Where are the Women in Healthcare?

Absent in Leadership

If asked to go to your nearby hospital, doctor's office, or outpatient care center and point out all the women in the office, you'd find plenty of them. In that way, the title of this article may be misleading. Most nurses, techs, and healthcare aids are women. This is not surprising news, as these fields have been female-dominated for a long time, and women make up 46% of the workforce. But you know where women are not? Leadership. For some reason, women seem to be able to make it a certain distance up the food chain (73% of medical and health services managers are women) but not all the way to the top. A very dismal 4% of healthcare CEOs were women in in 2012. This is a number that is reflected in the business world at large. In the same year, only 4.2% of Fortune 500 and Fortune 1000 companies' CEO positions were held by women – up only 4.2% since 1995. So if you are female and have entered into the world of healthcare or business, and keep telling yourself "By the time I retire, it will be different," think again. If growth continues at the current rate, another 50 years will less than a 17% increase in female leaders.

And yet it's Not Just Leadership

Unfortunately, the gap doesn't just exist somewhere between the acronyms BSN and CEO. Women are in large part silent in healthcare technology and at conferences, also. One study looked at the number of venture organizations and startups that received over $2 million in funding, and none of them had a female at the helm. At healthcare conferences, where people present innovative solutions and share their ideas, the same lopsidedness exists. Out of eleven popular healthcare conferences that occurred in 2013, such as TEDMED, ForbesRx, and Medicine X, none had a proportionate number of female speakers. Medicine X had the most, and only 36% of their speakers were female. The numbers drop steadily from there, all the way down to the Digital Healthcare Summit, where only 12% of speakers were female.

Why it's Happening

One of the problems is that women don't have anyone to mentor them and develop them for leadership positions. This causes an issue partly because women are less likely to shoot for executive labels if they look above them and see only men. But the other obstacle is that men aren't doing much to correct the imbalance. Of all the males in healthcare leadership, only 30% of them spend any time developing female talent. The other issue is that men and women tend to be promoted for different reasons. Men are promoted for their potential, while women only move up based on their past accomplishments – and if a woman starts out as a nurse, it's hard for her to get the requisite management experience.

Why it's a Problem

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make 80% of the healthcare decisions for their families. This means that, for an industry that is (at least on the consumer's end) driven by women, the leadership doesn't reflect this statistic. Putting females in more executive positions will mean that those who are making the decisions actually have personal perspectives on what services to provide to patients, as well as how to do it. And there are other reasons having women in charge is good for business. Women are more likely to spend time developing their subordinates, are more likely to develop other female talent, and are more likely to have a clinical background than their male counterparts. So what will it take to break out of this rut? Women who are willing to take the time to develop themselves, go without a mentor (or find a suitable male one), demand to be assessed for their potential, and ignore the odds.





About the Author:

Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

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