Empowering Women in Healthcare: Turning Dialogue into Action

Gender inequality in the workplace is a systemic phenomenon that remains tough to crack, despite societal pressures driving increased scrutiny. Healthcare is no exception. In the past year and a half since we last reflected on the status of women in healthcare, statistics show more women in leadership roles. According to Rock Health Research, the number of female executives at Fortune 500 healthcare companies increased from 20 percent in 2015 to 22.6 percent in 2017.  Women also continue to be well represented in the broader healthcare workforce.

While the numbers are encouraging, we should not pat ourselves on the back just yet. These are incremental changes, which are going in the right direction, but there is still a need for a larger cultural shift. An interesting way to view overall success is the number of women on company boards of directors since this speaks to women’s executive leadership experience. In 2017, only 22.1 percent of Fortune 500 healthcare board members were women. Clearly, there is more work to do to see this number rise to representative levels.

Involving women in leadership gives organizations an essential perspective. All teams can achieve greater insights when there is diversity of thought and opinion. The small progress made in recent years serves as powerful ammunition to develop an agenda that accelerates these wins. Some approaches to facilitate success include:

  • Achieve self-awareness through education: Understanding the issues behind gender misrepresentation in healthcare – whether it is at the organization or the industry level – is an essential first step. The right educational tools and data can be more impactful than regulatory oversight or equality-based policies. For example, a recent survey revealed male nurses earn $6,000 more a year than female nurses do. This shocking statistic may prompt healthcare organizations to reexamine their pay structures.
  • Encourage young girls to pursue STEM classes: From a young age, girls should be encouraged to take science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses, and learn about various career paths. Educators, mentors, and influential leaders in healthcare have a societal responsibility to help support girls entering these disciplines and supply the tools they need to grow in their chosen field. Some of that depends on strong role modeling and creative approaches to education on these subjects.
  • Improve mentorship for women: Mentors serve as our advocates and give us the push we need to advance our careers. I personally have had strong mentors – both male and female – that helped me grow significantly. I try to do the same for female colleagues, whether encouraging them to make a bold career jump or giving them straightforward – and maybe tough to hear – guidance. For a young woman looking to advance her career, having female leaders in clear line of sight can be transformational. Visible women role models demonstrate that leadership positions are attainable regardless of gender.

Healthcare will see change when everyone takes responsibility and action. That includes listening to colleagues about their frustrations, reaching out to those who need an assist to grow in the organization, and being fully inclusive in our work environment. The organizational benefits will validate the shift.