Women are the majority of the healthcare workforce, but only 30% of leaders

Women are a dominant force in the healthcare industry, making up 65 percent of workers. Yet, only 30 percent of leaders in the field are women, underscoring a significant under-representation of their influence, according to a report from consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

Even worse, women only make up 13 percent of CEOs in healthcare. Among C-suite teams in healthcare, women account for 33 percent of senior leadership positions, 29 percent of COOs and 23 percent of CFOs and chief actuaries. It also takes women about three to five years longer on average to reach the CEO level, according to the study, which analyzed the paths of 112 payer and provider CEOs and interviewed more than 75 men and women in the industry.

“Healthcare, unlike other industries, does not have a ‘women in healthcare’ problem, but a ‘women in healthcare leadership’ problem,” the report reads.

Industry shifts

The findings represent a problem for healthcare organizations that are falling behind in representation, as diversity has become a proven strength across industries. Diversity has been shown to improve outcomes, push innovation and find more creative solutions.

“Given the lack of diversity in their C-suites, healthcare incumbents may not be able to keep up with the shifts already underway,” the report reads.

The realities are still more grim in certain specialties, such as academic radiology, where women occupy just 14 percent of leadership roles, according to a 2018 study.

By contrast, women consumers are the decision-makers when it comes to healthcare, making 80 percent of buying and usage decisions, the report found.

Barriers to progress

Women have a harder time reaching the executive level in part because they face more difficulty achieving the same level of implicit trust as men, according to the report. For one, women don’t have the same opportunities to connect with men in informal settings where social and work activities, such as golf and football, tend to veer toward men’s interests, backgrounds and shared experiences. This extends to mentorship opportunities as well.

“Many men automatically give trust and respect to a man, then take it away. Women have to earn trust and respect to begin with. I don’t think it’s conscious,” one female CEO said in the report.

Interviews in the report also revealed men and women perceive actions and behave differently, which can make those differences be misinterpreted. Differences in defining abilities also can leave women disadvantaged, with C-suite executives unable to consistently identify the more ambiguous and subtle qualities of leadership that play a big role in executing tasks effectively.

More women in C-suites tend to be in technical roles, such as chief information officer or chief human resources officer, where these skills supersede others, the report found.