According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nearly 80% of workers in the health care and social assistance field are women. They outnumber men four to one in the industry, yet they still make up a vast minority of healthcare leaders.
The need and push for more women in roles of leadership is a prominent issue that applies to all areas of the workforce, but studies have shown it is especially important in the realm of healthcare and medicine.
A 2015 study from the Center For Talent Innovation titled The Power of the Purse: Engaging Women Decision Makers for Healthy Outcomes found that 94 percent of women in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Japan, and Brazil make healthcare decisions for themselves and 59 percent make health decisions for others, including which medicines to take, health regimens to follow, and doctors to see, as well as general healthy lifestyle choices.
Thus, not only do women make up the vast majority of healthcare professionals, but they are also the largest demographic of healthcare consumers and personal decision makers.
This begs the question why, when women are so deeply involved in all aspects of the healthcare process, are so few at the forefront of leading the industry?
"It seems many in our industry are falling prey to what we call the 'mini-me misunderstanding' when succession planning," explains Advisory Board executive director Steven Berkow. Leaders, in this case male leaders, will often choose successors and promote individuals who are the most similar to them. This bias, which is usually unconscious, leads to a lack of diversity, which can end up hurting an organization and in this case millions of healthcare patients.
“The homogenous nature of leadership tends to promote a culture resistant to diverse perspectives -- the lifeblood of innovation,” writes Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Founder of Center for Talent Innovation & Hewlett Consulting Partners, in her article “The Cure for the Healthcare Industry: More women in leadership”.
She explains that women in pharmaceutical and life sciences companies are more likely than male colleagues to report their ideas being passed up or unrecognized, and 76 percent of women perceive gender bias in performance evaluations.
2016 Right Fit HIPster Award Winner, Erica Flores Uribe MD MPH, has her own opinion on the matter:
“As women in medicine are coming into a space that is traditionally held by men, the ‘Imposter syndrome’ can be debilitating for some. There has to be a paradigm shift at all levels of medicine to create a more equitable work environment. This paradigm shift will allow for more female mentors in leadership roles to boost the growth and development of younger women in medicine.”
Why does gender diversity for leadership roles matter?
These current paradigms and gendered biases go far deeper than equality in the workplace. Studies have shown that gender diversity in leadership roles improves financial and operational performance.
And while women leaders can be beneficial for all healthcare patients, it’s especially important for improving the quality of care for female patients, who have in the past often been misdiagnosed or incorrectly prescribe medications based on the sole understanding of how the male body reacts under various medical conditions.
"The goal of having more women in senior leadership is the same as any other diversity initiative," says Jennifer Stewart, an Advisory Board managing director and overseer of the HR Advancement Center and Nursing Executive Center’s research. "You want to ensure your leadership team—and overall workforce—is representative of the diversity of patient population you are caring for.”
There’s also the issue of providing the best care possible for patients. If women are the biggest healthcare consumers, it only makes sense that they should have a big role in healthcare leadership.
Aptly named, Enclothed Cognition is the official Medelita blog for medical professionals interested in topics relevant to a discerning and inquisitive audience. Medelita was founded by a licensed clinician who felt strongly about the connection between focus, poise and appearance.