Ochsner HR exec: Creating gender parity in leadership crucial to tackling workforce challenges

Tracey Schiro, executive vice president and chief risk and human resources officer for New Orleans-based Ochsner Health since April 2021, is keyed into gender parity efforts in the healthcare C-suite and has worked with her colleagues to boost female representation at her organization and in the industry.   

Ms. Schiro began her Ochsner tenure 15 years ago as assistant vice president of compensation, benefits and human resources information systems. She assumed her current role after serving as interim chief human resources officer and vice president of human resources information systems. 

Becker's Hospital Review caught up with Ms. Schiro to discuss barriers women often face when advancing to senior leadership roles, what her organization is doing to close the gender gap, and why closing that gap is crucial for the future of healthcare. 

Trends in the C-suite 

Across healthcare, there are examples of shifts toward gender parity in leadership. Take as an example Blacksburg, Va.-based LewisGale Hospital Montgomery. For the first time, three women are leading the hospital, which is part of Nashville, Tenn.-based HCA Healthcare.

An April 8 report from McKinsey & Co. also found women make up more than two-thirds of entry-level employees in healthcare and that the industry still outperforms other sectors in female representation. 

However, the report acknowledges remaining challenges: While women account for more than half of all entry-level employees in the national healthcare workforce, they represent 29 percent of executive roles. 

Ms. Schiro said she has seen a lot of change when it comes to gender representation in the C-suite. 

"We [at Ochsner] now have a team of five females that are sitting at the executive table in our executive meetings weekly, and they're considered members of our executive team and executive roles," she said. "Of course, we have female physicians and female community board members. I've seen a lot of change over time in terms of representation of females, within healthcare nationally and also at Ochsner."

Currently, 69 percent of Ochsner's management population is female, a majority of whom are at the manager and director levels. That percentage — as well as other figures Ms. Schiro cited during the interview — could change in the wake of Ochsner's merger with Meridian, Miss.-based Rush Health Systems; the deal took effect Aug. 1.

Preparing women for leadership roles 

To prepare more women for vice president and higher-level roles, Ochsner established a talent review process.

Ms. Schiro said this involves considering areas of the organization where there are women who can be successors for higher roles, then establishing development plans for those individuals. 

"That's part of our diversity and inclusion initiatives to really help grow those women leaders into executive level and vice president and above positions," she said. "We added inclusivity as a core value. We live it and believe it."

Ochsner also has a mentoring program called Momentum, which is focused on developing diverse leaders at the manager and director levels and helping them prepare to be at higher level leadership roles, including vice president.

"We do that by pairing them with executive leaders as a mentor and having a very programmatic approach to mentoring over a 12-month period of time," Ms. Schiro said. "Those leaders are … getting feedback and then working with their mentor on the development plan and getting advice on how they can develop their own skills and talent." 

Additionally, Ochsner has more than 2,000 members in its Women Empowering Women resource group, which focuses in part on supporting women through professional development. 

"That group is geared toward supporting not only our internal women that make up over 75 percent of our employee population, but also supporting community events for women and helping women in the community," Ms. Schiro said. She cited examples of women’s health fairs and Dress for Success, a nonprofit organization that helps support low-income women with attire during their job search and interview process.

"The members of the Women Empowering Women resource group offer mentoring internally to each other, and they bring in internal and external speakers to share their career journey so that women interested in leadership can ask questions and get advice from others who have advanced their career," she said. 

Ms. Schiro said Ochsner also has a fellowship program designed to hire people coming out of master of health administration or master of business administration programs.  

"That's another way for women to get their foot in the door in those fellowship programs and grow their career," she said. 

Barriers to closing the gender gap 

Although Ochsner and other health systems have initiatives in place, Ms. Schiro said women continue to face barriers to promotions. In healthcare, women are twice as likely as men to cite parenthood and increased home responsibilities as reasons for missing out on promotion opportunities, according the McKinsey report

That is one reason organizations must consider work-life balance, according to Ms. Schiro.

"It's an important piece to helping women understand that they can balance the professional and the personal responsibilities that they traditionally take on," she said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected the U.S. female workforce. In early 2021, 2.5 million women had left the job market since the beginning of the pandemic, compared with 1.8 million men, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A Feb. 18, 2021, report in The New York Times cited demands of child care, as well as layoffs and furloughs during the pandemic, as contributing factors for many women leaving the job market. 

Ms. Schiro said healthcare executives should think about how to help women who left the workforce reenter it. And she sees remote work as part of those efforts. 

"What types of things do we need to put in place to support them? The options around remote and hybrid work give us an opportunity to help individuals who maybe had stepped out of the workplace or had to dial back, to get back in and get back on their career path," Ms. Schiro said.  

She said remote work and providing flexibility options for workers are important pieces in replenishing workforce talent while focusing on developing other individuals for leadership roles.

"At Ochsner, we have very robust workforce development programs that actually support not only our internal staff, but also those members of our community who are looking for careers in healthcare," she said. "And we've done a lot to help individuals grow their careers — and it also helps us to develop the pipeline we need."

Ms. Schiro advised her peers at other health systems to consider the flexibility piece as well as how they can support women in their career growth, education opportunities to advance those who want to improve their skill set to advance their certification.

"I think that those are really important pieces in terms of getting the workforce we need," she said. "We really need everyone to be part of getting the workforce back to where we need it to be — not just in healthcare, but in the United States." 

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