Women play a leading role in the healthcare industry, accounting for 70% of the global healthcare workforce according to the World Health Organization and making 80% of their family’s healthcare decisions according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Despite that influence, women rarely reach the upper ranks within the administrations of healthcare insurers or providers. With only 13% of the industry’s CEOs being women the disparity is noticeable.
HPM Corporation program manager Hiram Seth Whitmer, who helps struggling healthcare companies overhaul and revitalize their operations, believes that talented and knowledgeable voices in the field should not be held back by biases or other factors.
Seth Whitmer believes that diversity is extremely important in healthcare leadership given how those roles influence what research projects funding is used on. Unfortunately, people tend to support projects they can relate to, which has led to women’s health issues being neglected at times.
There remains a huge gender gap in health research to this day despite it being known that women and men can be affected in different ways by diseases and that the two sexes also metabolize drugs differently.
Women are being held back not solely from CEO roles, but from roles across all layers of healthcare administration. Currently, women occupy 33% of the senior leadership positions in the industry, including 29% of COO roles and 22% of CFO roles. While those numbers are higher than they are throughout much of the corporate world, the disparity is still noticeable between men and women in leadership.
Seth Whitmer says various factors are likely influencing those numbers, most notably unconscious gender bias from the predominantly male leadership. In a report released by management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, one anonymous female CEO agreed, stating that men unconsciously give their trust and respect to other men, while women must earn it first.
A Lack of Mentors
Because of the lower number of women in leadership positions, Seth Whitmer notes that there is also an unfortunate lack of female mentors to help upcoming women. That guidance can be especially helpful for women, who tend to be less self-promotional and competitive than men and who may not even consider leadership roles as a future possibility if they do not see other women already in those roles.
Hiram Seth Whitmer explains that progress is being made towards better promoting women in the field, including the recently launched initiative 500 Women in Medicine, which grew out of the 500 Women Scientists movement. This initiative aims to make medical knowledge and expertise within the field more inclusive, accessible, and collaborative.
In cooperation with the Chan-Zuckerberg Institute, the group has built a database of female health experts that will make it easier for qualified women to land speaking engagements and work on committees, in turn enhancing their career prospects and networks. The group is also building a career resources hub that will teach valuable skills like grant writing and help women develop their CVs so that they can work towards earning a leadership position.