector. The disparity goes deeper. A STEM background is considered critical in healthcare technology, and women only represent about 24% of the overall STEM workforce.
A Korn Ferry survey found that more than half of nearly 200 healthcare executives surveyed said that female executives were bypassed or overlooked for leadership positions because of gender.
Elevating women to leadership positions makes good business sense. Fifty-nine percent of respondents in the Korn Ferry survey said that organizations would be more profitable with “greater gender parity in leadership, while 64% believe there would be less turnover.” Less turnover typically results in higher patient and employee satisfaction, which is tied to increased revenue.
There is, of course, a group of women who have been recognized for their outstanding work in healthcare technology including, Vivian Singletary, director of the Public Health Informatics Institute; Lea von Bidder, the cofounder, president and VP of marketing of Ava Science, Inc.; Seema Verma, CMS administrator; and Pamela Sutton-Wallace, the CEO of the University of Virginia Medical Center. But this is only a handful when contrasted with the large numbers of women working in healthcare and healthcare IT.
Accelerating the pace
As Melinda Gates says in her piece explaining her commitment to pursue gender equality, there is a window of opportunity to do something now.
“…There is no reason to believe this moment will last forever – or that this window will stay open as long as we need it to. If we’re going to act, we have to act now,” she writes.
Making a difference
Healthcare often moves at a glacial pace, but if your organization is committed to improving gender equality, here are some things you can do right now:
- Highlight senior women as role models. Showing other successful women inspires and gives hope to those coming afterwards. It also creates the opportunity to ask specific questions about what that woman or those women did to achieve.
- Go beyond mentoring to become an advocate or sponsor – be willing to speak up for female colleagues and create paths for them.
- Don’t relegate women to the problem-solver role. Constantly turning to them to solve problems rather than think strategically forces reactionary insight rather than proactively look-ahead.
Hiring and promotion practices
- Uncover unconscious biases in your hiring or promotion practices. Standardize criteria so candidates are evaluated fairly.
- Embrace the unconventional. Building a diverse team means just that – not everyone will look or behave the same or have the same career path. Make room for those who may be different but have key skills to help move your business forward.
- Give women stretch assignments, but set them up for success. If you have a talented employee, consider shifting her work to give her experience in an area where she has a knowledge gap.
- Don’t allow the ugly to stand. If you notice someone interrupting or taking credit for a female employee’s work, recognize that they may not be comfortable saying something. Be an active advocate when presented with the opportunity.
- Providing flexibility does not mean you are giving carte blanche to your employees. Rather, it instills the confidence that you trust them to get their work done in a way that works in their lives. All too often, managers are tied to the sitting-at-a-desk, watching-the-clock mentality. In actuality, women are much more productive when given the opportunity to work at times that don’t force them to sacrifice a family commitment.
The bottom line is that if gender equality is important to your healthcare organization, walk the walk. Broadcast it, and more importantly, follow through. Really listen to what female employees identify as issues. and help them navigate the organization to achieve leadership success.