The gender equity problem is significant in health IT, with more than half of women in the industry saying that it will take 25 years or more to achieve gender parity, according to a recent Rock Health report.
It’s a pretty bleak outlook, but supported by some damning facts: Just a mere 10 percent of CEOS are women at digital health startups, with similar findings at digital health VC firms. And C-suite executives at the hospital level have been stagnant for three years, with just a third of all executives.
But the shift in care models may mean women will have even more opportunities at the C-suite level in the coming years, said Brenda Doherty, partner and head of the healthcare provider practice for executive recruitment firm Buffkin/Baker.
As increasingly more hospitals transition to outpatient and in-home care models, hospitals will become more of a spoke on the wheel, versus the hub, she explained. “As a result, we will see more and more hospital CEOs being female, probably nurse executives and that makes sense [for where the industry is headed].”
While the industry remains in transition, there are ways women can position themselves for the new roles.
As a recruiter, Doherty said there are key elements that she looks for in a CEO. It starts with finance, which can help women go beyond being an influencer at the table to an active member of the team.
“Second, as their careers progress, women need to strive to run their own profit and loss (P&L) and be laser-focused on growing that over time,” Doherty said. “It’s a screen in terms of CEO searches that I’ve done… If you don’t have P&L responsibility, you’re left in the background and not considered.”
“You’ll also need an advanced degree. Anything in finance as a secondary area is what I would strongly recommend,” she added. “Finance is the fuel of running a business. If you can’t understand who’s paying for what and how much it costs, your voice doesn’t have the substance.”
And while it “sounds self-serving,” Doherty also noted that women should be willing to take calls from headhunters.
“Women are notorious for not only not taking calls, but blocking them,” she said. “Men get it. They recruit for the best jobs, but for some reason women have been slow to the game. It’s not on their radar screen.”
So what do recruiters look for when hiring for executive roles?
It depends on the role and the “must-haves” dictated by the client, said Doherty. People need to meet the screens, but the obvious requirements are P&L responsibility and the number of employees under the applicant’s responsibility.
“But the other piece is the intangible: executive presence, someone comfortable in their own skin and someone who can confidently project their thoughts and ideas,” said Doherty. “And that’s another piece … being able to command an audience.”
“It’s a skill that both women and men can develop,” she continued. “The fear of public speaking is one of the highest phobias in the world. But to be able to command an audience is really critical with a CEO role.”
Those who want to reach the executive level should consider public speaking classes, such as Toastmasters, she said. Groups or academic classes provide a venue and platform for people to get in front of an audience. And practice will help women become more comfortable speaking in front of an audience.
Doherty stressed that women also need to be willing to sponsor and mentor other women in the field to help “groom the next generation of women leaders.”
“Make introductions for them, so they can play in the same circles equivalent to male leaders,” she added.