Earlier this month, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that female doctors at America’s leading public medical schools are paid an average of $20,000 less a year than their male counterparts.
As a female healthcare CEO who is also a medical doctor, it was an interesting study to read at the end of a cross-country trip where I came face to face with the reality of gender disparity in America’s healthcare leadership.
It started in a meeting with the board of a healthcare provider, where it was me and a dozen white men. A day later and 1,000 miles away, I counted only 18 women out of 100 medical professionals at a leading health association’s conference. Two days later, west of the Mississippi, the male board chairman of an advocacy organization told me that he was giving a female doctor a smaller raise than she had earned because “I don’t see why she has to make more money when her CEO husband makes enough.” Cue the screams of women everywhere.
I remember a study from business school that showed that on spectrums of gender and height, taller men are seen as “leaders.” But as a female CEO who lives a kind of “Groundhog Day” with every meeting I attend, it’s time we acknowledge: America’s healthcare industry has a “44 long” problem. There are too many leadership positions filled by men who not only wear the same size jacket, but bring the same perspective—one that adversely impacts the pay and promotion of talented women across the industry.
It’s not a small problem: In an industry where 8 out of 10 professionals are women, nearly 9 out of 10 CEOs are men. Some 63% of Fortune 500 healthcare companies have boards where men outnumber women 3 to 1. Six in 10 of the top 150 venture capital firms—who decide which ideas get funded—do not have a single female partner. In a country where women make 80% of household healthcare decisions, increasing the number of women in leadership positions is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.
This is a matter of enlightened self-interest. As the government transitions our system from one rooted in volume to one rooted in value, it is putting a greater premium on teamwork, collaboration and active listening. In other words, the industry is shifting to a place where women are more effective than men. In a recent study on emotional intelligence and leadership, women outperformed men in 11 of 12 categories.
This comes on the heels of another study, which found that moving from no female leaders to 30% representation increased net revenue margin by 15%. In other words: Diverse perspectives drive success.
So how do we put this into practice? Three things:
First, we must do more to make the “44 longs” who run our industry’s professional associations understand that having more women leaders is a competitive advantage. The data show that 56% of women who become leaders have experience seeing patients, versus only 31% of men. As the government gets ever more granular in regulating the practice of medicine, having more leaders at the table who understand the clinical impact of regulations on the day-to-day-function of medical practices is crucial.
Second, we must encourage organizations to develop and expand strategies that promote opportunities for women to lead. IBM, for example, has a mentoring program that matches top male leaders with rising female executives as they enter the leadership track. Other companies certainly have similar programs, but clearly not enough.
Third, women need to mentor other women. Advocacy organization Catalyst has found that 73% of women leaders develop other female talent, versus 30% of men. Developing more female leaders creates more mentors for women as well.
These simple steps will lead to a cycle that will create a more collaborative healthcare system, one where women have more leadership opportunities and are paid what they are worth. And that’s just what the doctor ordered.