Female healthcare executives were not surprised to learn that more men than women occupy executive-level positions in the industry. But some were surprised that women earn 19% less than men, a gap that in recent years has grown rather than shrunk.
"I do still think it's a man's world. I believe that wholeheartedly," said Christine Schuster, president and chief executive officer of 200-bed Quincy (Mass.) Medical Center.
Schuster was responding to a recent study by the Chicago-based American College of Healthcare Executives, which found that despite equal levels of education and experience, female healthcare executives earned a median salary of $85,000 in 1999, about 19% less than the $104,000 median their male counterparts earned.
That difference is somewhat greater than in previous years; in 1995, the ACHE reported an 18% differential between men and women and in 1990 it reported a 17% differential. The ACHE study, based on a survey of 906 respondents, was conducted with the help of New York-based Catalyst, an advocacy group for women in business.
Aside from the salary inequities highlighted in the study, women appear to have gained some ground in executive offices-in 2000, 11% of the female healthcare executives polled had reached the level of CEO, compared with 25% of the male executives polled. In 1995, 8% of female executives polled were CEOs, compared with 21% of the male executives polled.
"Unfortunately there is still discrimination in the field against women," said Thomas Dolan, ACHE's president and CEO. "I'm appalled we haven't made more progress but am optimistic we will."
The ACHE study recommends steps healthcare organizations can take to begin narrowing the gender gap, such as "identify and communicate skill and knowledge criteria for advancement within your organization."
Some female executives said the problem won't improve until salaries and benefits are based on a standardized, merit-based system.
"Every woman, whether she's a staff nurse or assembles cars on the Ford or Saturn assembly line, wants to be paid what the market is for her skill set and based on what she's contributing to her organization," Schuster said.
"I've always been promoted very rapidly, and never felt I was (declined) a promotion based on my gender," said Marsha Miller, senior vice president of Evanston (Ill.) Northwestern Healthcare Medical Group, a 485-physician practice that's part of three-hospital Evanston Northwestern Healthcare.
Healthcare executives reported a similar level of job satisfaction; 78% of women and 81% of men were either satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs.