Women at the Wheel: Q&A With the Female Leadership Team of Grand View Hospital

Grand View Hospital and Health Foundation in Sellersville, Pa., is home to one of the more unique governance structures in today's healthcare landscape: Its president and CEO, CIO, CMO, CNO and chair of the board are all women.

The female hospital executive is still somewhat rare in American society, despite the number of women working in the larger field of healthcare. A study from the American College of Healthcare Executives found women are more involved than men in specialized management areas, such as nursing, marketing and quality assurance, but a higher proportion of men are in general management.

Grand View's five leaders each have an interesting story to tell, along with unique perspectives on the challenges facing female executives and advice for other aspiring women leaders.

Roundtable participants include:

• Jean M. Keeler, JD, President and CEO
• Jane Doll Loveless, Vice President and CIO
• Jane A. Ferry, MD, Vice President and CMO
• Kathleen M. Burkey, RN, MSN, Vice President and CNO
• Mary Anne Poatsy, Chair of the Grand View Health Foundation Board of Trustees.

Question: Let's do a "roll call" of sorts. Can you tell me how long you've each been with Grand View, how long you've been in healthcare and your previous role and place of work?

Ms. Keeler, CEO: My relationship with the hospital goes back to the 1980s. I'm an attorney, so I graduated from law school in 1981 and went to intern for the judges in Bucks County, Pa. Shortly after, I joined the local law firm that represented the hospital, and attorneys there asked if I would handle Grand View's account. Healthcare law pretty much didn't exist as a specialty back then, but I became more involved [with hospital affairs]. I then came to Grand View in 1996 as in-house counsel and was named president and CEO in 2012.

Ms. Loveless, CIO: I've been with Grand View since 1985. I started here as a management engineer, when diagnosis-related groups were first coming out. It was the first time healthcare was regulated, as far as cost pressures go. I'm an engineering graduate from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. I worked at Proctor & Gamble in manufacturing from the time I graduated until I started at Grand View.

Dr. Ferry, CMO: I graduated from Temple University School of Medicine in 1980 and I've been here since 1985. I applied to work in the emergency room a few months after my second child was born. There was concern about hiring me, because where would the child be [when I was at work]? Ultimately, they did hire me and I ran the emergency department as medical director. I became the CMO 20 years ago.

Ms. Burkey, CNO: In my 42 years in healthcare, I've been a staff nurse, supervisor, coordinator, director and COO of a company that provided elder care. I've been a CNO for the last 10 years, and I've been at Grand View for more than five years.

Ms. Poatsy, Chair of the Board: I have been on the Grand View Hospital Board and Health Foundation Board for about 18 years. For the past several years, I have been chair of Grand View Hospital Health Foundation, and now I am the chair of the hospital board. I have an MBA from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and worked on Wall Street for five years as a vice president in municipal financing. After that, I moved out here and started teaching at the local community college. I teach business and computer fluency, and in that role I've had the opportunity to coauthor several textbooks.

Q: What are some patterns you've noticed over the years about women at work? Any observations about the challenges women executives face that are specific to healthcare?

Ms. Keeler, CEO: We were the first wave of female lawyers in Bucks County — there were not many women practicing law prior to me in this county. When my first child was born, I talked about going part-time for a while, and I was told by some people that there is no part-time practice of law. It's been a sea change in the legal practice, in terms of it having a much larger influx of women lawyers. There are more and more female partners in law firms and more females running large firms.

Ms. Loveless, CIO: Women wear a lot of hats. There are many challenges, and healthcare being a challenging industry, I think it can sometimes make it more difficult. We're pulled in different directions of family, work and expectations as a leader in an industry that is constantly changing and constantly regulated. So, I think there are intertwined challenges in being a woman, a leader and a leader in healthcare.

Dr. Ferry, CMO: Back in the 1980s, I honestly didn't think it was a big deal [to hold a leadership position], but I think I was relatively naïve. I didn't really know how to arrange child care, or to keep my house taken care of or how to get services at home. We were always working two shifts, where going home was another job. Healthcare is a 24/7 industry, so there's an added strain to balance work. There were not a lot of mentors for me. That is something each of us have made an effort to be for the next generation. I think the next generation is more aware of the challenges because they had a front row seat to our successes and failures.

Ms. Burkey, CNO: Nurses really are a community of compassionate caring individuals. When coming up the ranks of nursing, there is a tremendous amount of support. It is a predominantly female workplace that has changed significantly over the last 10 years, but I think it's really about nurses mentoring nurses. I've had several mentors who guided my work path. In the healthcare environment, a very nurturing environment, I think you find a lot of support you don't see in other industries. I don't think challenges are really male-female. The challenges are pretty similar for males and females.

Ms. Poatsy, Chair of the Board: I agree. I think, to be a good leader, you have to have a certain skill set. Whether you're male or female, it doesn't really matter. The finance world back in the 1980s was incredibly male-dominated. There were only a handful of women involved, and those women, I think, felt they needed to change who they were to fit in. They needed to dress more masculine, be more assertive, and talk in a different manner with a different language. Those concerns seemed to have dissipated over the years as gender barriers continue to break down. Women have learned to trust their differences. They tend to be a little more compassionate and collaborative, which is an asset to their leadership skill set.

Q: People often wonder about the differences between how men and women lead. What are your thoughts on that?

Ms. Keeler, CEO: I try not to make sweeping generalities, because I hate when people assume things about me. But, at least the women of my generation, we've had to wear many hats and forge our way through some difficult times when women were not always welcome in leadership positions. I think the women at this table have learned to be flexible and adapt, and also be very strong. There is a misconception that women are not strong and driven. I don't think any of us would be here if we weren't focused on results.

Ms. Loveless, CIO: I do believe there are differences. I went to an almost all-male school as an engineer. I think it's definitely true that sexes use different sides of the brain. But as time goes on, those differences are being minimized. Think about competition and sports in the early years, which can frame your relationships and leadership qualities. The competitive nature of sports is really important as you grow up and learn. Obviously, some sports are still male dominated, but many others are female-dominated and females are on male sports teams now.

Dr. Ferry, CMO: I've learned a lot from men over the years. I've worked with all sorts of leaders. I think we all have different leadership styles. I try all those styles, the ones I think are whole-hearted and good, and each has helped me in different situations. Men and women often approach issues differently, but over time styles begin to merge, which I think is a good thing.

Ms. Burkey, CNO: Being a leader is [about] having a sense of integrity, being clear with expectations, knowing who you are and being able to work well with others. It's about relationships and developing them. I don't think there is a gender bias there. I think it just the mark of a good leader. I do think there are core leadership competencies that leaders share, but I don't think it's male or female.

Ms. Poatsy, Chair of the Board: Of that core set of leadership skills, if you put it on a continuum, I think women tend to be more on the side of the collaborative, emotional and cooperative side, and men tend to be more action-oriented and directive, perhaps. In some instances one style works better than others, but that's not to say there aren't women leaders who are action-oriented and men who are collaborative.

Q: What is a myth about women's leadership, either in healthcare or in general, that bothers you most?

Ms. Keeler, CEO: I recently was on a panel speaking to a group of young women lawyers, and I thought some of the myths were, unfortunately, still around: That there's only one way to do this, or that it's impossible to have it all. I think there's this myth that if you're going to be a successful professional, you have to give up a lot. [Many of us] are mothers, we have husbands, we have families, we take care of our parents. I'm not suggesting it's easy, but everyone needs to forge their own path and I'm concerned about young women today who want somebody to tell them how to do it. Women should feel safe and comfortable making their decisions. There's some myth that somebody has figured out a way to have the perfect life. I think bright, strong women should trust themselves.

Ms. Burkey, CNO: Everyone sees nurses as very clinically focused and patient-oriented. I think in nursing leadership, as you move away from the bedside and advance through the roles, you remove yourself a bit from clinical interactions and focus more on business of healthcare. I think that's the way it needs to be. You can never lose connection with clinical side, but you also need to form different relationships with the CEO and CFO. You're part of a bigger team focused on a bigger mission and vision. Your scope of practice becomes more global. I was an advocate for the patient, and now I'm an advocate for the nursing community at large.

Ms. Poatsy, Chair of the Board: That [women] are too emotional. That can be held against us. When the board was interviewing CEO candidates, we came down to two male candidates and Jean. One of the questions posed to Jean was, "Do you feel being a woman is a weakness?" She said that, in her opinion, women have more of an artillery. You can be kind, gentle and collaborative, but when you need to be assertive, it is actually kind of a "wow." It catches people's attention. When a man's only artillery is to get louder, people might not listen to that as much.

Q: Which mentors who influenced your leadership style? How do you make an effort to pass on that valuable mentorship to others?

Ms. Keeler, CEO: I didn't have any, but then again I had many. I didn't have a female mentor. There just were not many women practicing law before the wave of us hit Bucks County. And yet, I learned a great deal from many men along the way. I went to a practically all male school and went to professional schools where [women] were pretty much in the minority. We're very familiar working with and competing with men — we've been doing it our entire lives.

The woman I admire the most is my mother, a homemaker. She always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. I think that's a good message to pass on to all young women. Speak to our friends' daughters, at our colleges and reinforce it to our daughters and collective daughters. I also think we need to raise our boys to understand women are their equals, they deserve respect and they should be just as excited for women's careers [as they are theirs].  

Ms. Loveless, CIO: I'm the first CIO at Grand View. CIOs are somewhat newer in healthcare than some of the other traditional positions. I can't say I have a specific mentor, but you have different needs in your life at different times. I think my role models were my parents. The mode back then — for my brother, sister and myself — was, "All of you can do whatever you want with focus, hard work and discipline." I have two sons, and my comments, direction, mothering and hopes for them are the same.

Dr. Ferry, CMO: I had some wonderful mentors, some men and some women. There are also some mentors in history. I love [Abraham] Lincoln particularly, because he brought his political rivals into his closest confidences and won most of them over. I try to do that in most of my professional life. If I have a disagreement where someone has overstepped their bounds, I try to put it away and move on in our next interaction. Each day I try to learn from my own behavior and mistakes, and [think about] what I might do differently the next time.

Ms. Burkey, CNO: I think my first mentor really came when I was a young nurse. I stepped into a semi-management role and was really lost. The director at that time stepped in and really started to focus me and give me direction. When I was a nurse cutting my teeth on running a unit, she gave the gift to me that it was okay to make mistakes. I'd learn from them. She sat me down and said, "Now what did you learn? What relationships didn't you have that would let you make a better choice?" That's something I brought with me through my whole career.

When I'm with other folks, I allow them to make mistakes, and most have nothing to do with clinical [processes]. We're not taught leadership, mentoring or business in our [nursing] curriculums. You have to allow people to grow as leaders and make a fair share of mistakes to find their true north. Nothing is better than looking at nurses coming through the ranks and seeing they're going to be a leader.

Ms. Poatsy, Chair of the Board: When I graduated from college, I worked for a trust department in a bank in Boston. There was one woman whom I admired greatly. She was kind, collaborative and worked with clients in such a way. I told her, "I'd love to do what you are doing." She said I'd need to get a masters' degree, but this is also what I'd need to do: I'd have to learn to be more assertive, trust myself, stand up for myself.

She and her message have stuck with me throughout my career, and I think back to her all the time. Fortunately, times have changed so women are becoming more accepted for who we are. We are smart and capable of running companies and large organizations. I have two daughters, so I'm hoping to be a mentor to them as they're beginning their own careers. It's fantastic to watch both of them be gracefully competent in their fields.

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