Report explores healthcare's lack of women in leadership positions

In the United States, women make up 65 percent of the healthcare workforce. However, according to a new research report, they only hold 30 percent of the industry's C-suite positions. 

The report, published by consulting firm Oliver Wyman, noted that it is much more difficult for women to build trust in male-dominated workplaces—and trust is the key to getting promoted. 

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

The report found only 13 percent of chief executives in healthcare are women. And, among C-suite healthcare executives, women account for only 33 percent of senior leadership positions, 29 percent of COOs and 23 percent of CFOs and chief actuaries. On average, the report noted, it takes women three to five years longer to reach to the CEO level. 

To determine female leadership statistics within healthcare, researchers developed profiles of more than 3,000 executives. They also analyzed the paths of 112 payer and provider CEOs to follow their “route to leadership” in traditional healthcare organizations. Additionally, they spoke with more than 75 men and women in the healthcare industry to understand the different dynamics that men and women face in their paths. 

So, what is the most impactful barrier preventing an even playing field when it comes to building trust?

One issue, according to the report, is that women do not have the same opportunities to engage with men in informal settings where social activities are affiliated with men’s backgrounds. Also, as women get closer to the C-suite, there is a shift in how ability and leadership are assessed.

“The closer you get to the top, the less diversity exists, and the more dominant male perceptions and associated biases become,” the authors noted. They further explained that this may be why women who report to the CEO serve more as technical experts—such as chief legal officer, chief information officer and chief human resources officer.

“If more women are to reach the top, then current leaders need to do a better job assessing ability and potential when hiring and promoting, versus using shortcuts such as a standard track and path through the organization,” the report read.