We Need More Women In Healthcare Leadership

Anna Johansson

September 18, 2019

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Born leaders naturally pursue top roles in the company they work for. Some leaders are given those top positions immediately, while others need to work their way up.

Leadership positions are vital to the success of every organization in every industry, and healthcare is no exception. However, leadership in the healthcare field could use a little more gender diversity.

Female leaders in healthcare make up about 30% of C-suite executives and 13% of CEOs, according to global management consulting firm Oliver Wyman. For the 13% of women who make it to CEO, it takes them 3-5 years longer than men to achieve that position.

Women dominate the healthcare workforce

Ever since Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to earn a medical degree in the U.S., women have been slowly dominating the healthcare industry. For example, in 1950, only 6% of physicians were female. Today, that number has grown to 36%.

A portion of women serve the healthcare industry in roles that don't put them in direct contact with patients. For example, many women become certified medical records technicians where they manage medical records for lab tests, x-rays, and other procedures.

As a whole, women make up 70% of the entire healthcare workforce, mostly serving in technical roles that report to the CEO. For instance, many women in healthcare take on roles as chief human resources officer, chief legal officer, and chief information officer. These roles are essential and many women fill them well, but we need more female CEOs for a reason.

The top leadership roles in healthcare are often decision-making roles. Women have intimate knowledge of the industry and it's a great loss when those women aren't in decision-making roles.

Just about everyone knows what it's like to work for a boss who makes decisions without having intimate knowledge of how the company works and where it's weak. That's exactly what happens in the healthcare field. Women who know the industry inside and out aren't in decision-making positions, yet they know the healthcare industry's pain points more than anyone. Why aren't these women stepping up into higher roles?

Women have to work harder to gain trust

One reason more women aren't stepping into the role of CEO is outlined in the Oliver Wyman study linked above. The study found that it's harder for women to achieve implicit trust in male-dominated workplaces, and they're less likely to self-promote. That means unless a woman aggressively pursues a position of CEO, she's not likely to get it, and along the way she'll have to work harder to earn the trust of the men who will promote her.

Experts say this type of bias isn't necessarily conscious, but that doesn't make it any less of a challenge for women.

Gender diversity is in a company's best interest

If only healthcare companies knew the benefits of having gender diversity at the top. A new research study found a correlation between female representation in management and better financial performance. Fortune 500 companies with more female executives did better financially than those with the lowest female representation.

Other research projects have concluded the same. In fact, one research project found that "women are generally superior to men in 20 key competencies that directly affect the financial performance of a large enterprise." This list includes:

- Women are better at getting results through teamwork
- Women are more effective collaborators
- Women are more versatile
- Women "read" people better
- Women are better at facing challenges
- Women are better at avoiding and resolving reckless risk

It's not that women make better executives than men. Women have leadership skills and wisdom that are going untapped. We need a balanced mix of both men and women to lead in the healthcare field, and right now, women are underrepresented.

A company that doesn't place women into senior leadership roles severely limits their ability to achieve financial prosperity.

It's time to step out of the comfort zone

It's comfortable to do what has always been done, but in the healthcare industry we need a change. Women shouldn't have to work harder to be recognized as potential leaders, even if that bias is unconscious.

It's time to see more female leaders at the top of the healthcare field. The future of health depends on it.

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Anna Johannson is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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