Throughout history, it has taken a lot of hard work to empower women in business, specifically in the healthcare industry. Even today, women make up only 30 percent of healthcare executives. The hurdles that women face in leadership today aren’t always starkly put in front of us—in fact, most are unconscious biases, learned over and over again in society.
Today, women need a seat at the healthcare leadership table more than ever.
Women Are Raising The Bar In Healthcare Leadership
The stats on women in healthcare today
At home, women are the primary healthcare decision makers, making up 80% of buying decisions in their households. At work, over 70% of those working in healthcare are women. Overwhelmingly, women are at the forefront of the healthcare workforce.
However, on the leadership front, women are underrepresented. According to a report by Oliver Wyman, women make up only 30% of C-suite executives and, even less so, 13% of CEOs. It takes women three to five years longer than men to reach a CEO level in healthcare.
The amount of women on healthcare executive teams and boards have been overwhelmingly low (22 percent) since 2015, and women make up less than 12 percent of digital health CEOs and venture capital partners in healthcare startups.
Clearly, the scales are not balanced. Women hold a majority of the stock in healthcare—as workers, caregivers, and consumers. But as far as diversity in leadership? The healthcare industry is not there yet.
We need more women in healthcare leadership
With women working in this industry and making so many decisions in healthcare, they need to be in leadership as well, adding valuable input and change to the healthcare industry.
Representation matters everywhere, and in healthcare it is no different. In fact, adding more women to healthcare leadership roles is detrimental to quality of care. Gender inequality in women’s healthcare has been an issue, resulting in doctors misunderstanding or downplaying the severity of patients’ health concerns. Shockingly, women were not a part of clinical trials for new drugs until 1993, making conditions and diseases that affect women in higher numbers less known.
Simply put, women understand other women and hold interest in bettering healthcare circumstances for them, because they are one of them. Women can relate personally to the type and quality of care other women seek and receive.
Putting more women in leadership doesn’t only improve quality of patient care and specialty care but improves facility performance as well. A study found that Fortune 500 companies with higher numbers of women in top management positions show better financial performance than companies with low female leadership representation.
How healthcare organizations can help empower women
Through community support. The healthcare industry has many ways to spark change and bolster more equity in women leaders. Gender equality needs to be grown within communities. A survey from Rock Health shows that women who are part of a support network, mentorship, or community that encourages women in leadership are more inclined to rate their company culture higher.
Through flexibility. Data shows that women’s underrepresentation in leadership is caused by dated workplace structures forcing women out. Today’s workplace structures do not meet the modern need of our current workforce—two-income households. Lack of flexibility in the workplace significantly hinders women from rising to the top. A recent study from Bain showed that women value flexibility over and above any other aspect in their career search, including job titles, compensation, and job location. Workplace flexibility is the most cost-effective way to retain and advance women into positions of leadership.
Through listening. There are endless ideas from women on how to create inclusive spaces and empower high level leadership roles in the healthcare workplace. Organizations will benefit from lending an ear directly to the source: women. Getting input from women directly on how they can help make space for inclusive leadership will benefit their facilities and upgrade and modernize policies and programs. Healthcare leaders should do everything they can to participate in empowering more women to join healthcare leadership. It's the best way toward accomplishing company objectives and long-term sustainability in healthcare operations.
When women are given the opportunity to grow their strengths, they thrive in leadership roles and seek new challenges to overcome. It’s clear that women throughout history haven’t always been given a place at the leadership table and haven’t been presented with the same opportunities to advance in their careers. Regardless, they have always made a difference in healthcare since the beginning of medicine and are fearless in bolstering other women to take hold of opportunities to build change. You can read more about historical influential women in the healthcare industry who have paved the way and empowered other women over the past two centuries.
Going forward, we need female representation in healthcare leadership. Finding ways to empower more women to seek spots at the leadership table and to use their voices as specialized experts will only improve the quality of patient care and the industry standard in healthcare.