Advocating for Women in Healthcare Leadership: Making “Gender Parity” A Reality

Gender diversity continues to be an important topic in the daily news cycle with the hiring and firing of female CEOs, the passing of laws regarding the number of women in corporate board rooms and C-suites, and new initiatives aimed at promoting more women into leadership.

The healthcare industry is certainly not immune to these gender parity challenges.In fact, one of the most talked about stories coming out of this past year’s JP Morgan Annual Healthcare Conference focused on the fact there were more speakers named “Michael” (22) at the event than the combined number of female CEO speakers (20). To further reinforce this point, female senior executives represent only 17 percent of management teams at the top 20 pharmaceutical and medtech companies in the United States.

This is disappointing, as studies have shown that organizations pursuing gender parity and diversity reap the benefits of increased revenue, decreased costs, maximized profits and more effective employee recruitment, improved retention and an enhanced corporate image. Juxtapose these two sets of conflicting statistics and it leads one to ask, “What can and should we be doing regarding gender diversity for our businesses, the next generation of leaders and, most importantly, the patients, caregivers, physicians and healthcare industry at large that we serve?”

For more than 40 years, the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) has been working to advance the impact and influence of women by providing leadership development and networking opportunities to individuals. With 50,000 members and 125 corporate partners, HBA’s purpose is simple yet impactful – to further the advancement and impact of women in the business of healthcare. I am proud to have been selected to sit on the organization’s 2019 Global Board of Directors, where I will serve on the Executive Committee as secretary/treasurer. This is a tremendous honor and benchmark in my career, but I am most excited about the opportunity to work with so many esteemed women to take an active role in accelerating gender parity and transforming our venerable industry for the better.

Last month, HBA launched the Gender Parity Collaborative, a consortium of healthcare companies committed to achieving the top-down system and organizational changes that are critical to advancing gender parity. To date, 12 healthcare and life science companies have signed on as partners to support internal women’s leadership networks, offer progressive diversity and inclusion programs, and represent a collective global workforce of more than 750,000 employees. The Collaborative will accomplish its goals through:

  • Analyzing and tracking data and general perceptions that feed industry and company performance
  • Defining and implementing strategic priorities that are in-line with overall business results
  • Sharing and evaluating proposed solutions via regular leadership summits

There’s no question that real, actionable change is needed. As senior executives press forward with their own gender equality initiatives, they can make headway by following several key principles, a few include:

Build a Culture of Inclusion

It would make sense that success starts with building a culture of inclusion in which all employees can realize their full potential. By building a foundation that values diversity, companies can create an organizational environment grounded in trust that creates the culture to support talent to flourish. This requires encouraging participation from everyone, critically the CEO, to demonstrate the support and importance of addressing unconscious bias. This requires creating a core competency around gender partnership, which requires making gender parity the highest priority in selection, retention, training and promotion. Holding senior leaders accountable for considering a gender-balanced slate for open positions and ongoing mentoring and sponsorship programs is also essential.

Be Accountable for Change

Holding an organization and its leaders accountable for race and gender targets is another important tool for change. Tactics include publicly sharing diversity statistics and goals, measuring gender and diversity recruitment and retention efforts, and requiring leaders to develop diverse teams and successors. Study after study finds greater numbers of women “disappearing” at each successive level of most organizations. A and McKinsey & Company study of 222 companies in the United States illustrated this phenomenon. For every 100 women promoted to manager, 130 men are promoted. By the time women reach the SVP level, they hold just 20 percent of the roles that are most likely to lead to the C-suite.

Ensure Success Begets Success

Hiring a diverse workforce isn’t the end – it’s just the beginning. McKinsey reports that advancing women’s equality would add $12 trillion to global growth by 2025 – roughly the combined size of the economies of the United States and China. But making progress on gender equality requires not just that women be placed in senior roles, but also that they are successful in them. Focused mentorship and leadership programs are essential to filling this gap.

While we still have a long way to go in creating gender parity in the workplace, we’re moving in the right direction. I’m thrilled to be serving the HBA at the global level and look forward to the day when ALL companies across ALL industries adopt a culture where everyone’s ideas are heard, and ALL people can reach their full potential. Let’s work together to make this a reality!

Learn more about HBA and this year’s Board of Directors and Nominating Committee Leadership here.

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Angela Gillespie
Angela Gillespie

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