Something is going wrong with female leadership in healthcare. Women make up 70% of the worldwide healthcare staff. This makes the healthcare sector one of the few sectors that hire more women than men. Even though 7 out of 10 women hold jobs in this sector, women compose 30% of C-suite executives and 13% of CEOs in the healthcare profession.

Women are frustrated given they have the ability and desire to do something — for their patients and the industry — yet feel stymied because it would require making changes that they aren’t in positions to make.

What Barriers are Keeping Women From Advancing to the Top?

Gender and diversity experts in this article from Training Industry identified four types of barriers to leadership for women: 

Lifestyle Choices

Lifestyle choices and work-life balance priorities create tension, a sense of sacrifice, between career and family. If you prioritize work over family or family over work, you feel bad. Most women find it impossible to resolve this dilemma to their satisfaction. 

Individual Mindsets

Individual mindsets are the thoughts and behaviors women might have that hold them back. Imposter syndrome, for example, will keep women from believing they earned their position on their own merits vs. luck. So, they work extra hard to resolve the internal conflict between their self-perception and how others perceive them.

Institutional Mindsets

People make assumptions about women at work and as leaders based on stereotypical roles, resulting in conscious and unconscious biases. The workplace for most women is unhealthy, if not toxic. A recent study of surgeons and anesthesiologists in a large health maintenance organization found a 91% prevalence of sexist microaggressions, with a significant association between microaggressions and burnout. 

Structural Barriers

Structural barriers limit access to the resources that make a system work equally well for everyone, such as access to informal networks, equal pay, and mentors. Most of the mentoring available is designed for men and by men. There are few female mentors, especially in executive-level roles, to address the issues that most influence women.

The Solution

A paradigm shift is required to change how individuals, especially women, perceive these barriers to leadership. The solution is to play to win vs. playing not to lose.

When you play not to lose, the assumption is that someone must lose. Playing not to lose is based in fear. The focus is on the risk, the gap, on what we don’t want. Women may feel they are lacking, and as a result, they are less resourceful and can’t see positive possibilities because of their negative views.

Playing to win includes the possibility that everyone can win – not just one individual. The focus shifts to what women leaders want for themselves and for others. Playing to win is not competitive. This win/win perspective allows everyone to enjoy the game, to cooperate, rather than compete. 

3 Steps for Shifting to Playing to Win

Step 1

Playing not to lose: Resisting the way things are.

Playing to win: Embracing things as they are.

Step 2

Playing not to lose: Focusing on the fear of losing control.  

Playing to win: Asking what is the opportunity here? 

Step 3

Playing not to lose: Worrying about how to get what you want without losing what you have.

Playing to win: Looking from a higher perspective to see how to have both.

Women have significant contributions they want to make to solve the challenges in healthcare. Making the shift from playing not to lose to playing to win invokes the values of cooperation and win/win that motivate women leaders. This paradigm shift will help women leaders get beyond the barriers they experience and leave them more resilient in the process. 

For more insights on how to approach challenges that women face in healthcare leadership, view our other blogs.

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