While women outnumber men six to one in healthcare, they climb the senior executive ladder much more slowly than their male counterparts. This fact should concern anyone in a healthcare leadership position.
It bothers Catherine Robinson-Walker, author of a new book titled Women and Leadership in Health Care: The Journey to Authenticity and Power (Jossey-Bass). Robinson-Walker is executive director of the Academy for Healthcare Quality, a collaborative venture of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations and five leading universities. Her thought-provoking and well-balanced book is one of the best works on leadership I've read.
Robinson-Walker introduces the results of a 1997 study of nearly 100 leading female and male healthcare executives of various disciplines, including medicine, nursing and management. An overwhelming 92% of respondents said they believe gender plays a major role in leadership.
The study covered a wide range of topics, including sports. Female participants felt sports influence male leadership styles. Molly Joel Coye, former New Jersey health commissioner and director of the California Health Department says that for men, social, athletic and business lives are all "of a piece: Men are effective at building a wide network of experiences that is not so crude a process as women think."
An unidentified female agrees: "Much of men's effectiveness is attached to other outside activities -- such as golf, with its off-site decisionmaking. I don't see women creating these same kinds of environments -- our sports are more singular, such as running."
Several males comment on overcoming gender biases and becoming more liberated. For instance, one man says he is now "more frequently able to move out of his traditional role as a male who 'knows the answers,' and another (man says he) is more comfortable saying if and when he has made a mistake."
The author describes a cycle that Gail Sheehy, in her 1995 book New Passages, calls the "sexual diamond":
"For the first 10 years of life, males and females are very much alike; at puberty, the sexes diverge dramatically; they reach the greatest differences in their late 30s. In their 50s, the sides of the diamond begin to converge again, becoming more like one another in about the mid-50s. Then, males tend to take on female attributes and vice versa. 'Injunctions about what it is to be a man or woman lose force as we age,' (Sheehy) writes. 'Rigid role divisions melt away.' "
The book also quotes an unnamed female executive who says heroism is staying on the job amid today's chaotic healthcare environment. "After nearly 30 years, I am still in the same organization. My personal success is based on partnership and collaboration. I put those before my own personal gains."
Robinson-Walker's book is filled with the wisdom of all kinds of people in healthcare. Its main focus is not so much how women can advance to senior-level positions, but how both men and women, by sharing their thoughts and skills, can make the American healthcare system even better for its ultimate customer: the patient.
Both men and women should read it, Charles S. Lauer Publisher