Leadership strategies for women in healthcare

Although women make up a larger percentage of the healthcare workforce and hold more leadership positions than in previous decades, there are still far fewer of them than men in healthcare C-suites.

While efforts to diversify the gender of the C-suite are underway at most hospitals and health systems, women still find it hard to move up in their organizations.

In a session titled "Getting Disruptive: Rethinking Leadership Strategies of Women in Healthcare" at the Becker's Hospital Review 8th Annual CEO + CFO Roundtable in November in Chicago, panelists discussed experiences that helped them become strong female leaders and advance in their workplaces. 

 Panelists included:  

  • Astra Garner, LCPC, vice president of clinical advancement at Kansas City, Kan.-based KVC Hospitals
  • Imelda Dacones, MD, president and CEO at Portland, Ore.-based Northwest Permanente
  • Sylvia Romm, MD, MPH, FAAP, chief innovation officer at Morristown, N.J.-based Atlantic Health System

Five key pieces of advice from the discussion: 

1. Diversify your mentors. Rather than having one mentor, establish a panel of mentors that you can meet with to discuss issues, professional advancement goals and leadership strategies. This means looking for mentors outside of your organization and perhaps someone in a totally different field. There is no cookie-cutter way to do everything, nor is there always one person who personifies all of the leadership qualities you hope to exemplify, one panelist said. 

2. Embrace "stretch" assignments. Often people like to test women in leadership to make them prove they are capable of handling a particular task. One of the panelists advised embracing these "stretch" opportunities to enhance your reputation and help you grow professionally. 

3. Live unapologetically, and honestly, at work. Answer questions truthfully and unapologetically at work, even if those answers may not be what someone wants to hear. This means being yourself. 

4. Establish programs for women at work. Establishing a group mentorship program or a series of webinars that address the advancement of women in medicine will help an organization foster a more inclusive culture and offer a safe place for women to bring up issues they may have experienced, the panelists said. 

5. Use your leadership position to advocate for women. If you are a woman in leadership, use that privilege to advocate for the women that may not be heard in the organization. One panelist said that she used her position to advocate for lactation rooms for employees who are new moms.

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