Healthcare needs more women in senior roles. Here’s how they can get there

Updated on April 30, 2023
Team of doctor and nurse hard at work to care for their patients and using technology to analyse their files and results

While we have made tremendous strides over the past several years to break down barriers for women in leadership, the data makes it clear that we still have a long way to go. Although women make up more than 50% of the U.S. workforce, it’s estimated that only 35% of them held senior leadership positions in 2022.  Healthcare is no exception to this phenomenon. Women in healthcare account for a higher overall workforce percentage than other industries, but female representation decreases on the higher rungs of the corporate ladder. Two-thirds (66%) of entry-level healthcare workers are women, but they account for just 30% of the C-suite.

Women bring a unique perspective to decision-making regarding finance, business, work-life balance and more, and having women in positions to make an impact is vital to any operation. Healthcare systems as a whole carry some responsibility in ensuring women have pathways to rise through the ranks, however, this important demographic of our workforce can also take action to help accelerate their own growth no matter their title.

Raise your hand

Knowledge is power. It’s an adage that we likely heard as far back as grade school, but the same mantra still holds true in our professional lives. The further we move into our careers, we cannot lose that thirst for learning and gaining new skills. This doesn’t have to be done by going back to school and investing thousands of dollars into a new degree or certification. It can simply be identifying an area within your operation that needs added support.  

For example, have you noticed that your team needs assistance managing the department’s budget? Is leadership looking for someone to go through the healthcare organization’s leases with a fine-tooth comb? Are leaders seeking subject matter experts in healthcare facility compliance matters? Raise your hand to help, even if those tasks are something you’ve never done before. Having the confidence to say yes to a new opportunity and figure out how to tackle those obstacles unlocks the ability to both provide immense value to your team and gain new skills throughout your career.  

A great example of this is a nurse who wants to move into an administrative leadership role within their healthcare system. While the bulk of their experience is likely bedside, over the course of their career, they’ve accumulated a number of skills that are easily transferable into another position. They know how to work with other people from a wide range of backgrounds, think quickly on their feet, and manage multiple priorities at once. On top of that, these individuals have a wealth of institutional knowledge about healthcare workers’ day-to-day roles, which is vital when it comes to making decisions that directly impact front-line workers. This valuable combination of skills and experiences makes them prime candidates for future leadership roles in other areas of healthcare.

Advocate for yourself 

As women, we may not advocate for ourselves, or only take on a new challenge if we are approached to do so. Research has shown that women generally apply for 20% fewer jobs than men. This is largely due to whether the female candidate believes they meet 100% of the criteria posted in the job description. If they don’t check all the boxes, they are more likely to not apply at all. This is a stark contrast to men, who are more likely to apply for the role if they meet only 60% of the criteria. In order for more women to move up the ladder, we 

must adopt a “why not me?” mentality versus putting ourselves into smaller boxes to meet others’ expectations.  

The same sentiment is true for day-to-day operations within the workplace. If you have a family, do you need to leave work by a certain time to pick your kids up from school or opt to work from home because your child is sick? If so, we must become more comfortable with voicing our needs and understand that it does not diminish our worth to our organization. If we begin to cultivate a culture where we make our boundaries between work and our personal lives clear, we start to pave the way for future female leaders to emerge and make their voices heard.  

Leverage mentorships and build connections

Mentoring is a powerful tool for both the mentor and mentee. It provides mentees with the opportunity to learn how they can grow into their roles and flourish as a leader. For the mentor, this relationship can build a pipeline of talent to pull from when opportunities inevitably arise within the organization. Healthcare workers can easily begin their mentor and mentee relationships by becoming preceptors. This experience can help established leaders grow as they continue to invest time and energy into shaping the next generation of the workforce. 

We must lean into other female leaders and professionals around us, both inside and outside of our companies. Building these relationships is key to creating pathways for other females to rise through the ranks and take on senior roles within organizations.  

Women make up more than half of our workforce, but this is not reflected in senior leadership roles across a variety of sectors, including healthcare. While we’ve made tremendous progress in creating more opportunities for female professionals, it’s on us to ensure we continue to build on this momentum for generations to come.  

Sara Barker 1
Sara Barker

Sara Barker has 15 years of experience as a driven professional in the supply chain, sourcing and procurement industry. Sara currently serves as vice president of corporate support services for Medxcel, where she is responsible for the oversight and operational performance of key corporate support divisions. Sara also participates in Medxcel’s executive team to achieve growth initiatives, strategic goals and support other critical functions.

Helen Johnson
Helen Johnson

Helen Johnson is the president of Sparrow Eaton Hospital in Charlotte, Michigan. She has 30 years of progressive leadership experience, making a genuine impact on the organizations and communities she’s served. She brings a broad range of skills in operations, team building, strategic planning, leadership development, governance and more, and most recently led her hospital and community’s response to the  COVID-19 pandemic.