Every woman I know has a story. We grew up working in healthcare administration in the 1980s and 1990s, and as young women, some older man in the organization made subtle or not-so-subtle suggestions to us about how we might get ahead in the field.
For some women, the experience was something that she could have brought to human resources or legal, but typically we did not. We just kept doing our jobs and looked the other way. For most women in our field, the stories became a collective "lore" of being a female in healthcare leadership, just part of the job. The advice from others—men and women—was to do nothing, fearing we would ruin our chances of career advancement.
Most of us knew women who did say something and their careers were never the same (none of us were ever the same for the experiences). The hardest part was watching the men involved continue to be promoted, get elected to national boards, win awards for their leadership, be held up as examples of the best in the field—not in the film industry, not on Wall Street, but in healthcare leadership.
Sadly, these stories have not remained in some long-ago, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" period. As a 2019 Modern Healthcare survey indicated (supported by many other recent surveys): 26% of executives have experienced sexual harassment today; 33% have witnessed it and among those, 35% say that nothing happened after the incidents were reported. Our clinical colleagues report that 58% of surgeons have been sexually harassed in the last year and 25% of nurses are sexually harassed on the job—in our hospitals. Half of female medical students will experience sexual harassment before they graduate. This is a today issue. The Weinstein case matters.
In our graduate program in health administration and in several other programs, faculty have seen promising young women experience sexual harassment while attending national conferences. To deal with this issue, we now hold special sessions to prepare them for these situations and help make sure their male colleagues who we are educating are their allies.
The female executives and faculty members who facilitate these sessions are exasperated that this is still happening, that men still suggest that female students come back to their room or some other scenario. We have observed bright, emerging female leaders choose to leave healthcare administration because they see that the field has done little to address these issues. This is a loss for our field. Our industry can and must do better.
The Weinstein case matters. It sends a powerful message that the courageous women who came forward did the right thing, despite the potential harm for them personally and professionally. It says something to those of us who lived through a different time, the women living in a current time and for the women of the future—our daughters, the outstanding women in graduate health administration programs and medical and nursing school today. The discussion on the news these past few months and this week may help to educate board members and bring an awareness we need to create meaningful change.
There are several initiatives underway to shine a light on gender harassment and sexual harassment in healthcare today, and we need to share what works. I am optimistic we are creating organizations where everyone can thrive. It will take intentional leadership and courage. Let's do it.