At first glance, one might think that healthcare is a female-dominated industry. After all, women make up 80 percent of healthcare workers. However, the truth is not so simple. In 2014, only 40 percent of executive roles in healthcare were held by women. Complicating this even further is the fact that on the business-to-business (B2B) side – particularly in newer industry sectors like healthcare IT – women are still finding their footing in leading roles.
Even as more women take on leadership roles today, old ways of thinking still remain. Since healthcare IT is a newer industry, we still have some ground to make up. Perhaps we should start by first acknowledging that an issue exists before we can successfully address it.
Overcoming Longstanding Perceptions
In my own career, when I transitioned from the healthcare system side to the vendor/business side of healthcare, I was taken aback by the difference. In one of my first business meetings, a client immediately assumed that my male colleague was the leader before I had a chance to introduce myself as the Chief Operating Officer. This surprised me as I did not recall encountering this situation working as an executive in a health system. The cues were subtle, often innocent, and could go unnoticed unless one is on the receiving end of this bias. It likely varies quite a bit from company to company based on the diversity of their workforce.
Change is Already in Motion
While it is easy to be discouraged by these sorts of experiences, the reality is that much has changed since I started my career as a critical care nurse. Workplace environments have evolved significantly. I have been a member of a health system executive team that had more women than men. Although, I would be surprised to find this on the business side in healthcare IT today. It lags the clinical side of the industry in seeing women in executive leadership positions. I do believe the world has changed during my career and new expectations are evolving.
One of our challenges is recognizing that perceptions don’t change quickly without some effort to move them. In recent years, the industry has worked to address the lack of female leadership. More awards and event opportunities highlight the success stories and address the need for more women in health IT.
This is a step in the right direction, but as a woman within the industry, I feel a responsibility to help move us in a positive direction. Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate to have strong female mentors who shared useful pieces of advice for women who aspire to leadership roles:
- Participate in the conversation when you have something to add
- Respect yourself and the women with whom you work
- Practice a combination of humility and confidence
- Don’t give up being yourself in an effort to be an effective leader
- If in a leadership role, help your peers and colleagues move past limited perceptions where they exist
Perceptions change every day – but sometimes they need a nudge in the right direction.