Healthcare is an rapidly evolving industry that reflects a growing emphasis on patient-centered care, value-based care, technology, and prevention. The pandemic revealed multiple inequities in how health care is delivered, and within the ranks of healthcare providers. Despite recognizing these issues and the forward momentum to change, healthcare faces several challenges, such as lack of access, rising costs, fragmented delivery of care, quality issues, and an inability to retain an adequate workforce.

The need for more women leaders

Innovation and collaboration are necessities for change, and the key component is empowering women in healthcare to lead the charge as they make up more than 70 percent of the U.S. workforce in healthcare but only 23 percent of leadershipat the executive level, such as CEO, COO, CFO and other c-suite positions.

Those numbers are likely dropping. According to the 2022 McKinsey &’s Women In the Workplace Report, women leaders in all industries are leaving their jobs at a higher rate than ever before and even at higher rates than their male peers. The study cited three key reasons why women leaders are leaving their jobs: they “want to advance, but they face stronger headwinds than men”; they are overworked and not recognized enough; and their desire for better work cultures.

Gender pay gaps are an additional deterrent for women leaders. Women at the highest levels of healthcare leadership often learn less than male peers. This leads to lower job satisfaction and reduced career advancement opportunities. A report by the Healthcare Leadership Council noted that women in healthcare executive positions earn 71 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same roles. That’s far lower than the national average for all industries, which is 82 cents, according to a Pew Research analysis of 2022 data.

Overcoming barriers

In response, we need to help women overcome the four key barriers they face so they are empowered to lead, and we can get better results. The four most common barriers that women leaders face are mindset, conflicting priorities, status quo, and access to power circles. Here are some examples of barriers women healthcare leaders may face:

  • A study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that female healthcare employees who believed they had achieved work-life balance reported higher job satisfaction and lower intentions to quit. Organizations that offer childcare and a supportive work environment help address the barrier of conflicting priorities.
  • Having access to role models and mentors help women build confidence, develop new skills, and expand their professional networks. Organizations breaking the status quo offer women leaders these opportunities.
  • Although women make up more than 70% of the healthcare workforce, they remain underrepresented in top leadership positions, which blocks them from the inner circle of decision-makers. By overcoming the status quo barrier, women are more likely to rise through the ranks of healthcare leadership.
  • Women in healthcare leadership may be more prone to burnout and stress due to the nature of their work and the additional pressures they face as women in leadership roles. Promoting self-care and offering flexible working arrangements can help address barriers of mindset.

Why women leaders matter

There are far-reaching repercussions that result from the lack of women’s involvement in decision-making in healthcare, including reduced diversity and inclusion in leadership, gender pay gaps, and a reduced focus on women’s health issues. Women in healthcare leadership bring a unique set of skills, perspectives, and values that can drive positive change and promote better health outcomes.

A key difference in women leaders is creating a culture of collaboration. When women lead in healthcare, everyone wins. This approach to leadership is vital to addressing the challenges facing the healthcare industry today. For example, studies show that women tend to score higher than men on traits such as empathy, collaboration, and communication—key characteristics in healthcare leadership.

Without adequate numbers of women in healthcare leadership roles, health providers may lack diverse perspectives and experiences, which can hinder decision-making and reduce an organization’s ability to respond in a culturally appropriate way to the needs of a diverse patient population. According to a study published in the Journal of Healthcare Management, the lack of diversity in healthcare leadership can contribute to healthcare disparities and reduce patient satisfaction.

Women executives also are more likely to drive innovation and improve healthcare outcomes through the use of technology and data analytics. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, gender-diverse executive teams are more likely to innovate and achieve better financial performance, which can translate to improved healthcare outcomes.

There is also the direct impact on women’s health that comes from having too few women leaders. Women in healthcare leadership roles are more likely to prioritize women’s health issues and advocate for policies that improve access to care and reduce disparities. According to the Journal of Women’s Health, women are often underrepresented in clinical trials and research, which can lead to gaps in knowledge and reduced quality of care.

Moving forward

The challenges and benefits of women in healthcare leadership are grounded in research and real-world experiences. By addressing the challenges and leveraging the benefits, organizations can create more equitable and effective healthcare systems. Empowering women in healthcare is crucial to the future of the industry. By creating a culture of collaboration, we can drive positive change, promote better health outcomes, and overcome the challenges facing healthcare today.

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