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Making the Case for Gender Diversity: Women in Healthcare Leadership

By | January 30 th,  2019 | women in leadership, Modern Healthcare, Modern Healthcare Top 25 Women, women leaders, Top 25 Women in Healthcare, leadership traits | 1 Comments

Real-world advice: ‘As more women join boards and demonstrate the value they add, the system will become self- perpetuating,’ says Helena Morrissey



The American people have spoken. A majority want more women leaders in business and politics, even though they also believe women typically have to work harder to prove their skills and have more obstacles on their way to the top. In fact, 54 percent say gender discrimination plays a large role in why there aren’t more women in positions of executive leadership.


Those are some of the results of a fascinating new study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. Their implications are implicit: Pressure is growing for better gender and ethnic diversity in every sphere of public life.


As longtime sponsors of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare leadership awards curated by Modern Healthcare, we have seen the momentum and the drumbeat growing for this type of sea change. While challenges certainly remain – the number of women who are employed as CEOs of the companies in the S&P 500 is declining instead of increasing – we remain optimistic that transformation is in the offing.


The corporate world can be slow assimilating societal changes, yet society is clamoring for more women in leadership. According to Pew, Americans view women leaders as better than male leaders in:

  • Creating a safe and respectful workplace
  • Valuing people from different backgrounds
  • Considering the societal impacts of major decisions
  • Mentoring young employees
  • Providing fair pay and good benefits

While male leaders get the nod in people’s perceptions that they are better at negotiating profitable deals and taking risks, the value placed on female leaders does not end there. Asked specifically about gender and political leadership, for example, the Pew survey results reveal that women are perceived as stronger in standing up for what they believe in, being honest and ethical, working out compromises, and being compassionate and empathetic. Who wouldn’t want to work for leaders like that?


The situation in healthcare


Only 8 of the top 100 hospitals in the U.S. have a woman CEO, according to a 2016 survey conducted by Rock Health, a venture fund dedicated to supporting “companies improving the lack of senior female leadership is not unique to healthcare, it is notable that nearly 73 percent of medical and health service managers are women. The largest part of the workforce in hospitals are nurses, who are predominantly women; and women make most healthcare decisions for their families — so why are women not equally represented at the board and C-suite level.


Yet, here too, there is hope. A national campaign entitled “20% by 2020” represents another push to get women on boards, with the goal of having women occupy 20 percent of board seats by the year 2020. Fortune 50 companies such as Kohler, Coca Cola, and more are targeting 20 percent women CEOs by 2020. The 30% Club started in 2010 in the UK with a goal of achieving 30 percent women on FTSE-100 boards and is now a global movement based on the recognition that “better gender balance leads to better results.” California also enacted a new law recently mandating publicly traded companies headquartered in the state have at least one female board member by the close of 2019, and more by close of 2021. This is no small task, but healthcare leaders must also be at the front of the line in the pursuit of more diverse and inclusive leaders.


Compensations laws are also gaining traction with several states embracing laws aimed at ending wage disparity. A recent Crain’s Business article shows that pay is the number one reason women in Chicago consider switching jobs. As these trends continue, we will also see a rise in additional benefits like flexible schedules, onsite daycare, and family leave policies targeted toward encouraging working mothers and their spouses to find a better work-life balance.


Although trends are headed in the right direction, effort and attention are still needed to embrace and embed these policies into common practice. We also need to continue exploring ways to support diverse talent and enhance inclusion at all levels of organizations


Why diversity matters: Gender balance in the C-suite


Why is it so important for your leadership and board to represent your patients/customers? In simple terms, diversity is a bottom-line issue. Even more specifically: For every 1 percent increase in gender diversity, company revenue increases by 3 percent. More proof: High levels of ethnic diversity increase revenue by a whopping 15 percent. What company can afford to turn away from increased profitability?


In my experience in the healthcare industry, I have witnessed that diversity can supply more competitive candidates, as well as more committed and engaged employees. The hiring and recruitment process is a two-way street: potential candidates are not just being evaluated, they are evaluating the company. A significant part of that evaluation includes observing and assessing company culture, diverse leadership and inclusion practices.


Job seekers find value in an organization that demonstrably places a high importance on diversity in the workplace. Employees in diverse workplaces also tend to feel a stronger commitment, experience greater collaboration, and, consequently, retention is higher. Statistics on business practice also highlight that improved hiring practices focused on diversity result in increased profitability, better candidate attraction, and more engaged employees.


Diversity and talent: 3 things organizations can do


Given the evidence of the essential role that diversity and inclusion play in corporate success, the healthcare sector needs to pay particularly close attention to accelerating change in the increasingly competitive talent acquisition environment.


Keep in mind that there is no single approach to diversity and inclusion; it must be part of a larger strategic plan that includes alignment of business and talent strategies. Another key element in driving change in diversity and inclusion is recognizing and acknowledging unconscious bias. Everyone has these biases, but companies need diversity and inclusion training and a plan to overcome those biases. To successfully impact these strategies, organizations should:


  1. Set goals and develop a plan. Have a mission statement, as well as supporting objectives set around diversity and inclusion.
    • Ensure your company’s diversity and inclusion policy/mission statement is highlighted and easy for all to find.
    • Remember, boards and search committees must represent similar diversity profiles
    • Have measurable goals and timelines for what you want to accomplish.
  2. Implement the plan — launch your diversity and inclusion strategic plan with all-company meetings/town halls. Senior leadership must get behind the plan and “walk the walk.”
    • Project the image reflective of diversity and inclusion that you want to represent in your organization. Use diversity-rich images for your website and other marketing materials.
    • Look at where you recruit. By actively sourcing minority candidates in the right places — for example, participating in professional associations and groups with desired gender or ethnic characteristics — you will have a better chance of attracting and retaining diverse talent.
    • Standardize aspects of the recruitment process to minimize the effect of performance bias on hiring decisions.
      • Review and test job descriptions for gender (and other) bias.
      • Standardize objectives related to hiring (i.e., the competencies and skills needed/desired) in advance of candidate search. Determine what competencies are needed and stick to them. This will allow hiring decisions to be unbiased, because candidates will be judged on their skills, experience and qualifications.
      • Make sure recruiters/search partners standardize all shortlist resumes to remove any possible bias triggers.
      • Hire a Chief Diversity Officer — having a leader at the executive level and participating in strategic discussions signifies a deep commitment to diversity.
  3. Measure results — engage employees to report on activities and periodically measure progress and share results.
    1. Celebrate and highlight your organization’s success — this may include sharing anecdotal stories, awards/incentives or other recognition.
    2. Access benchmark information. The AHA’s Institute for Diversity and Health Equity is paving the way with data, tools and resources (including an ongoing publication of their benchmarking study of U.S. hospitals) that help you learn more about ongoing efforts addressing healthcare disparities and improving diversity management practices.

3 things women should do


We’ve talked about corporate best practices. What about individual best practices? To elevate their leadership status, we offer these suggestions to women leaders:

  1. Find a mentor and be a mentor. Having a strong female leader, role model, or mentor is often cited as the primary reason women got into leadership.
  2. Network with women healthcare leaders. Connecting with other industry leaders strengthens connections and an understanding of what it takes to become a leader.
  3. Ask for leadership roles. Potential leaders may be overlooked because the current leaders did not know about the person’s interest. Speak up and voice interest in leadership roles.



Have a plan. Set goals. Measure your progress.


Ultimately, developing a comprehensive diversity and inclusion program is an ongoing journey, not a destination. Nonetheless, it is time for action in the healthcare industry. If organizations can set clear goals and act on inclusive strategies, then progress can, at last, be made. Rather than revisiting this topic in future publications, we hope to read about the hugely profitable companies that have propelled their organizations into the modern era with resoundingly successful diversity policies and practices that are reflected in the C-suite.


With greater focus, we should strive to get to a point where diversity and inclusion are so much a part of an organization’s culture, that you no longer need to have strategic goals on diversity and inclusion. As Helena Morrissey, CEO of Newton Investment Management and 30% Club6 Founder said, “As more women join boards and demonstrate the value they add, the system will become self-perpetuating.” Organizations and leaders must make diversity and inclusion an expectation and an assumption. Only then can they reap the rewards together.

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Diversity matters – Top 25 Women in Healthcare nominations now open

By | October 25 th,  2018 | women in leadership, Modern Healthcare, Top 25 Women in Healthcare, nominations | Add A Comment



Diversity matters. You matter. And your opinion counts.


As you may know, we are longtime sponsors of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare awards for Modern Healthcare. We’re going into our 11th year, actually. The awards celebrate the best leaders in healthcare, and we think they feel especially important and pertinent this year.


Nominations are now open for the 2019 Top 25 Women in Healthcare awards, which will be presented at a gala in Chicago next summer in conjunction with the Women Leaders in Healthcare conference, another event we sponsor for Modern Healthcare.


We’d encourage you and your team to think about a woman leader who merits consideration for this award. Maybe that’s a supervisor, or a colleague, or a friend. If so, nominate them to be one of the Top 25 Women in Healthcare. Or, maybe that’s you. Consider asking your supervisor to nominate you. The deadline for nominations is Nov. 22. We have no say in choosing the honorees – the editors at Modern Healthcare choose the winners with no input from us.  But we’d like that decision to be a difficult one, and it could be if you’re included.


Click here for the link to nominations.


The doors are open, and we welcome your participation!


Pamela Sutton-Wallace identifies 3 key traits for CEOs

By | October 18 th,  2018 | Pamela Sutton-Wallace, women in leadership, leadership traits, Lean leadership, Key traits for CEOs, Six Sigma in Healthcare | Add A Comment

Real-world advice: ‘Operational knowledge is essential to casting vision,’ says Pamela Sutton-Wallace



In her four years as the CEO of the University of Virginia Medical Center, Pamela Sutton-Wallace has led the push to transform care delivery with an unwavering focus on quality, patient safety and service.  


Together with Executive Vice President Richard P. Shannon, she introduced Lean principles and implemented new processes and structures to equip the entire team with the skills needed for this transformation.


The medical center conducts a daily 10 a.m. huddle with leaders and managers from across the organization to immediately tackle any issues related to mortalities, infections, patient falls or staff-member injuries that may have occurred in the previous 24 hours.


In addition, she hired additional team members to afford frontline staff more time to focus on and participate in continuous improvement activities, ensuring that the organization was meeting its aggressive performance goals. But she kept it as simple as possible.


“Our organization collects and reports almost 500 quality measures, and we’re a relatively small organization,” she says. “There’s no way an organization can effectively improve all of those measures simultaneously, so I told my team, ‘Let’s focus on those measures with the greatest opportunity for improvement and where we can be most effective.’ ”


Sutton-Wallace sees three qualities as essential for the CEO role. 


#1 Dedicated Focus

In addition to her experience in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries, Sutton-Wallace credits her background as an operations leader (for Duke University Hospital) as solid preparation for her role as CEO.


In succession planning, of course, a chief operating officer is is often viewed as the heir apparent when the CEO leaves. In fact, an ErnstYoung study revealed that 54 percent of COOs in rapid-growth markets desired to ascend to the CEO role. EY noted that its research showed many other C-suite leaders “are typically happier to remain where they are.”


“I do think having operational knowledge is essential to casting vision,” Sutton-Wallace says,
“because it’s essential to understand what is required to translate your vision into operational reality. Ideally, you would have seen in an operations role what it takes to accomplish it. Achieving one’s vision requires a deep understanding of organizational culture and how to motivate and inspire those who do the work every day. My operations background has been absolutely crucial in my ability to lead.”


She’s been around healthcare long enough to have seen  ...


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Donna Lynne: Healthcare leaders need to be able to manage crisis, volatility

By | July 30 th,  2015 | health plan, Healthcare, reform, women in leadership, Donna Lynne, president, Blog, Colorado, Kaiser Permanente, matrix, Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment


One in a series of interviews with Modern Healthcare's Top 25 Women in Healthcare for 2015.


Kaiser Permanente’s success in Colorado when the federal insurance exchange launched in January 2014 was a perfect example for Donna Lynne and her team of the new type of leadership needed under reform.


Lynne, president of Kaiser’s Colorado health plan and the EVP who leads its Pacific Northwest and Hawaii regions, said Kaiser was anticipating perhaps 3 percent growth when the new era began. Instead, Kaiser’s membership in the state grew a whopping 14 percent overnight.


“We recognized that we were beginning to have a situation that required extraordinary measures,” she says. “As a leader, you need to be nimble and you need to be confident that the people who are working for you can execute.”


Lynne’s leaders put together rapid-response teams to tackle needs like customer service, ID cards, appointment-setting and billing. “These were people who had not had healthcare before,” reasons Lynne, “and if their first experience with a health plan was not a great one, then we ran the risk of them making a different decision a year later.”


The approach was successful, says Lynne, and helped her team develop new skills.


“The primary characteristic of what people need to be able to manage in healthcare reform is volatility,” she says. “You need to be able to deal with ambiguity but you also need to have the skill set to be able to manage in a crisis environment.”


Crisis is nothing new to Lynne. She began her career more than 30 years ago working for the New York City government at a time when the city was bordering on bankruptcy. But she witnessed a remarkable thing. Leaders from government, business and labor unions set aside their own agendas and worked together to bring the city back from the brink.


“Everybody had to give a little to rescue the city from a crisis situation, and that taught me a lot,” she says. “You realize very quickly how interdependent you are on other people.”


Ultimately, Lynne spent 20 years working for New York City. She’s fiercely proud of that time in public service. “Sometimes people poke fingers at people who work in government, but I felt very committed to excellence in government. I wanted to make a difference on behalf of the millions of people served by New York City,” she says.


She was renowned as a labor negotiator, and that led to the next step in her career as she began to see from her dealings with unions that healthcare was as important as wages and pensions to the middle class.


“I felt very committed that, if I could do anything to make healthcare affordable, it would be a great pursuit,” Lynne says. She worked in operations for a health system before moving to managed care and rising to CEO of Group Health. Then she joined Kaiser Permanente.


The move to Colorado enabled Lynne to turbo-charge her already active lifestyle. She began climbing mountains and has tackled major peaks in Colorado and overseas. She’s also a skier who has done marathon ski events for charity.


“I think I like on-off switches, if you understand what I mean. I completely turn the work button off; I have to, because most of my pursuits involve risks so I need to concentrate,” she says.


Lynne grew up playing every sport under the sun – softball, field hockey, volleyball and tennis – and says sports were a natural training ground for leadership development.


“I felt very strongly that there were a lot of things that women either were told they couldn’t do or weren’t supported in doing. And I liked being a pioneer or even a little bit of a rebel,” she says. “By participating in sports, I understood the interdependence of all the positions on the field. In the business world or in government, you can work in your own silo and become an expert, or you can drive for change and try to get things done together.”


Lynne has chosen the latter, and says what some would call a matrix structure at Kaiser has served her well, helping her to focus more on the human side of leadership.


“I think some of it came with maturity,” she says. “Taking the time to engage and influence people is a critical part of leadership that I had to learn over a period of time, and Kaiser is in many ways the crown jewel in terms of a place where that really works.”


She’s also learned, she says, “to appreciate the importance of developing the leaders underneath you.” Kaiser has annual individual development plans for its executives, and that’s helped Lynne to “develop my leaders, who are now stronger and allow me to step back and do different kinds of things than I might have thought about when I came here 10 years ago.”


Leadership innovation is sorely needed, she says, as reimbursement models have caused upheaval in the industry.


“We’re all seeing less revenue because so many more of our members are coming from Medicare or Medicaid,” Lynne notes. “That’s creating tremendous pressure on us to reinvent the way that we do things.”


The turmoil has been felt among both providers and payers. Lynne says no one is sure how it all will play out, but both finance and delivery need to get along.


“I think the best way that payers and providers can work together is to acknowledge that, while we may have started out with different interests, we are ultimately trying to provide care to as many people as we can so that they’re healthy.”



Women executives strengthen leadership teams

By | April 30 th,  2015 | Furst Group, Healthcare, women in leadership, executive, Modern Healthcare, Blog, CEO, diversity, leadership, Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment


By Bob Clarke and Sherrie Barch

Furst Group


Welcoming women leaders to your leadership team with women executives is a prudent thing to do because a diversity of opinions and experiences can only make your organization stronger. But, according to a recent article by the Associated Press, it makes good business sense too.


The story explores a 12-year initiative at Sodexo to increase gender diversity. A company study in 2014 demonstrated that business units dominated by men at the top earned less profit than those led by equal numbers of men and women.


That dovetails with a McKinsey study last year which also found that companies with leadership roles equally divided between men and women reported above-median profits, according to the AP.


One need only to look at the honorees on this list - the Top 25 Women in Healthcare - to see that the news story confirms what we have known for a long time: both gender diversity and ethnic diversity are essential to success in the mission and business of healthcare today.


In our conversations with women leaders, though, we know there is still much work to be done. We need more women CEOs and board members - and more female C-suite leaders in all departments.


A report by CNNMoney last month found that women hold only 14.2 percent of the top five leadership roles at companies listed in the S&P 500. Worse yet, the study found that those 500 companies only had 24 women CEOs (4.8 percent). "Corporate America," CNN concluded, "has few female CEOs, and the pipeline of future women leaders is alarmingly thin."


In this, we'd advocate that healthcare has an opportunity be the industry that leads the way to a better leadership outcome for our country.


All of this explains why we at Furst Group are pleased to once again be celebrating the Top 25 Women in Healthcare, our sponsorship with Modern Healthcare. Winners were announced in this week's issue of Modern Healthcare and we urge you to save the date of Aug. 20 to join us in Nashville, Tennessee, for a gala honoring the Top 25 Women, who are some of our industry's best leaders regardless of gender. Details on attending are here.


Nancy Schlichting of Henry Ford reflects on the journey to quality

By | October 28 th,  2013 | 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare, Detroit, women in leadership, Macomb Hospital, Modern Healthcare, Blog, CEO, Henry Ford Health System, leadership, millennials, Nancy Schlichting, gender equity, Malcolm Baldrige, quality, Top 25 Women in Healthcare, West Bloomfield Hospital | Add A Comment


One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)


The journey to winning the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award was just as important as the final destination for CEO Nancy Schlichting and the Henry Ford Health System.


The honor, bestowed by the office of the President of the United States, goes to a limited number of organizations each year for quality and innovation. Yet Schlichting suggested it as a goal to her team a full seven years before the system won the award in 2011. In fact, Ford didn’t merit a site visit from the Baldrige investigators until the year it won.


“I started bringing the Baldrige application process to our team because I wanted us to get better as an organization focusing on the important things,” says Schlichting. “The framework helps you to be a strong organization, and it forces you to become more integrated.”


Yet midway through those years, she and the organization had some doubts.


“At the same time we were going through the Baldrige process, the U.S. had its economic collapse. It was a very challenging period,” Schlichting remembers. “There were moments along the way where I think my team thought we should take a year off, but I said no because it really was more about the journey than the award.”


As the system persevered, Schlichting says she took another look at how Ford was presenting its story to Baldrige.


“I remember talking to Bob Riney (Ford’s president and chief operating officer) and said, ‘I don’t think we’re telling our story right. I don’t think people understand us. We have to include the fact that we’re in Detroit. We’re a unique safety-net organization, yet we have all these expanding suburban markets. We work differently than a lot of organizations.’ ”


So the application was revised. The Baldrige team was interested, and sent its team out to take a look. An exhaustive look. In all, the examiners interviewed more than 1,200 Henry Ford employees. Though Schlichting’s leadership team had put together a booklet of talking points for employees, it was pretty obvious that no amount of coaching could make an army of workers fall into step with the depth of the Baldrige visit.


“You can’t fake it. You can’t plan for it. That was pretty obvious,” Schlichting notes with a chuckle. “What must have come through is that we have an amazing culture and a commitment to excellence.”


The last couple years have brought challenges to Henry Ford as well. A planned merger with Beaumont Health System fell through earlier this year when Ford backed away after a lengthy investment of time, manpower and money.


“The merger was very challenging, but at the end of the day, we knew we were not aligned around culture and our values and visions of healthcare,” she says. “We had 600 people, including 10 members of our board, all working on this for a year. That was tough; I felt very responsible. But it did re-energize all of us because we realized, perhaps even more than we did before, who we are, what we stand for, and what we want to accomplish.”


Along with its standard of quality, Henry Ford also has gained a reputation for doing the unexpected. In Schlichting’s tenure, for example, the system has closed three hospitals over a 10-year period, yet doubled in size. As a math equation, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but Ford made it work.


“We had some small hospitals that, frankly, could not get to the scale where they could be profitable,” Schlichting says. “They didn’t have the clinical strengths to compete in a very difficult marketplace. When you have hospitals that are lagging, they drag down the rest of the organization. The truth is, doing a lot of things doesn’t mean you’re doing the right things.”


During the same period in which the closures occurred, the system’s flagship hospital grew by 30 percent in volume in Detroit (a city that shed 30 percent of its population over the same time period) and became a destination hospital for patients worldwide, especially in cancer treatment and robotic surgery. It acquired Macomb Hospital and opened West Bloomfield Hospital. It doubled the size of its community care division and grew its ambulatory network from 23 to 30 sites.


But beyond numbers, Schlichting is proud of the way that Henry Ford treated the people affected by the closures in the Detroit region that has endured many economic setbacks.


“When we closed the hospitals, we did a better job of it each time, especially around the people. We found jobs for almost every one of those people within our system, because I did not want to lay people off at a time when unemployment in this market was over 10 percent. A lot of our employees were the sole breadwinners because their spouses had lost their jobs. The last thing we needed to do was to make their lives even more difficult.”


Schlichting credits her own long-term success to having good mentors. In fact, she was promoted to her first COO position when she was just 28. She’s not sure that today’s millennials could get such an opportunity in today’s market.
“Unfortunately, too many baby boomers are hanging on too long today,” she says. “It was a different time when I was coming up through the ranks. And while there certainly were a lot of older people in jobs, I think there was a greater openness to younger people.”


Schlichting has written forcefully about the need to provide more chances to young healthcare executives.


“I hear a lot of complaining from my generation about millennials, and I keep saying to them, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! These people are fantastic,’ ” she says. “They are more community-minded, they are more interested in the urban core, they embrace diversity, they connect better with people easily and seamlessly even if it’s through different technology.”


She sees similar obstacles for women executives. Her work at Henry Ford has earned her many awards, including Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare and 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare, but she is impatient for gender equity to become more of a reality.


“I’m still disappointed in our industry,” Schlichting says. “There are a lot more women working in our health systems, but not very many women leading them. One thing I’ve tried to do is help young people and women understand what it takes to succeed. I don’t sugarcoat it.


“I was raised by a mom who said, ‘I don’t care what other people do; I care what you do.’ So if somebody else was getting a break that I wasn’t, I tried to focus on myself and not worry about everyone else’s career.”


As Chief Administrative Officer Shirley Weis prepares to retire, her fingerprints are all over Mayo Clinic's success

By | May 30 th,  2013 | women in leadership, C-suite, CAO, governance, John Noseworthy, Lean In, Mayo Clinic, Mayo Clinic Health System, Minnesota, Shirley Weis, Blog, CEO, Denis Cortese, Destination Medical Center, leadership, Mayo Clinic Care Network, provider, payer, Rochester, Top 25 Women in Healthcare | Add A Comment


One in a series of profiles of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare (sponsored by Furst Group)


It’s a busy time at Mayo Clinic. Plans for the new Destination Medical Center are in full swing. New affiliates are being added to the Mayo Clinic Care Network. A new partnership with Optum Labs is taking the venerable institution into the realm of big data. So why would Chief Administrative Officer Shirley Weis decide to retire now?


Because, she says simply, that’s been the plan all along.


“One of the hallmarks of Mayo is excellent succession planning,” she says. “We’ve put even more attention into it in recent years, making sure that we have a good stable of folks ready from all different backgrounds of diversity and talents.”


And, for those keeping score at home, she says, you’ll notice a pattern to their planning. Weis was named to the No. 2 role at Mayo about halfway through the tenure of then-CEO Denis Cortese, MD. Weis is leaving four years after John Noseworthy, MD, succeeded Cortese. Mayo’s initiative of staggering C-suite entrances and exits keeps disruption to a minimum.


“People don’t understand that Mayo has a term-limit process for these top jobs,” Weis says. “Usually, you’re in these roles for about six to eight years as CEO, CAO or department chair. It’s one of the ways we keep ideas fresh. In some settings, you’ll see people who are named to a role and they’re in it for 30 years. That may work for some organizations but I think that after six or seven years, you’ve done what you came to do.”


Among the tasks that Weis says she is gratified to have accomplished since she stepped into the CAO role seven years ago is changing the structure of the company.


“I have really felt proud of the fact that we were able to get our governance in good shape,” she says. “We went from being a holding company to an integrated operating company. Most of the things I wanted to get underway are now, in fact, underway and are in good hands.”


One of those key ventures is the Mayo Clinic Care Network, in which health systems and physician groups affiliate with Mayo, extending the clinic’s reach beyond its bases of the upper Midwest, Arizona and Florida to the rest of the country. The idea had been created during Dr. Cortese’s tenure but truly came into being about two and a half years ago under Dr. Noseworthy’s leadership, Weis says.


“We have built a very successful Mayo Clinic Health System in the upper Midwest but we understood that merger and acquisition was probably not the best course for us,” she says. “We came up with the idea to start building a network, but we also found more and more hospitals and physician practices approaching us – they wanted to be affiliated.”
Mayo is up to 18 affiliate agreements but Weis sees a limit to the system’s capacity.


“We do guard our brand jealously. It’s one of the most trusted names in healthcare and part of the promise we have to our patients,” she says. What helps, she adds, is that “the patients are very savvy and sophisticated. They understand that these groups are not Mayo Clinic – they simply have a connection to Mayo Clinic.”


Mayo staff are consulting via phone and doing some cases together electronically. “We think it’s going to be a real model for the patients’ network of care,” Weis says. “Eventually, there may be some insurance products that go on top of the network.”


The blurring of lines between providers and payers is accelerating in the healthcare industry, and Weis has been a key person to lead that charge at Mayo. She was the chief operating officer at Blue Care Network of Michigan, a large HMO, before coming to Minnesota.


”I feel blessed that I had 10 years of actual care delivery with my emergency-room background, and that I followed that with 10 years in the payer industry,” Weis says. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I think it’s helped the organization and, frankly, it is probably why I was selected for this job seven years ago.”


Weis says both providers and payers need to focus on what’s best for the patient – and both need to collaborate more.


“The payer world has the claims information but they don’t have a lot of rich clinical data. The provider world has the rich clinical data but they don’t know what happens after the patient leaves the hospital or the outpatient center, or after they pick up their prescription.”


No matter what happens with healthcare reform, Weis adds, “there’s no more money, so it makes it more incumbent on all of us to figure out how we’re going to meet those patients’ needs and how we can engage the patients better.”


Working with fewer dollars is something Weis experienced a few years ago during the recession when she put in place an administrative shared services program and an enterprise project management office, while also implementing cutting-edge tools for financing and reimbursement. All those things, and a few more, helped Mayo weather the recession without layoffs, though some employees shifted jobs and some changes were made to benefit packages and retirement plans.


Weis had originally come to Mayo in 1995 to lead the Clinic’s managed care division. She resisted the overtures from a recruiter for a time, but finally agreed to a visit.


“I already had a career path, thank you very much,” she says. “But I came to Rochester and started to meet folks, and I was struck by how patient-centered the organization was.”


As she got to know Al Schilmoeller, who was her first boss, she noted that one of his daughters was a pilot and another worked for the Department of Natural Resources. That convinced her that here was a man who knew how to support women in their varied career aspirations. She remembers that, she says, as she mentors early- and mid-career women and men.


“For women or men, for anyone to make it to the next level in your career, you have to be willing to take some risks,” she says.


But she notes that young executives who only know the sound-bite version of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” best-seller do need to consider work-life balance.


“I would not be where I am today if I didn’t have a supportive husband. Period. I see many people who want to have that balance, and the one thing I know for a fact is that you can’t always have it all. You can have it all in stages. But I do think that as long as women are in a traditional caregiver, chief household operating officer role, it’s tough to balance that.


“So, particularly with families with young children, I always encourage them to put those kids first because they’re only there for a few years. And then your career is still there.”


Weis came of age at a time when she often was the only woman on the leadership team, and she says progress has been made in gender equity – progress, but not equality.


“I’m a tennis player, and I think of the days of Billie Jean King when Virginia Slims was a sponsor with their slogan, ‘You’ve come a long way, baby.’


“We have come a long way. But I don’t think we’re there yet.”

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