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How to Improve Gender Parity in Healthcare


New research reveals that women are excelling in the field. Why this is good news for the C-suite.

Gender equality scale

A deep dive into the healthcare industry and how it stacks up on gender equality reveals that women are excelling in the field.

Women in the Workplace research, a collaborative initiative between Lean in and McKinsey details women’s advancement in leadership. The latest release looks at the healthcare industry and how it is uniquely positioned to take the lead in the next phase of establishing gender and racial equality.

“While many healthcare specific reports focus on women in leadership, we thought it was important to understand what happens in the middle of the pipeline and determine what some of the drivers are for why representation declines throughout the ladder,” says Gretchen Berlin, a partner at McKinsey.

While many healthcare specific reports focus on women in leadership, researchers thought it was important to understand what happens in the middle of the pipeline and determine what some of the drivers are for why representation declines throughout the ladder. Specifically, researchers looked at employee experiences, company policies, and the effectiveness of industry programs intended to promote diversity and inclusion.

“Additionally, as healthcare is 18% of U.S. gross domestic product, we felt this was an important deep dive to do,” Berlin says. “From our own research, we know that diversity matters in performance-for example diverse organizations are 35% more likely to have financial returns about their national medians, as well as in actual care outcomes. I am a registered nurse, and from my healthcare background I’ve seen firsthand the importance of diversity and gender equality in the workplace-whether it’s through the importance of caregivers matching and understanding the needs of the diverse patient population, or formal pathways put in place for those looking to advance to senior roles.”

By some measures, the research revealed that women are excelling in healthcare:

  • On average, women in healthcare report high satisfaction with their careers (75% versus 71% of men).

  • There is no gender gap in promotion rates in healthcare-with the industry performing better than average-unlike in many other industries.

  • Women in healthcare reported receiving more of what they requested in compensation negotiations more often than men did (36% vs 31%).

  • Women in healthcare tend to be happier about their careers compared with men in the same field.

Related: Gender Parity In Healthcare May Lead To Greater Profits

However, the healthcare industry still suffers from similar challenges as other industries:

  • The proportion of women in healthcare decreases as the responsibility level of the job rises (from 63% being women in entry-level jobs to 30% in the C-suite)

  • Women of color especially remain underrepresented in leadership positions, and not only at the highest levels (with 22% holding entry-level jobs and just 4% working at the C-suite level)

  • Despite being promoted at similar rates, women are more than twice as likely as men to report that their gender may have played a role in missing a raise, promotion, or chance to get ahead (18% of women, 7% of men).

  • Women in senior levels of healthcare are less likely than their male colleagues to be in line roles

“At the leadership level, executives are one of the most important pieces of the solution that can drive change to the healthcare industry,” Berlin says. “Healthcare executives have the power to set a bold aspiration, work together with HR to implement fair hiring practices, implement diversity and inclusion trainings and put sponsorship and mentorship programs in place within their organization. They also can represent leadership team that reflects their employees’ values and ensure that diverse perspectives are factored into the decision-making process to drive better patients and business outcomes.”

As healthcare executives are often key decision-makers within their organizations, the research recommendations to continue the progress made in tackling gender equality and diversity and inclusion issues are:

  • To address promotion bottlenecks, identify and groom women within the organization to compete for senior positions; this form of sponsorship can be fostered through training. “Critical to this piece is putting bias reduction protocols in place, including: consistent candidate evaluation criteria, automated resume-screening tools, and diverse candidate requirements,” Berlin says.

  • Set a bold aspiration and track outcomes beyond gender bias. “Many companies track outcomes in hiring to check for gender bias, yet few track the compounding effect of gender and racial bias, which disadvantages women of color,” she says. “And when it comes to review and promotion cycles, track bias in performance reviews and ensure there are no discrepancies in how men and women are scored as performance reviews play a major role in gets promoted or does not.”

  • To build a more inclusive environment and culture, managers should leverage both formal and informal training opportunities to help employees feel more confident in what to do and when. “Executives can put sponsorship and mentorship programs in place that encourage professional development and can accelerate the career trajectories of high-potential women and underrepresented minorities,” Berlin says.

  • Offer flexible work benefits for all employees but especially women. “This could include creating or enabling more options to combine work and family and creating customized solutions that work for your employee-base,” she says.

“Improving gender parity isn’t just the right thing to do, it saves lives,” Berlin says. “A balanced workforce drives better innovation, performance, employee experiences and actual patient outcomes. The healthcare industry has an opportunity to build upon the positive momentum, tackle challenges head on, and lead the way in establishing best practices for gender and racial equity that transcend industries.”

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