Here's What 600+ Women Had to Say About the Reality of Working in Healthcare in 2018

Nurses Walking in Hospital

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AnnaMarie Houlis
AnnaMarie Houlis
May 19, 2024 at 5:58PM UTC
A wealth of research shows that women make the bulk of health care decisions for themselves and their families. In fact, a study from the New York-based think-tank Center for Talent Innovation suggests that, of women who work and have children under 18 years old, 94 percent make health care decisions for others. Nonetheless, there's a lack of women in positions of leadership within healthcare companies. 
That's why Rock Health annually sets out to study the ways in which cultural events like the #MeToo movement have and still can influence the industry. The full-service seed fund that supports startups working in digital health has been writing about the state of women in healthcare since 2012 but, this year, the authors write, is different. Because of the palpable movement (#MeToo and #TimesUp), the packaging of the issue has changed but the goal remains the same: to find gender discrimination.
"Women are critical stakeholders in healthcare, serving as workers, caregivers, and consumers — yet they do not have an equal voice in the ranks of leadership," the Rock Health 2018 report reads. "Our goal with this annual report is to contribute to a meaningful and actionable dialogue around women in leadership, with the hopes of providing a foundation for our industry to finally turn this dialogue into action."
Using publicly available quantitative data and qualitative data, with surveys created in-house, the authors, Megan Zweig, Bill Evans and Danielle McGuinness, did a deep dive into the state of women in healthcare. They received responses from 635 women (more responses than ever before) about their experiences in healthcare, and they came away with a number of key findings.

6 Significant and Surprising Findings

1. Women Are Growing Evermore Pessimistic About Reaching Gender Parity

Fifty-five of respondents said they think it'll take more than 25 years to achieve gender parity in the workplace, which is up from 45 percent in 2017. In fact, fewer (just five percent) say it will happen in the next five years, compared to eight percent in 2017.

2. African American Women Report Race as a Barrier, But They're Still the Most Confident

Eighty-six percent of African American women surveyed said that race is “very much” a barrier to their career advancement, compared to just nine percent of white women, for example. That said, African American women are still more confident. Only 33 percent think that self-confidence is a barrier, compared to 66 percent of Asian Americans, 54 percent of white Americans and 51 percent of Latina respondents.

3. Age Is More Than Just a Number

Most of the respondents said that they faced some level of age discrimination or age was, at least, a barrier for them. For example, women in their 20s reported feeling like they were judged more harshly for not having decades of experience or graduate degrees under their belts. Meanwhile, women in their 30s said family obligations and time constraints were barriers for them. And women over the age of 50 years old said that faced age discrimination.

4. Having a Female Mentor Could Be Key

"Our survey findings indicate that being part of a women support network or community correlates with a higher overall company culture rating, as does a presence of a mentor or sponsor," the report reads. "However, interestingly, the sponsor’s gender makes a significant difference — having a woman mentor or sponsor positively compounds the effects."
Those in women's networks said they had just as many role models as their male peers, and they had better ratings for leadership positions for women in their organization, increased confidence and greater optimism for future gender parity.

5. Companies With More Female Leaders Are Rated More Highly

Employees rated healthcare companies that had a higher percentage of female executives more highly. Survey respondents who worked at companies with less than 10 percent female executives, for example, rated their company cultures a 5.5 on a scale of one to 10. Companies with 50 percent or more female executives earned an average rating of 8.6" That said, the research also indicates that, while many women rate female managers are effective, they don't necessarily want to work for them.

6. The Fewer the Females, the More Likely Women Are to Adopt the Behaviors of Their Male Colleagues

Rock Health found a "strong correlation between the percentage of women employees and exhibiting male traits [which] suggests that women changing their behaviors to resemble their male colleagues is not necessarily a constant, but is a function of the environment.” This result suggests that women may feel more comfortable expressing feminine traits when they're surrounded by other women in the workplace.

How Can Healthcare Companies Support Female Talent? 

While women disproportionately control healthcare decisions for their households, research suggests that we still need more women in leadership roles to level the playing field for women working in healthcare. It'd only make sense that the women behind the $7 trillion industry are given greater opportunities to assume leadership roles to improve the health outcomes for women and their families — as well as help improve companies.
Here are a few steps some companies have taken to support female talent.

1. Offer Flexible Work Opportunities

A 2013 survey from Catalyst found that 83 percent of women who had access to flexible arrangements said they aspired to a senior executive- or CEO-level position, while just 54 percent of women without such programs could say the same. The research suggested that women are more ambitious in workplaces that offer flexible work options than women who are denied remote options. 
Anthem is one healthcare company, for example, that is touted for its flexibilty. In fact, the leading Fotune Top 50 company, even made FlexJob's list of "100 Top Companies with Remote Jobs in 2018." To make the list, Anthem posted the most remote jobs in 2017 out of thousands of flexible employers in the FlexJobs database.
Other healthcare companies that made the top 15, and that are also among the 40 healthcare companies selected for the Fortune 500, include Cigna, UnitedHealth Group, CVS Health, Johnson & Johnson, Aetna, Humana, Magellan Health and Merck.

    2. Appoint More Female Leaders

    The more women who are promoted to leadership positions, the more role models and mentors female talent will have. When female talent has role models and mentors, they'll grow evermore confident and optimistic about reaching gender parity in the future.
    Following a recent wave of growth, AMN Healthcare, the largest healthcare staffing provider in the country, for example, appointed Kelly Rakowski as the president for leadership and search solutions. Rakowski will be responsible for leading AMN Healthcare's interim leadership, physician permanent placement, recruitment process outsourcing and executive search solutions services, which means that not only does AMN Healthcare now have another woman in leadership, but the company also has a woman who's in a position to advocate for female talent. Already, the company is helmed by CEO Susan Salka. 

    3. Practice What You Preach

    It's important for companies to be aligned — to practice what they preach. They should be treating their own employees the same way to intend to treat their patients and customers — without discrimination.
    Aetna, for one, complies with applicable federal civil rights laws and states that it "does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability or sex," nor does it exclude anyone or treat them differently. If anyone feels that Aetna has failed to provide services the company offers or that Aetna has discriminated on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability or sex, they can file a grievance with the company's Civil Rights Coordinator. And this information is clearly stated on the company's website.
    A prime example of how Aetna practices what it preaches (nondiscrimination) is by having a female president, Karen Lynch.
    "Women are underrepresented in the C-suite because we are still facing a severe disadvantage," Lynch told Rock Health. "Femininity is looked at as a problem and a barrier to being an effective leader. Being female doesn't fit with the preconceived notions of what a senior executive should be."
    Aetna's female leaders defy the notion that women cannot represent in the C-suite.

    4. Give Women Mentors

    As Rock Health's research shows, women are more likely to achieve success when they have access to female mentors. But a 2017 study by professional services firm Egon Zehnder found that only 54 percent of women have access to senior leaders who act as mentors or informal sponsors throughout their careers.
    Merck is an example of a healthcare company that has introduced a group mentoring program that actually enables women to "build important relationships, network and identify areas where their skills can be transferred or be used for stretch assignments," according to Working Mother.
    AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at by night.

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