Female representation on hospital boards: 4 research findings

While diversity benefits the boards of nonprofit hospitals and health systems, barriers to joining these governing bodies remain substantial for women, according to joint research from the Women's Nonprofit Leadership Initiative and Nonprofit Issues.

The research was based on 59 semistructured, confidential phone interviews with board members of nonprofit educational and medical institutions. Thirty of the interviews represented nonprofit hospitals and health systems. The study represented both male and female viewpoints from 14 states and the District of Columbia.

Four findings from the research: 

1. While interviewees say 30 percent should be the minimum presence of women needed to diversify a board, most medical boards in the research fell short of that threshold. The average percentage of women on nonprofit hospital and health systems boards included in the study was 27 percent.

2. Interviewees categorized underrepresentation for women at the nonprofit board level as one of two issues: a lack of qualified female candidates or a lack of serious action from boards to add women. Several interviewees "commented that it is difficult to find women and minorities with high levels of experience and sophistication [particularly for hospitals] who haven't already joined other boards, leaving a limited pool of people who get asked by multiple boards," according to the study.

3. Women of color face tougher barriers to entering board seats than white women. Women of color represent only 18 percent of female board members in the research's group.

4. The study authors note that "presence alone does not guarantee inclusion. This is particularly the case on large boards, where committees do the real work and executive committees often make most decisions. Exclusion from power positions or committees, or appointment in small numbers, can mute women's voices."

Access the full report here

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