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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Measure results — engage employees to report on activities and periodically measure progress and share results.
- Celebrate and highlight your organization’s success — this may include sharing anecdotal stories, awards/incentives or other recognition.
- 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:
- 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.
- Network with women healthcare leaders. Connecting with other industry leaders strengthens connections and an understanding of what it takes to become a leader.
- 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.