ASHHRA 50th Annual Conference & Expo - Empowering Women in Healthcare

After returning from the 2014 ASHHRA 50th Annual Conference & Expo, held in Chicago, I can’t help but reflect on the thought leadership and transformative ideas that were presented in an effort to support the ever-changing healthcare marketplace – specifically, empowering women in healthcare.

For many, there were cancelled flights and delayed travel plans. And yet, executives arrived by van, bus and train, refusing to pass up on the opportunity to gain insight into best practices on strategizing, engaging and empowering the healthcare industry and its workforces.  


Engaging and Empowering Women in Leadership
During the ASHHRA Conference, I was fortunate to attend a session that was a follow up to the Thought Leader Forum first held in San Diego this past July. The Thought Leader Forum brings together women executives in healthcare from across the nation to discuss “Engaging and Empowering Women to Achieve Success in Healthcare.” They explore a number of gender issues, including: the business case for women in leadership, attributes and equity valued in the female workforce, financial considerations for women in the workplace, as well as valuing attributes and equity in the differences between men and women. 

It may surprise you to hear that, although women make up 80% of the healthcare workforce in the U.S., they do not hold nearly as many leadership positions within the industry – according to RockHealth:

  • 18% of women serve as hospital CEOs.
  • 4% of women serve as CEOs of other healthcare companies.
  • 26% of women occupy top leadership positions among medical school faculty, regulatory agencies and public or private schools.

So, why, if women make up more than half of the overall healthcare workforce, are they not moving into leadership positions? The Thought Leader Forum and subsequent session discussions at the ASHHRA event attempted to answer this question. They found that the barriers and challenges to advancing careers were most often attributed to women not positioning themselves within their organizations for advancement, limited past experiences, lack of leadership development and, possibly the most difficult hurdle, challenges associated with cultural and social norms.  

The Forum aimed at shifting the conversation from men versus women in the workplace to focusing on skills, competencies and the equity of attributes associated with leaders. As was discussed, the focus should be on the broader business results needed to succeed regardless of gender, as it is clear that women possess the attributes and skills in the healthcare marketplace to achieve leadership roles that produce these results. 

As one thought leader stated, “There is equity in the differences if we value the attributes in a way that we don’t see the women’s space as inferior.” This thought leader is proposing that the differences we find between men and women should be embraced and leveraged towards the overall success of an organization – not stifled and compartmentalized. 

This conclusion was heavily discussed and found that, ultimately, organizations that include women in leadership roles experience higher business performance and greater return on investment. In fact: 

  • At top grossing hospitals and medical centers, women fill 25% of leadership positions – compared with 18% for the industry as a whole.
  • At top grossing, not-for-profit hospitals, women fill 30% of CEO roles, 25% of boards and 35% of executive-level roles.

Championing for Women in Leadership Roles
The Thought Leader Forum found that engaging women as leaders should not be seen as a change but rather a solution to critical business needs. Leaders in attendance suggested precepting, mentoring, coaching and championing for women who are working their way towards leadership positions in healthcare – in order to best prepare them for the roles they will fill. The Forum suggested the following actions to prepare, engage and empower women:

  • Raise awareness organization-wide.
  • Build a sound, compelling business case.
  • Pursue equity.
  • Nurture leadership talent.
  • Ensure leadership readiness.

Future Thought Leader Forum topics will build on the transformative ideas discussed during the 2014 ASHHRA event. Visit ASHHRA’s website to stay up-to-date on this year’s progress and the recommended topics for next year’s conference.

Post contributed by Jennifer Gallinger, Director, Cielo Healthcare. Connect with Jennifer on LinkedIn.