70% of healthcare workers are women, however, they make up only 25% of healthcare leadership roles. Additionally, it takes women 3 to 5 years longer than men to progress to CEO positions. These statistics are glaringly disproportionate and highlight a clear issue in the healthcare workforce and its support of women.
The issue of women’s leadership in healthcare is even more present for women of color as McKinsey found that they account for just 4% of C-suite level leaders. This is a significantly small percentage and shows that diversity is also a prevalent issue in this sector.
Interestingly, in the United States, women make 80% of the healthcare decisions for their families. This reveals the unique position of the healthcare industry where women make up the majority of the workforce and are also highly influential consumers. Therefore, it might be said that there is a need for healthcare organizations to install female leaders who can relate to these consumers.
Why is this happening?
“People are often more comfortable apprenticing, mentoring, and supporting people who are like themselves”
Vivian Riefberg, Professor of Practice, University of Virginia Darden School of Business
Generally, women tend to find it harder to build networks with predominantly male senior executives. It is suggested that connections with executives can help to facilitate the climb into the leadership ranks and individuals without this support find ladder-climbing more difficult. Subsequently, women find the pathway to leadership with more obstacles and a more arduous journey.
In an attempt to explain this imbalance, Oliver Wyman found that one of the reasons female leadership in healthcare is so low is the hidden influences and implicit assumptions. Both men and women have different perceptions on what makes a good leader, the issue with this is that it is often men deciding who takes the leadership role. Consequently, in the interview process, women and men often present different perspectives on what makes a good leader. Because of the conflicting opinions, men are likely to hire women for leadership positions, as they would not match those qualities.
Furthermore, women are also increasingly dropping out of leadership roles. This means that the candle is being burnt at both ends, proving to shift the balance into further disproportion. One of the reasons for this is the disproportionate amount of time women spend on childcare, leading to them a dissatisfying work-life balance. This results in women being at a disadvantage to attain and maintain a time-consuming role.
Why should there be more female leaders?
A study conducted by Ingrid Nembhard and her co-researcher Simone Betchen found that there were three areas where female CEO-led hospitals performed better than their male counterparts. The areas were: the number of days in accounts receivable, the number of days before an invoice is cleared, and the number of patient deaths after a serious complication. In the other twenty areas, there were no differences between female-led hospitals vs male-led hospitals. This highlights that hospital performance can be improved with the implementation of female leaders.
These figures may also demonstrate that women leaders focus on other areas of the workplace to their male counterparts, who aren’t bad managers but prioritize results. In fact, research has found that women in healthcare leadership positions help their organizations become more consumer-orientated and are viewed as more relatable than their male counterparts. This could be massively beneficial to the organization as if the organization becomes more consumer-orientated then the consumers may want to come back more. In addition, if a leader is more people-focused there may be less talent leaving the organization.
How can this be resolved?
Women are struggling to reach leadership positions at every step, so changes need to be made. There are many ways we can do this as individuals and healthcare institutions, but the point to be stressed is that we all have a part to play in progressing this issue. So, what can be done?
What can women in healthcare do?
A study conducted by Modern Healthcare found that 54% of those surveyed believe that women do not self-promote as strongly as men. So, instead of asking their boss directly for a promotion, when a woman achieves a promotion, they get it from being recognized by their supervisor or employer.
To help combat this, there is a summit called the RISE Women in Healthcare Leadership Summit, which is taking place in San Diego, from December 14th-15th. This summit aims to promote women in leadership positions across healthcare. It’s not only good for those currently in leadership but it is also aiming to provide women looking for career advancement with the necessary skills.
What can the organizations do?
Organizations need to provide diversity and inclusion training; it is necessary for so many different reasons. People need to be educated on what they don’t know. As humans we know we are biased, but we don’t know how to overcome it. I mentioned how different genders have different assumptions about what makes a good leader, and this is harmful. This is something that needs to be identified in training, as qualities more commonly possessed by women leaders need to be recognized as beneficial.
Companies should investigate if their interview process could benefit from a revision. It is suggested that structured interviews reduce the risk of subjective opinions and bias, so it is important to understand when structured and unstructured interviews should occur and with who. Due to bias, women should be interviewed based on their performance and career alone.
We should also encourage women to participate in programs and schemes that can help with career progression and provide more opportunities to succeed. A study by Modern Healthcare revealed that 76% of participants companies do not have sponsorship programs to help women advance, demonstrating that there is room for improvement in this area.
Women who aspire to be in healthcare leadership positions face clear disadvantages. However, this is not just a ‘women’ problem, everyone is affected by this, which is why it is time to make changes. The world changed drastically during COVID-19 and we all had to adapt. So, what is the issue with the world-changing again? There are clear reasons for healthcare organizations to have more women in their leadership positions and now is our chance to make those desperate changes.
Organizations can pave the way for women leaders, by providing organization-wide training on diversity and inclusion and offering opportunities for women to build networks in the workplace. Institutional changes will not only benefit women, but also the organization and, most importantly, the patients that they care for.
Chloe Mumford is a content writer and researcher for US Tech Solutions. After completing her BSc in Sociology, Chloe transitioned over into the workforce management industry with an interest in talent solutions. She writes about on-demand talent solutions, Total Talent Management and the potential of talent technology. She can be reached via LinkedIn.