I recently read that women are writing a new playbook of power in order to create the world they want to live in. Yes, we have been finding a louder voice lately and it’s a wonderful chorus. The problem is that in order to write a “new playbook of power” more of us need to break into traditional roles of power—like CEOs of hospitals and health systems.
The latest statistics tell us that although women make up 80 percent of the health care workforce—and now represent half of all medical students—only 8 percent of us are CEOs of top 100 hospitals. And only one of us is the CEO of a Fortune 500 health care company.
What’s holding us back?
1. According to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a major obstacle in women gaining top leadership roles is that leaders, in this case male leaders, often choose successors that are most similar to them. Since women don’t “look” or “act” like men, we don’t match the image most decision makers either consciously or subconsciously see as top leaders, thus lessening our chances of being promoted to top leadership roles.
2. When women are promoted to executive positions they are typically promoted to staff or support positions such as human resources, communications or legal and not the top strategic leadership roles that lead to the CEO position. In addition, when women try to assert themselves in these leadership roles they often experience backlash against their authority and competence.
3. As women we often do not advocate for ourselves. We temper our aspirations believing leadership is not possible for us. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was recently quoted in a piece for thecut.com as saying,
“The acquisition of power requires that one aspire to power, that one believe it is possible. As women then achieve power and exercise it well, the barriers fall. That’s why I’m optimistic. As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be even more women out there doing things.”
Here’s a fun read to get you thinking.
An enlightening twitter thread—written by Dr. Esther Choo, MD, MPH and picked up in an article featured in blogger Bryan Vartebedian’s 33 charts—can be found here. She starts with the threat to write a book titled “Is It Gender Bias, Or Do I Just Suck.” It’s worth your time to jump over (after you read the rest of this blog of course) and explore her humorous take on gender bias in health care.
Here’s something else to think about.
A 2016 Peterson Institute for International Economics survey of 21,980 publicly traded companies in 91 countries demonstrates that the presence of more female leaders in top positions of corporate management correlates with increased profitability of these companies. The study showed evidence that having women in the C-level (as in CEO, CFO and COO) of management is associated with higher profitability.
However, even when women are promoted to CEO positions, they earn 22 percent less than their male counterparts—a panel of health care executives observed at a 2017 Modern Healthcare Women Leaders in Healthcare Conference.
We’re getting there.
If you’re as curious as I am about women leading health care, Becker’s Hospital Review has a great list of 12 female CEOs making their mark in health care.
I also found that women aren’t waiting around to be promoted, they’re growing organizations and forming new, innovative health care companies that are changing how the health care world works. Following are a few examples from Fortune’s 34 Leaders Who Are Changing Health Care.
Nora Volkow is director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) at the National Institutes of Health. Her work has been instrumental in demonstrating that drug addiction is a disease of the human brain. Her studies have documented changes in the dopamine system affecting the functions of frontal brain regions involved with motivation, drive and pleasure in addiction. She has also made important contributions to the neurobiology of obesity, ADHD and aging.
Rebecca Onie is co-founder and former CEO of Health Leads. The company creates solutions to equip health care institutions—and their physicians and other providers—to “prescribe” food, electricity and other basic resources patients need to be healthy. The organization also enables health providers to seamlessly connect their patients to existing community resources.
Katherine Kuzmeskas is CEO/co-founder of SimplyVital Health. Her mission is to use blockchain, the digital ledger technology at the heart of Bitcoin, to combat inefficiencies in medical record-keeping and payment systems.
The future is brightening slightly.
There are forces still pushing women out of power and we admittedly have a long, long way to go—but our voices are getting louder, there are more of us taking a stand, calling out injustices, making a difference either from inside the health care system or outside of it. We are creating the world we want to live in. Watch us.