How Forbes' best employers in healthcare are improving their workplaces for women

For a closer look at efforts to improve gender parity at U.S. health systems, Becker's Hospital Review asked organizations included on the Forbes 2020 list of America's Best Employers for Women to reveal how they've made their workplaces better for women in the last year. Read their responses below, presented alphabetically. 

Editor's note: The following responses were lightly edited for length and clarity. 

Michelle Conger, chief strategy officer and CEO of Saint Gabriel Digital Health – OSF HealthCare (Peoria, Ill.): OSF HealthCare is guided by seven cultural beliefs, including serve first, which directs us to listen and respond to the needs of patients, families and communities to improve health. We have been deliberate in how we adhere to that belief, recognizing that women not only make up a significant portion of our workforce, but are often the decision-makers when it comes to how and where they — and their family — get their healthcare needs met. During the past year we launched, and rapidly expanded as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, our OSF Saint Gabriel digital health initiative, which engages digital solutions that pave the way for the future of healthcare at your fingertips. It is an all-woman leadership team that guides our OSF Saint Gabriel work, helping to design what women often need as healthcare users and providers. We believe this will set OSF HealthCare apart as we work to provide easy choices and agile responses with the right care options.

Cathy Fraser, chief human resources officer at Mayo Clinic (Rochester, Minn.): In 2019, Mayo Clinic was a proud founding signatory of Time's Up Healthcare, the newest industry affiliate of Time's Up, joining a coalition of women across industries dedicated to advancing the organization's mission of creating safe, fair and dignified work for women. 

Our support of gender equality highlights continued commitments by Mayo Clinic, including adding more women in leadership. In 2019 and 2020, the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees added five women:

Suresh Gunasekaran, CEO of University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics and associate vice president of UI Health Care (Iowa City): One way we improved our overall culture is by appointing more women in leadership positions. This is important to me. We have new female leaders in diversity, equity and inclusion roles who are leading our discussions and action plans to address topics such as gender workplace issues and developing new staff training curriculum on patient-initiated sexual harassment (much of which is targeted toward women).

We need diversity in our leaders and our staff if we are going to continue to be excellent. We need to continuously improve our workplace culture so that we can provide a welcoming environment for all employees and patients.

Rhonda Larimore, chief human resources officer at Akron (Ohio) Children's: With the coronavirus pandemic, this past year has been a year like no other for Akron Children's. We had to make quick and decisive changes about our operations to protect our patient families and employees from a novel virus we didn't know a lot about.

Helping our female employees, who comprise 84 percent of our workforce, deal with this stressful time became a priority at Akron Children's.  We set HR policies to protect income for those who may have contracted the virus or would need to be in quarantine. We also gave all employees who could work from home the ability to do so. We knew communication was important, so our leadership gave daily email and video updates about testing, screening, mask policy, the labor pool and all the issues that were top of mind. We set up a channel to answer questions. We also established a resiliency committee to organize a variety of ways to show our support — as well as the community's support — for our doctors and nurses on the front lines. 

We also engaged a virtual coaching company to provide further support for our employees to support any stress concerns they may have. And realizing the pandemic would hit some families financially harder than others, we set up an employee hardship fund to help eligible employees with an unplanned financial stress related to COVID-19.

Nerissa Morris, senior vice president and chief human resources officer of Cincinnati Children's: As a leading pediatric institution, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center values and regards diversity as an organizational asset, utilizing the strengths and benefits it brings to patients, families, visitors, employees, volunteers, our community and suppliers to maximize our ability to achieve Cincinnati Children's mission.

Cincinnati Children's launched the Center for Diverse Leadership in Pediatrics to focus on leadership and career development for diverse leaders with two forums (October 2019 and February 2020) dedicated to developing women faculty. This work is also supported by an executive leadership team that is 40 percent women. 

Mary Ann Osborn, RN, chief nurse executive of UnityPoint Health (West Des Moines, Iowa): One of my favorite things about UnityPoint is our commitment to female team members. We have a strong culture in that regard, which I think is evident in our daily decisions and our leadership selections. 

As we all know, unfortunately women typically still bear a heavier load when it comes to balancing work and family. It's well documented that during COVID-19 this dynamic is even more challenging. To help combat this, in some regions, we've partnered with our local grocery stores to have individual food orders delivered to on-site food lockers. Employees can easily pick them up on their way out of the hospital, leaving them with one less errand to run after work.   

Although we're in the process of bringing leaders back to their full FTE (we reduced their FTEs this summer to assist with the pandemic's economic impact), many have asked to remain at the lower FTE status. These leaders were looking for more flexibility as they address the challenges of children adjusting to new school experiences. As an organization, we are supporting reduced hours of work when able and providing  support to our team members as they face difficult challenges due to COVID-19. 

We're also proud of the fact our interim system CEO is Susan Thompson and four out of nine of our larger markets are led by female CEOs.

Peter WT Pisters, MD, president of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (Houston): At MD Anderson, we have focused on the thoughtful and deliberate recruitment of female leaders at the senior leadership level. To date, we have hired or promoted numerous highly talented female leaders to help guide our institution. We have also invested in mentoring programs for women, matching them with sponsors and providing helpful programs and inspiring speakers. With our workforce being 68 percent female, it is an understatement to say women are shaping our culture and critical to our mission to end cancer.   

Jill Ragsdale, senior vice president and chief people and culture officer of Sutter Health (Sacramento, Calif.): As a woman and a leader at Sutter Health, I take pride in our organization's values and support for a diverse and inclusive culture. I see our commitment to "walk the talk" firsthand on a daily basis through efforts like our inclusive resource groups and our unconscious bias and diversity and inclusion training for leaders and staff. And this year, we celebrated Women's History Month with our first annual women's forum that gathered a diverse group of women from across our integrated network to listen, learn and support each other. Women were encouraged to speak up throughout these sessions, and as Sutter's chief people and culture officer, it was particularly exciting for me to see this kind of engagement. We find that when staff have a voice in the conversation, they feel more motivated and valued, and it creates a sense of belonging.

Becky Sawyer, senior vice president and chief human resources officer for Sentara Healthcare (Norfolk, Va.): Sentara Healthcare has always prided itself on our team member experience. In 2019, we took two important steps to make sure our culture is aligned with the needs of our team members, which is over 85 percent female. First, we prioritized inclusion and belonging by implementing a diversity and inclusion department and hiring our first chief diversity officer. Second, we committed to moving to a $15 minimum wage in the organization by 2022, which we know improves the financial well-being of our mostly female population of colleagues.

This year, we've begun efforts to better understand the experience of women and women leaders in our organization, and to identify and implement necessary actions to increase the positive experience of our female colleagues. Sentara is proud to be represented in this Forbes award, but we know there is always room to do more.

Monica Wharton, executive vice president and chief administrative officer with Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (Memphis, Tenn.): Our employees have a passion for providing exceptional care to our patients and families. We consistently strive to nurture our highly engaging, high-performance work culture that is rooted in the values of service, quality, integrity, teamwork and innovation. Our workforce is composed of about 85 percent women, and our associate feedback survey results indicate our employees place significant importance on diversity and inclusion, work-life balance, growth and development and fair compensation. Our employees are empowered to drive every aspect of our culture. As examples, we've added more mindfulness and exercise classes to our wellness program, and we've created clear pathways for career advancement and leadership opportunities.

Qiana Williams, chief diversity and inclusion officer of OhioHealth (Columbus): One thing we need to do in order to continuously improve the culture for women at OhioHealth, and elsewhere, is to make sure that men know that gender equity isn't just a women's issue.

In the last year, we partnered with Catalyst, a global nonprofit that works to build workplaces that work for women, to host two days of intensive learning focused on men leveraging their unique opportunity and responsibility to be advocates for equity.

A group of 30 men participated, and by the end of the workshop, made a commitment to be champions for gender equity and continue to use their voices across our system.

We also did a pay equity analysis throughout the organization last year and found no disparity between women and men.

We are very proud that the OhioHealth executive leadership team is 44 percent women, higher than the S&P 500 average of 11 percent. We're also proud that we signed the Columbus Commitment for Pay Equity with other employers in the community. We know there is still much to be done, but progress is being made, and that is encouraging.

Kimberlydawn Wisdom, MD, senior vice president of community health and equity and chief wellness and diversity officer of Henry Ford Health System (Detroit): Women are well represented in leadership roles [at Henry Ford], from the C-suite to CEOs of markets.Our chief financial officer is a woman, our chief strategy officer is a woman, our chief diversity officer is a woman, our head of general counsel is a woman. Then when we look at our north, south and central markets, the CEOs of two of those markets are women. We also have an employee resource group that focuses on women. Often the group offers mentoring and also brings in female speakers from our organization to talk about their experience and provide more broad guidance and mentorship. 

I think leading by example has been key. If you truly embrace the importance of women in leadership, you have women in leadership. 

 

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