Women make up 79 percent of the health care workforce, but there are striking disparities at the management level. Women hold only 26 percent of hospital CEO positions and 21 percent of executive positions at Fortune 500 health care companies, according to data from Modern Healthcare.
These stats are sobering, but, to me, they’re not surprising. It’s all too common for me to be the only woman or one of a handful of women at board meetings or health care leadership summits.
I’ve been reflecting on my life’s surprising trajectory from a small Florida panhandle town to the presidency of Johns Hopkins Medicine International. I’m my mother’s daughter, so I’ve also been sharing advice that I hope will inspire more women leaders, whether in health care or other fields.
Here are some additional thoughts:
• Amplify ideas. Have you ever expressed an idea in a meeting, only to have it ignored? Then a man receives praise when he says the same thing later? A few months ago, social media blew up with a term to describe this situation: “hepeating.” The word would be funny if it weren’t so sad that we needed to invent it. Fortunately, women have come up with a solution. They team up and make their voices heard using “amplification,” reaffirming a female coworker’s key points or ideas and giving her the credit she’s due. Better yet, let’s stop devaluing our contributions and take credit for our own good ideas.
• Make connections. Most of us will spend a large proportion of our lives at work. It helps to have someone who’ll give you a reality check and honest feedback. It is also nice to have someone to talk to about things other than work occasionally during the day. Having a friend at work doesn’t just make 8-5 more enjoyable, it actually increases your productivity, creativity, stress management and engagement.
• Read. Leaders must be readers. Whether it’s a novel or nonfiction, poetry or blogs, reading stirs our insight, innovation, empathy and effectiveness. Reading the writing of experts within—and outside of—our industry can give us insights to improve our own organizations. I tend to read books, and there are so many thought-provoking ones out there: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey, Drive by David Pink, anything by Malcolm Gladwell. Find what sparks your enthusiasm. I read recently that Fortune 500 CEOs read 60 books a year. I find that incredible. I try to read two books a month, and that feels like a lot.
• Reflect. What kind of leader do you want to be? What are your strengths and weaknesses, your values and behaviors? Reflection gives our brains the chance to hit the pause button to make observations, interpret experiences, consider different perspectives, and recognize lessons that can inform our future actions. You may also want to watch other executives and keep a journal of what you like—or not—about their approach to leadership. Journaling helps me to focus my thoughts and makes me more aware of my values as a leader.
• Find inspiration. Over the past year or so, millions of women around the world have marched for the ideals they believe in—I was one of them. Women are running for office in record numbers, from the U.S. Senate and state legislatures to local school boards. Other women are naming names and demanding consequences for sexual harassment and assault. We also have great examples now of women standing up for wage inequity. Before the recent Olympics, the U.S. women’s hockey team threatened a sit-out if they weren’t given the same equipment, salaries, staff and publicity as the men’s team. They won that dispute, AND they went on to win Olympic gold. We still have a long way to go in the fight for equal rights, but there are a lot of bright spots we can look to for hope.
• Seek allies. Last, let me emphasize that this battle is for women’s rights, but it isn’t just for women to fight. We want like-minded men to partner with us. This is not a zero-sum game. We will all win with more equality.