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Women in Healthcare

What’s Driving the Leadership Gap in Healthcare?


Halle Tecco

Founder Emeritus, Rock Health


Danielle McGuinness

Marketing, Rock Health

Over 13 percent of the U.S. labor force currently works in healthcare, and jobs in this sector are projected to grow more than twice as fast as the general economy by 2020. But unlike some other industries, healthcare does not have a “pipeline problem.” Women make up 80 percent of healthcare workers, 84 percent of bachelor’s degrees in the health professions and half of all medical students. Women are well represented in the healthcare workforce — just not at the top.

There is a long way to go until women reach equal numbers in top positions. Here are the dismal facts: Not a single woman serves as CEO of a Fortune 500 healthcare company, and only 22.1 percent of their board members are women. At the 100 largest hospitals in the United States, women make up only 11 percent of CEOs and 32.4 percent of executives. And women physicians face higher rates of burnout and depression; all while making $91,000 less a year than their male counterparts.

The dearth of women in healthcare leadership is not only unjust, it’s bad for business. How can we expect to transform our broken healthcare system while not giving women an equal voice in doing so?

Riding this incredible #TimesUp movement, now is the time for healthcare to hit an inflection point. We can all help create work environments that better attract, promote, and support all employees. We should speak out against overt and subtle gender bias and help push for workplace policies that promote inclusion.

Specifically, here are three concrete things employers can do to better support equality in the workplace.

1. Provide better career development opportunities

In our survey of over 300 women in healthcare, women stated being moderately satisfied with the career development opportunities at their current companies; however, surprisingly, as the employer size gets larger, satisfaction with career development drops. Career development opportunities include leadership trainings, career coaching, formal mentorship/sponsorship programs, and time/funding to attend industry conferences.

2. Push for family-friendly benefits

When asked what benefits they would like to see at their organization and in the industry at large, the most common responses among women in our survey were around flexibility (flex hours, remote work) and family-friendly perks (child care, fertility coverage, longer maternity/paternity leave). Specifically, survey respondents suggested “flex time without judgment” and “family leave for parents regardless of gender.”

3. Make women visible

The majority of women (58.8 percent) in our survey felt that their male peers have more role models. As activist Marian Wright Edelman once said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” This is why it’s imperative that women are in clear line of sight; represented on stage at conferences, interviewed for news articles and given positions to lead meetings at their organizations. Visible women role models demonstrate to other women that leadership positions are attainable in spite of gender identity.

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