Women in Healthcare: Leadership Roles are Sparse, Burnout is Abundant

Gender equality in the workplace has been a hot topic of discussion across the country, and the healthcare industry is no exception. In recent years, we have seen healthcare institutions take purposeful steps to bridge the gender gap and increase the diversity in their leadership. We've also seen many organizations go as far as appointing a diversity and inclusion executive to lead the charge.

Nevertheless - while there's a new focus on equality in the workplace - there's plenty more transparency needed to ensure institutional inequality ceases.

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The Current State of the Healthcare Workforce

A particularly shocking point of data reveals that women make up 65 percent of the U.S. health workforce but, according to a study done by Oliver Wyman, are still "notably under-represented in the industry's leadership." Women occupy only 30 percent of the roles on C-suite teams and a mere 13 percent of CEO positions.

Moreover, it takes women an average of 3-5 years longer to achieve a CEO role compared to men.

Women are More Susceptible to Professional Burnout Than Men

According to new data from the Well-Being Index, women have reported higher distress scores than men. In fact, female physicians are 30 percent more distressed than male physicians. There are numerous factors that go into these feelings of distress, from physical and emotional challenges of the job, to work environment and personal life.

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Montreal concurs with the findings of the Well-Being Index: women are more likely to suffer from burnout. The researchers followed 2,026 people - half being women - in an extensive variety of workplaces for four years. Participants' emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and professional effectiveness were analyzed.

Study author and professor of population health, Dr. Nancy Beauregard, explains, "Indeed, female employees often burn out at a faster rate simply because of the nature of their work. Many women have positions that offer little latitude in decision-making, meaning that their work only provides them with a low level of authority and decision-making power and makes little use of their skills."

Thus, with our understanding of the continual gender inequality in healthcare leadership, it's no surprise that women who have assessed with the Well-Being Index are showing higher signs of distress.

Women are Being Overlooked for Leadership Positions

Korn Ferry reports 55 percent of almost 200 healthcare executives admitted that women in their organizations have been overlooked due to gender. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of the same executives ranked their development programs for women as fair, poor, or non-existent. A startling 76 percent said their company doesn't have advancement programs for women.

Empowering Women in Healthcare

Awareness is the first key step in understanding how to improve the institution’s culture towards women or any under-represented group. Understanding the effect of a poor corporate culture is crucial to taking the necessary steps to fix the issue. The status quo is not adequate as the healthcare landscape continues to evolve and change.

Taking cues from leaders in the space, such as Providence St. Joseph Health, will help promote women in leadership positions on an industry-wide basis.

Debra Canales, the executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Providence St. Joseph points out, "Women in leadership have a responsibility to pay it forward by identifying the next generation of women leaders and doing what we can to bring them up."

"We can't wait around for the industry to catch up to the rest of the world -- female leaders and our male allies need to make change happen ourselves."

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