The first International Women's Day, supported by over one million people, was in 1911. Today, it belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. As we celebrate this year's International Women’s Day, we acknowledge that equality is not a women's issue – it is a business and community issue. Gender equality is essential for economies and communities to thrive.
“In 2018, the HIMSS Women in Health IT Survey found that 94% of women said they felt that their work went unnoticed. That same year, the Global Health 50/50 Report showed that while women make up roughly 70% of the global health workforce, yet just 25% of the world’s top global health organisations have achieved gender parity at senior management level,” says Angela Velkova, HIMSS director of strategic relations and communities, EMEA. “I’d like to see those 70% better represented in their countries, organisations, and companies. Women can and should be leading their professions.”
Gender equality is an issue for everyone
We discussed the challenges of being a woman with three members of our HIMSS Future50 Community, which brings together representatives from the healthcare IT space in Europe, Middle East, Africa and Asia Pacific. This global community influences the potential of digital health to improve the lives of everyone.
Melinda “Mel” Wassell is currently the chief health informatics officer and clinical lead at Work Healthy Australia. Her background in chiropractic health and injury management fuels her clinical interests to develop digital practitioner insights and training that improve provider skills and patient outcomes. Wassell received the 2019 HIMSS Future50 award in the clinical leadership category for Asia Pacific.
In her first job, Wassell was responsible for treating injured workers on site. “This was very manual work, and in industries often dominated by males,” she explains. “There were often comments similar to, 'Are you strong enough to treat me?' coming from patients. Perhaps it’s the competitiveness in me, but I saw this as a good challenge to take up and show that gender had no impact on the treatment outcome.
“Since being in professional practice, I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to help to build process and policy within our company that minimises the risk of discrimination,” Wassell explains. “For example, creating a more objective KPI structure for practitioners to minimise the potential discrimination based on performance rewards being given to those who ask louder for it, which according to some research, is typically males.”
As the first female in her role, Dr Manal Almalki, part of the innovation leader category of the Future50 community for the Middle East, vice dean for Faculty of Public Health and Tropical Medicine at Jazan University in Saudi Arabia, says she learned that acquisition of power is not the biggest challenge.
“Being required to make a remarkable impact in any assignments that I am given, and knowing that my success or failure will indirectly affect the upcoming opportunities for appointing more women in leadership positions, as well as the appreciation, respect and value that those women deserve, are the major challenges that I have to intelligently handle and deal with.”
'Gender is not a limitation. Mindset is!'
“Coming into the IT world I was conscious that there were far more men working in this space than women,” says Helen Balsdon, head of nursing (informatics)/ chief nursing information officer, a strategic role working across Cambridge University Hospitals, a large university teaching hospital trust in the east of England, and member of the clinical leadership category of the Future50 community for Europe. She is passionate about using technology to support the delivery of high-quality, evidence-based nursing care and empowers patients in managing their own health.
Balsdon was once asked, “If you could invite three people, alive or dead, to dinner, who would they be?” She answered: Nelson Mandela, the Queen and Florence Nightingale.
As we celebrate the International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife and Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday in 2020, we recognise that nurses and midwives are often the first and only point of care in their communities, and are a key stakeholder in defining the future of patient care and improved outcomes.
“Nurses and midwives are the frontlines of healthcare, yet the professionals in those roles – mostly women – are often not invited to the leadership table. They should be empowered as decision-makers and a valued part of the C-suite,” Velkova says.
Being a woman certainly didn’t influence Balsdon’s career path. “I was 11 when I decided to go into nursing. I can’t remember why I decided that. So I’m not sure I was conscious of my gender when I made the decision,” she says. “I have had an amazing career. I have always grabbed the opportunities as they arose. I think those opportunities are open to men as well as women, although we have far more female nurses than men currently. Something as a profession we are trying to change. Gender is not a limitation. Mindset is!”
Wassell says that being a woman is not as important as knowing yourself when it comes to success. “As everyone grows along their career journeys, we recognise traits in ourselves that are helpful and unhelpful and hopefully learn a better way for the unhelpful traits. I learned that some of my behaviors were probably impacting my opportunities, irrespective of whether I was a woman. Realigning my beliefs and helping to educate others on some of the behaviors outlined in texts and research helped me to recognise more opportunities.
“I am sure there are many examples throughout life, where I might have felt internally that decisions were not made in a completely objective way,” she continues. “Seeing the issue allows you to do something about it.”
Improving gender disparity
To realise the full potential of every human everywhere, it is clear that addressing the gender gap within the industry, helping to drive awareness of gender-related issues and provide professional resources and greater recognition to women leaders making significant contributions, needs to be a priority.
HIMSS, owner of Healthcare IT News, is currently conducting a survey to determine the challenges that women in healthcare IT face and the opportunities they have leveraged along their career path to help further empower them as leaders in the space.
We value your insights – if you would like to contribute, you can take the 2020 survey here.
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.