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Making Women in Healthcare Leadership a Business Priority

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Although women today make up a larger percentage of the workforce and hold more leadership positions than in decades past, there are still far fewer women than men in top business roles. This may be especially true in healthcare.

According to 2015 research from Rock Health, women compose 78 percent of the healthcare labor force, yet among the Top 100 Hospitals only a third of the top executives and 27 percent of board members are women. At Fortune 500 companies in healthcare, women hold just 21 percent of executive roles and 21 percent of board seats.

The problem with this leadership gender gap is that it’s bad for business. That is – a growing body of research shows companies with more women in top roles perform better than peers with fewer or no women leaders.

For example, according to non-profit research organization Catalyst, companies with more women board directors outperform those with the least women when it comes to return on equity, return on sales and return on investment. Among companies with the highest representation of women in senior leadership positions there is a 35 percent higher return on equity and 34 percent higher total return to shareholders than companies with the lowest representation of women.

Bridging the gap

Despite this compelling business case for including women in top leadership positions, many organizations lack – or struggle to achieve – gender diversity at the top. When this is the case, organizations should consider making a concerted effort to change these dynamics and grow their ranks of women leaders.

Experts in hiring, leadership and diversity recommend several tactics to achieve this goal, including:

1. Focus on gender diversity in the hiring process. Studies have shown that when equally qualified men and women apply for the same job, managers of both sexes are more likely to hire men, even when managers were explicitly shown that the women applicants could perform the job’s tasks as well as the men. Companies should examine their hiring process for bias and work to educate themselves and managers about the issue.

2. Create accountability for promoting women at the top. Only a company’s current board and leadership teams have the power to affect change, and they can make it a measurable priority. At TeamHealth, we developed a leadership-backed program for increasing the number of women leaders throughout our company. Among the many facets of the initiative are leadership development tools for women in clinical and non-clinical roles, efforts to encourage all hiring managers to consider women for open leadership positions, and tracking our progress in increasing our share of women leaders against industry benchmarks. Since launching the program, we have already seen measurable improvements. The number of women providers in leadership roles is up 11 percent from 2016, and the number of women leaders in our administrative workforce is up 7 percent from 2016.

3. Make talent development a priority. Company leaders should make a point to identify talented women, help them develop their career paths and then monitor their career progression. A formal mentorship program may be necessary to maintain focus on this tactic.

4. Consider organizational culture. Of course, internal gender diversity programs aren’t enough – companies must also develop a culture that fosters inclusion and commitment to its people in order to attract and retain qualified women leaders. Providing flexible work schedules, mentorship programs and development opportunities are examples of cultural changes that can help foster gender diversity.

There’s no question women are underrepresented in top leadership positions in healthcare and across the U.S. business landscape. Given the compelling business case for including women in top roles, organizations should review how well they are embracing gender diversity and consider structural and cultural changes that can help foster the next generation of women leaders and help close the gender gap.

Article Source: Becker’s Hospital Review 

Written by: Patricia G. Ball is the senior vice president, Strategic Resources Group, for TeamHealth, and Jennifer Behm is the market executive vice president for TeamHealth’s west region.