Women in leadership: The healthcare industry is lagging behind others

  • Namrata Harish
  • in
  • Career Development, Women-friendly Companies, Working Women
  • |
  • 29 May 2019

Creating roles for women in leadership is a strategic and important move that is now being widely adopted by organisations across various sectors. However, healthcare leadership has yet to host women. Diversity and inclusion initiatives have not yet been robustly adopted by healthcare organisations for their C-suite positions, despite the fact that 70% of the global health workforce is made up of women.

A WHO study that found that the density of the global health workforce is dominated by women, also found that only 25% of these women hold senior roles. The study states that 69% of global health organisations are headed by men and 80% of board chairs are men. Only 20% of global health organisations were found to have gender parity on their boards and only 25% had gender parity at the senior management level.


This shocking statistic is not pertinent to third world countries alone; The US Bureau of Labour and Statistics found that 80% of healthcare workers in the US are women, but less than 20% of them hold key leadership roles.

A similar situation can be seen at the grassroots level in the Indian healthcare industry. Women make up two-thirds of the student population at medical colleges in India, but very few of them go on to become surgeons or medical superintendents. The only field where 90% of positions at all levels of management are held by women is nursing, but India is still to see gender diversity in the larger healthcare management sector.


Why is there a gap?

The medical profession in India is male dominated, since it involves long working hours. This is a disadvantage to women who even today have to struggle to handle work and familial responsibilities. The flexibility in work hours that helps them create a work-life balance is also the reason most women doctors opt to set up their own practices. Very few women in healthcare feel incentivised to take up management roles at any level.

Moreover, the WHO study states that women healthcare workers, especially in third world countries, face many instances of stereotyping, discrimination and sexual harassment. With little to no measures taken by organisations to stem these cases of discriminatory violence, women employees find no reason to feel committed to the growth of the organisation.

A Korn Ferry study finds that 64% of CEOs & CHROs of healthcare organisations and other C-Suite healthcare executives rank women development programs in their organisation as poor or non-existent. Around 76% say that their organisations don't have sponsorship or mentorship programs to help women advance.

The WHO study states that unless specific targeted measures are taken, workplace gender equality around the world is estimated to take 202 years. Clearly, the impetus is on the organisation to make the workplace more inclusive.

How does bridging this gap help organisations?

  • Simply put, gender-balanced teams are 23% more likely to see an increase in gross profit, as compared to teams dominated by one gender.
  • In a study conducted on Fortune 500 healthcare companies, those with higher percentages of women executives were more highly rated by their employees.
  • Korn Ferry’s new report, ‘Women CEOs: The Path Forward for Healthcare’ found that women CEOs often share similar leadership characteristics:
    • Women who rise to the top of their companies prefer challenging work, are motivated by purpose and wish to have a positive impact on their employees.
    • Women who rise to the role of CEO in healthcare organisations have strategic vision, see future possibilities and translate them into action plans to achieve results even under difficult circumstances.
    • They engaged with their employees and inspired them, and also strived to create a more diverse and inclusive workspace.
  • This translates to the healthcare sector as well, since emphasis can be put on elevating women employees trained at the grassroots to handle health-related emergencies. Organisations can then focus on finding women with the readiness and skills to handle tough situations.
  • WHO claims that addressing gender inequities in the health workforce for each nation could have a great impact on achieving Sustainable Development Goals. And the work starts with each healthcare organisation.


Ways to improve gender diversity in healthcare

1. Encourage mentorship at all levels

Katie Bell, Korn Ferry’s global lead for the healthcare sector, believes that early career coaching from mentors, performance feedback, exposure to high-level executives, coaching and career advice can help push the needle for more women to take up leadership roles. There needs to be constant engagement between the organisation and its professional women employees.

2. Bring diverse voices to the forefront

It’s time to say goodbye to ‘manels’. Panel discussions on gender diversity need to have more women’s voices. Organisations must encourage more women to speak about their experiences and opinions in forums, both within and outside the company.

3. Make your leaders advocates

Existing leadership teams must take on the role of advocates within the organisation by not only building awareness of diversity and inclusion initiatives at all levels, but also work to spot potential among female employees and develop rising women leaders in healthcare.

4. Evaluate your growth processes, biases and remove barriers

It is the prerogative of each organisation to conduct an internal review to analyse promotion processes. The aim is to identify critical roles where women are underrepresented and figure out where you, as an organisation, are losing potential women CEOs.

5. Create a community for women

Most companies across sectors are now understanding the importance of building communities as safe spaces for women. The healthcare sector also needs to create inclusive spaces for women employees to network, share and mentor others in return. This helps women put their voice out there to be heard. Leaders of companies that support such communities understand the impact that diverse populations have on the success of their strategic initiatives.

Read more about how other companies are implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives in their growth strategies here.