'The percentage of women in leadership must grow': Why Ashley Schmidt founded Women in Healthcare

Ashley Schmidt was always an ambitious woman who wanted to make a difference. When she found the healthcare field, she realized her calling.

Mrs. Schmidt spent five years as an associate director of business development for SmithGroup's Washington, D.C., office and Eastern region in the healthcare market, and during that time she founded Women in Healthcare, an organization devoted to promoting the development of women leaders in the healthcare industry. The organization aims to mentor and empower women leaders as well as support their businesses.

Now as the vice president and director of business development for HKS, Mrs. Schmidt continues her passion for women leadership in the healthcare space. She is the president of Women in Healthcare, which has grown to nine chapters across the U.S.

Here, Mrs. Schmidt discusses her passion for helping women achieve their professional goals and best advice for women seeking leadership roles.

Question: What led you to found Women in Healthcare?

Ashley Schmidt: When I was younger, I was like a chihuahua, a lot more bark than bite. At 16 I would hit the neighborhood basketball court trying to take on 6'5" dudes because I was blind to gender differences. As I grew and I experienced the proverbial 'glass ceiling,' I knew I wanted to be a part of something that made a difference, but I had such narrow viewpoint of what that looked like. When I found myself working for an architectural firm, I started to focus on healthcare. At that point it hit me: healthcare is where I was meant to be, and where I knew I could make a difference.

The hospital workforce is about 80 percent female, yet their leadership is less than 18 percent female. These are unfortunate statistics that generally expand to the companies that work with hospitals as well. I knew the percentage of women in leadership must grow, and spoke with hundreds of women about what was stopping them from rising to the top. It is the responses of those women and the desire to see real change that ultimately informed the mission and objectives of Women in Healthcare.

Q: What is the best advice you received from a mentor, and would you still give that same advice today to emerging female leaders?

AS: Know your values and what you are willing to compromise and evaluate those at your crossroads. When confronted with what seems like an amazing opportunity, be able to ask yourself if it adds to those values or takes away from them. You can still be successful and draw boundaries.

Q: Based on your experiences, what are the top two to three skill sets that women need as they begin to grow into leadership positions in healthcare?

AS: First, one of the most important things you can do as a leader is build an effective team. Creating a diverse team of strong men and women who move the train forward is crucial. Building your team starts with strategic recruitment, identifying individual work styles and if done right, makes any leader's job easier and drives results.

Second, build relationships, develop others, develop yourself.

Third, spend time learning how to ask for what you want, take feedback, and give feedback. These three types of conversations are crucial to advancement and communication with your team.

Learn more about Women in Healthcare here or email info@womeninhealthcare.org.

More articles on women leadership:
5 female leaders on building and developing teams
A 'very, very fine line': How the gender 'double bind' affects workplace feedback & 3 strategies to stop it
Bon Secours Mercy Health's CIO champions 'best idea wins' throughout merger

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