Women missing from executive suite

June 12, 2009

Women aren't making it to high levels in healthcare, so executives must review their succession plan and create an engaging culture.

Women aren’t making it to high-level roles in healthcare, according to a recent study.

Development Dimensions International (DDI), a global talent-management firm, found that while 82% of first-level managers in healthcare were women, only 51% of leaders at the executive level were women.

“It’s a significant gap in women’s representation between the first and executive levels that is particularly glaring in the healthcare industry, where the proportion of women in the leadership population is so large,” says Debra Walker, vice president of DDI’s healthcare practice.

Another major finding was that even though formal succession plans led to more equitable treatment of women, healthcare organizations are much less likely than others to have these plans in place. Forty-eight percent of companies in other industries have a succession plan for top-level leaders, but only 33% of healthcare organizations have a plan.

One reason behind it is that healthcare has been late in putting in processes around talent, according to Walker. “Informal practices and a lack of processes keep people from looking at talent objectively,” she says. “You’re more likely to continue to promote and groom people who look like those already in place. But, things are getting better now that healthcare is becoming more process-oriented. Another reason is that many women may not feel that they can take on the added responsibility as they move up in the organization.”

There’s a dire need for the best talent to deal with the complexity of leading in a healthcare organization, Walker says. “There has to be an inclusive look at potential leaders in an organization to avoid overlooking the top talent. Plus, in managed care, the demographics are changing in patient population and leadership should reflect that,” she says.

Organizations that want to attract, hire and retain the best leaders should focus on creating an engaging culture and becoming known for that culture. Creating this culture includes open communication about what the organization is trying to accomplish and what’s happening with the organization, according to Walker.

“Ensure that everyone’s roles are linked and connected to organizational objectives and develop standards for leadership,” she says. “When we think about what engages employees, it’s the feeling that they are contributing to organization goals, have growth and development opportunities, and good relationships with their leaders.

“As organizations are getting more and more into processes like Six Sigma and Lean, they are also looking to create efficient HR processes,” Walker continues. “There’s a better chance for growth in formal talent processes that are objective and fair.”

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