Supporting Women Leaders

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Team of doctor and nurse hard at work to care for their patients and using technology to analyse their files and results

Dr. YiDing Yu, Chief Medical Officer at Olive 

Despite making up the majority of medical school entrants in recent years, women are far less likely to be in leadership roles, comprising 18% of hospital CEO roles and 16% of deans and department chairs.  And the medical profession suffers without their leadership.  Women-led leadership teams run more profitable, safer, and customer-focused organizations, meaning creating these opportunities is more than an equity initiative – it’s good practice.

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This is not a new problem or even a new statistic – women have long lagged behind their male counterparts in leadership roles for many well-documented reasons. Gender bias means women aren’t perceived as leaders the way men are.  They lack mentors to offer opportunities for growth. Motherhood also penalizes women’s careers in a way fatherhood doesn’t.    

In healthcare, women spend more time on administrative work and patient care than their male counterparts.  Recent research shows female clinicians spend 40% of their time on administrative tasks (vs. 34% of male physician time), leaving them less time to consider additional responsibilities that could position them for leadership roles.

This dynamic creates a vicious cycle.  Women take on a larger share of patient care and administrative tasks, leaving them less time to participate in career enhancement and leadership activities. Less time for leadership activities or innovative projects translates to less experience in those areas, fueling both an experience gap and a perception gap that women are less ready or eager for leadership challenges or innovative initiatives.  The result? Time and time again women don’t get opportunities to do the “extra curricular” things that are essential for professional development. Not participating in these types of “extras” shuts women out of discussions about the future of an organization, and keeps them distant from other leaders or members of executive teams, and deprives them of the opportunities to propel themselves forward to additional leadership responsibilities. 

How Technology Can Accelerate Women in Leadership

New advances in automation could help. Automation in healthcare can reduce 90 minutes each day spent on administrative tasks, freeing up time for all clinicians that can be reinvested to take on new roles and new projects. With women healthcare workers carrying the brunt of administrative tasks in the industry, automation has the potential to disproportionately advance women in the healthcare industry, and bring greater gender parity in management and leadership. 

Nonetheless, there remains skepticism among women regarding automation.   Research shows that women are more skeptical of automation’s benefits than their male counterparts (84% of women view it positively compared to 100% of men).  They are also less likely to think it’s good for their own careers (83% vs 97%).  

It’s not that women are technology laggards.  The American Medical Association notes that women use more digital tools than their male counterparts.  But female physicians may be less likely to be bullish on new technologies (including automation) since risk-taking that doesn’t work out is more detrimental to women’s careers. And that’s something that all of us can help change.  

At a time when organizations are reinventing themselves, it’s crucial for women to have a seat at the table.  Executives believe that innovation is the key driver of their organization’s success, particularly coming out of a crisis. And when looking for that innovation, technological innovation is the answer time and time again. 

What organizations can do

It is incumbent on today’s leaders to not just recruit female clinicians, but to promote them.  And that will involve ensuring administrative tasks are divided evenly.  That there are clear expectations for work outside of patient care.  That there is equal representation of women in these initiatives, even if women are initially more reluctant to step forward. 

Female clinicians need to make their concerns heard – and that will involve participation. Organizations don’t need consensus, but rather healthy skepticism.  We need to see women asking the questions on ROI that will help make the investment a success.  The AMA Women Physicians Section (WPS) seeks to influence and contribute to AMA policy and program development on issues of importance to women physicians, and to increase the number and influence of women physicians in leadership roles.

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