Women make up 80 percent of all healthcare buying decisions and compose 65 percent of the U.S. healthcare workforce. Even so, only 25-30% percent of healthcare executives – and just 13% of CEOs – are female.
The numbers suggest a persistent lack of female representation at the top levels of healthcare organizations, but there are changes in motion, backed by evidence that female executives are good for business.
“There is a human tendency to gravitate to people who are like oneself,” said AGS Health CEO Patrice R. Wolfe, who will share her insights on promoting women to executive positions in healthcare next month at HIMSS21.
“As a result,” she said, “powerful men tend to advocate for other men when leadership opportunities come up.”
Wolfe said having awareness of this tendency, and actively seeking out opportunities for women would help ensure diverse leadership.
“I’ve had some great male bosses,” she added. “There are a lot organizations can do to support and encourage female advancement, among them creating a workplace environment that supports transitions for women to higher profile roles.
Wolfe said the best male leaders encourage women to take risks and ensure they have a safety net if they struggle and leverage women’s strengths and look for opportunities to leverage them.
“Women tend to have strong social awareness and are good at building deep relationships,” Wolfe said.
She said it’s also important for male executives to acknowledge women’s contributions and accomplishments publicly, and to help women secure a seat at the table so they can engage in meaningful, strategic business conversations.
Organizations should also provide women with opportunities to develop their sense of leadership purpose, support women’s motivation to lead and create opportunities for others to recognize and encourage their efforts and provide exposure to critical business functions like operations and finance.
“Create programs that give women exposure to executive leadership and opportunities to showcase their problem-solving skills,” Wolfe said. “Bring high potential females into senior leadership meetings to present about specific projects and create mentoring programs to match those women with senior executives for a year or longer.”
When thinking of the next generation of women entering the healthcare workforce with their eye on the executive suite, Wolfe says they should get comfortable with interrupting and challenging people’s thoughts during discussions.
“Learn when to listen, when to act on empathy, and when to put empathy in the background,” she said. “Ask for the promotion or raise you deserve. No one else will stand up for you the way you will stand up for yourself.”
Compensation is another key focus healthcare organizations should have, she said, calling for bonus and equity payouts to have gender-related performance gates tying gender diversity to executive compensation.
One last point: “Pay it forward,” Wolfe said. “Send the elevator back down for other women.”
Patrice R Wolfe will share her insights on how to create opportunities for future female executives HIMSS21 session, “Growing the Ranks of Female Executives in Healthcare.” It’s scheduled for Wednesday, August 11, from 1:15-2:15 p.m. in Venetian Lando 4301.