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Lifting Up Others to Close the Gender Gap in Healthcare Leadership

Analysis  |  By Melanie Blackman  
   May 12, 2022

Read insights from women executives about their career journeys and how they elevate others in healthcare leadership.

Editor's note: This article is based on a roundtable discussion report. The full report, Women in Healthcare Leadership: Closing the Gender Gap, is available as a free download.

While women make up 80% of the healthcare workforce, a recent study conducted by JAMA Network Open found that only 15.3% of CEOs in health systems are women. Additionally, only 17.5% of board of director chairpersons are women.

This disparity is seen across upper leadership in hospitals and health systems, even with the increased integration of diversity, equity, and inclusion practices into healthcare organizations. Leaders can help women and others to lessen this disparity through sharing their own stories and lifting those up who aspire to serve.

Join Alisahah Jackson, MD, system vice president of population health and policy for CommonSpirit Health; Chrisie Scott, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Virtua Health; Annette Walker, president of City of Hope Orange County; and Lisa Shannon, CEO of Allina Health, who shared insights about closing the gender gap during a roundtable discussion hosted by HealthLeaders in February.

The panelists shared how they were inspired by other strong women and leaders in their lives to move ahead in their careers.

"Medicine was a calling. Part of the reason I chose medicine was because I come from a family that was involved in the community … My grandmother, being one of the first African-American, female entrepreneurs and starting her own business in Ohio, owned and operated a daycare. It was in our DNA and our legacy to give back and support our community," Jackson said. "For me, I chose family medicine because I felt called to that aspect of community medicine and behavioral health in this holistic model of care."

The panelists also shared how they persevered through hardship and utilized their strengths to elevate their careers.

"I had one leader... and she said to me, 'Chrisie, there is no room for creativity in healthcare. This is a serious business.' There was something about the way she said it that sent me on a mission to prove the theory wrong," Scott said. "I'm glad that I stuck with that [mission] because it carried me. It wasn't just about creative writing; it was the way I approached problems, the way I approached differences of opinions. It was a creative spirit that helped move me forward."

Walke offered advice for women who are interested in climbing the healthcare leadership ladder and pushing through the glass ceiling by being their authentic selves and going for that next step.

"One of the things I've noticed about young women coming out of college is that they have not yet developed confidence and they're afraid of making mistakes. They put pressure on themselves that everything is supposed to be perfect, and they're supposed to have a five-year plan," Walker said. "I keep telling them, 'Your life's just beginning; it's time to learn. The only mistake you can make is not moving forward.'"

The discussion also covered how the panelists purposefully pass on their wisdom through sponsorship, mentorship, and guiding others.

Shannon shared how she found her voice as a leader and how to use that voice to lift up others, who then can continue that act for others.

"When those around us don’t lift [each other] up, it’s because they don’t think they have permission or they don’t know how to make it better," Shannon said. "When you teach [others] how to fix problems and give them permission, I have seen amazing things happen for our teams and the communities we are serving."

View the complete HealthLeaders Roundtable report: Women in Healthcare Leadership: Closing the Gender Gap.

Melanie Blackman is the strategy editor at HealthLeaders, an HCPro brand.

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