80+ healthcare execs to celebrate resilience of African-American female leaders at 3rd Executive Women of Color Summit

Later this month, nearly 100 African-American women will gather in Naples, Fla., to share the challenges and successes they've experienced as leaders on healthcare boards.

Data on African-American women leading healthcare boards can be difficult to come by, but as of 2014, women comprise just 28 percent of hospital board members, according to the American Hospital Association's Center for Healthcare Governance National Governance Survey. The same survey found just 4 percent of board members are African-American.

In 2016, The Leverage Network — a Chicago-based nonprofit founded to increase the representation of African-American leaders on healthcare boards — launched its annual Executive Women of Color Summit to address this disparity.

Antoinette Hardy-Waller, RN, CEO of The Leverage Network and member of the board of stewardship trustees at Englewood, Colo.-based Catholic Health Initiatives, said the nonprofit conceived of EWOC as a way to provide African-American female leaders with a "sacred space" to discuss the struggles and inspirations they've found during their careers.

"At most of the conferences and summits that [women of color] go to we're 'on.' We have to represent and be an example," Ms. Hardy-Waller said during an interview with Becker's Hospital Review. "[EWOC] is a place where we can all be very vulnerable. We can come and be inspired and re-energized to go back and continue to do the work that we do."

The upcoming professional leadership summit, which takes place May 30 and May 31, will feature a master class, motivational keynote and series of panels by African-American leaders around the theme "Resilience: Leveraging Our Journey." In one session, titled "Sisters Leading Mega-Mergers," a panel of four hospital chairs and executives — including Ms. Hardy-Waller — will discuss how their respective organizations approached recent merger transactions.

"Women can come and listen to the stories of other like-minded women who have gone through similar challenges, who have made great successes, and can share that in an environment where we're not competing," Ms. Hardy-Waller said. "It's an environment where we're being supported, and where women are intentionally networking to help each other."

Since the first summit two years ago, EWOC has grown from an estimated 70 attendees to more than 80, and attracted the attention of sponsors like UPS, Deloitte and Downers Grove, Ill.-based Advocate Health Care. As the summit continues to grow, Ms. Hardy-Waller said The Leverage Network's plan is to taper off its audience around 100 to 150 attendees, to maintain a close-knit feel.

"We keep the audience very intimate, so that we can provide better networking and relationship-building," Ms. Hardy-Waller said. "We do that intentionally, so women can come and feel free to just be."

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