Editor's note: This story was updated on January 11, 2019.
Fixing the gender imbalance in health care leadership is a long overdue challenge. Considering that women comprise 80% of the health care workforce, the number that actually make it into the leadership ranks (3% to 9%, depending on the role) is woefully inadequate. This gap is simply too large to be attributed to a difference in qualifications alone.
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We and others have repeatedly raised this question in the last decade. Yet the industry has made few motions, if any, towards improving the workplace experience of female health care workers, expanding their career prospects, or recognizing their contributions. Instead, we've let the present-day gender gap—a result of decades of unconscious bias and outdated societal stereotypes—persist.
This situation is particularly surprising in light of the fact that health care industry tends to be ahead of most others (such as financial and legal sector) in recognizing and addressing gender disparities among the patient communities they serve. While this is commendable, it appears tone-deaf when the gender gap within their own ranks goes unnoticed. The solutions offered so far have focused on coaching women to navigate the glass ceiling by leaning in and speaking up. Not only has this failed to make a significant dent in the problem, it inadvertently masks the real drivers that continue to perpetuate the gap. It is time for those in positions of influence and authority to shift the burden of fixing this off the shoulders of the very group marginalized by it. Overcoming the long-standing norms that promote the gender imbalance will require a conscious organization-wide effort.
We believe this is an issue that deserves to be on every hospital leadership team's agenda since it limits the organization's ability to engage their workforce and achieve just about every system-wide initiative. At minimum, the gender imbalance among leadership impacts:
Health care leaders can begin addressing this issue immediately without having to launch yet another standalone campaign (to a highly change-fatigued workforce). We propose four steps you can take to integrate the tactics highlighted by the authors into existing system priorities and initiatives:
Ultimately, the health care industry is strongly positioned than many other industries in this regard, due to their large female workforce and diverse set of leadership positions available. We hope they take this opportunity to lead the way.
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This report provides strategic guidance on how to scope your physician engagement strategy and 14 best practices to maximize the return on your efforts.
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