Ascension Michigan COO Jean Meyer: Meeting women’s healthcare needs requires internal and external transformation

As our social and political climate continues to bring women’s issues to the forefront of our national consciousness, companies are doubling down on their commitment to create positive, equitable experiences for their female customers and employees alike.

In healthcare, the effort to build an industry-wide culture that values and prioritizes inclusion and fairness has never been more important. At the consumer level, we know that women make the majority of healthcare decisions in America – 80 percent, in fact, by Department of Labor estimates. Engaging and empowering women in the healthcare process has the potential to significantly impact not only the health of the individual woman, but also that of her family and other loved ones.

That is why it’s critical that the healthcare industry appropriately respond to women’s health needs. It begins with building trusting relationships between female consumers and their providers. According to a 2015 survey cited in Harvard Business Review, a staggering 35 percent of women report they do not fully trust their physician, and 31 percent report they do not trust online sources for healthcare information either.

Healthcare providers should be committed to helping their female patients make the best decisions for themselves and their families. We cannot achieve this goal without trust. An important step is building positive relationships with, listening to and understanding our female patients to ensure their interests are represented and needs are addressed by leaders of both genders at all levels of the healthcare spectrum — from the boardroom to the exam room.

Healthcare is uniquely positioned to serve as a model that other industries and sectors can emulate, as nearly 80 percent of healthcare and social assistance workers are women, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. For further context, consider a recent McKinsey & Company study, which found that 68 percent of entry-level employees in healthcare and pharmaceutical companies are women, but of the C-suite leaders in these industries, only 24 percent are female – a nearly three-to-one employee-to-executive ratio.

As a woman, a nurse, and an executive within the nation’s largest nonprofit healthcare system, I am acutely aware of the need for greater diversity in the industry’s leadership ranks. Too often in my career, I have been the only woman at the table when important decisions are being made that affect employees and patients alike.

Multiple factors influence gender imbalance in healthcare, and fortunately, there is work underway to ensure that our industry’s leadership is reflective and representative of the makeup of our workforce and the patients we serve. Some companies have begun to create leadership development programs aimed at supporting female talent, while others have made significant investments in deliberate, meaningful mentoring opportunities.

For those in upper management and at the executive level, this vision also demands we “leave the ladder down” and support promising female employees in their career development and growth. I often tell young women leaders to not be afraid to hire the best – there’s truth in the saying about many stars burning brighter than one alone. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had, but the fact is, as a woman, I’m still in the minority in the C-suite. We should strive for a future in which the success of women in our industry is commonplace and unsurprising.

These steps are of critical import not only to fulfill our role as equitable employers, but also as providers of high-quality care. Research indicates that greater gender representation helps organizational sustainability, too. Economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that evolving from a single gender-dominated office to one that is evenly split was associated with a 41 percent revenue gain. Additionally, according to a report from the non-profit research and advisory organization Catalyst, companies with more women on their board of directors attain significantly better operational performance.

It is clear that the more the healthcare industry can internally reflect and represent our market’s key demographic — women of all ages, races and backgrounds — the better positioned we will be for success as the healthcare landscape continues to change. By elevating more women’s voices throughout our organizations and empowering more female patients with the care and information they need, we can transform our industry for the better.

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