As the U.S. Senate began to consider a healthcare reform bill earlier this year, senate leadership formed a working group to study the issue and make recommendations on the future of government healthcare policy.

One fact that didn’t escape notice: The committee had 13 men, zero women.

In an article about the issue, Annette Walker, chief executive at St. Joseph’s Health, wrote that, “Sadly, it’s not unusual for a group of healthcare leaders to be dominated by men.”

It’s an important issue. Healthcare attracts millions of women workers to a variety of stable professions such as nursing, health informatics and administration. However, they have relatively few role models for making it to the top of the organizational chart.

 Lack of Female Leaders

The numbers are illuminating. Women hold 24 percent of executive positions in healthcare operations, according to a study from McKinsey & Co. They make up 32 percent of senior vice presidents and 36 percent of vice presidents.

That’s not unique to healthcare. Across all industries in the United States, women make up only about 23 percent of senior executives, according to the Harvard Business Review. That number has not changed much in the past decade.

However, it’s more notable in healthcare because of the large percentage of the workforce that is female – women make up about 76 percent of the healthcare workforce. But the percentages don’t carry through to the top levels.

Celia Huber, a senior partner at McKinsey, told Modern Healthcare that while women enter the healthcare field by the millions, they get “stuck” at a certain level of the organizational chart and don’t move up. Some, she said, begin to see their gender as a disadvantage because “they don’t see role models at the next level up.”

Seeking To Make Changes

Some healthcare organizations have sought to make their executive ranks more gender diversified.

Carolinas Healthcare System created a Women’s Executive Development program and picked 14 senior managers to participate. Each was picked based on her performance in her current job, according to Modern Health. Three of the women have been promoted since the 2016 launch.

In other healthcare organizations, women are encouraged to network and find mentors to take them to the next level.

Walker wrote that St. Joseph’s Health also has worked to promote women. Seven of the organization’s 15 board members are women. She also said the organization is looking at other ways to support women who want to move up into leadership roles.

She said St. Joseph’s Health owes it to “our patients, our employees and the communities we serve” to do all they can to increase the number of women in leadership roles.

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