Career advice from women leaders proves health IT isn't a boys' club anymore

Some of the industry’s top women leaders share lessons learned that have helped them succeed in an industry long dominated by men.
Women IT leaders

While the number of women in health IT leadership positions have grown over the years, there is still a long way to go to increase diversity and equality within the industry. In fact, even with 1 million cybersecurity positions open in 2016, women only make up 11 percent of the IT workforce.

So how do these women health IT innovators make a big impact in an industry often dominated by men?

“Be fearless,” said Providence Health Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer Amy Compton-Phillips, MD. “Share your voice, speak up, but in a respectful, helpful way. And be comfortable being yourself. You don’t have to conform to a behavior that feels outside of who you are as a human being.”

“If you’re more comfortable being yourself, you’ll be more impactful as a leader,” she said. “Your job is to be helpful and inspire people to do the good work. I think, you can do that and still be who you are.”

For Compton-Phillips, that was a tough lesson to learn. She explained that as a leader, she often felt as if she needed to conform to a certain model to be an effective leader. But after participating in a leadership development as a team, she realized that the view of herself was different than how others perceived.

“It was no wonder: I was trying to be someone I was not,” Compton-Phillips said.

For digital startup Outcome Health’s Chief Engineering Officer Nandini Ramani, the main thing is to step out of your comfort zone. It’s the idea of pushing past the notion women should just try to get a seat at the table.

“But why should there only be one seat for women?” Ramani asked.

Women need to empower and mentor each other while relying on allies for support -- and those can also be men, explained Ramani. “That’s what’s going to enable change.”

“There really is a glass ceiling: It’s challenging for women,” said Ramani. “I would love to say it’s easy, but there are very few of us in the industry, especially in coding and engineering. We need to fix that.”

To get there, Ramani said that, as a whole, women IT leaders should support and encourage the younger generation early on to take those tech courses. And from there, they should enable and bring them into the industry, while nurturing them along the journey.

“Some people say it’s a pipeline problem, but I think it might just be going to the source,” explained Ramani. “Clearly, women like myself exist. We need to find them and bring them in. And once they’re in, create an environment to nurture them. We need to be mindful of that, and it needs to be part of the mission of the company.”

“Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve made diversity part of the discussion,” she added. “Holistically, half of the population are women. If you only design with half of the population in mind, you’re missing out on both the point of view of women -- and those consumers.”

For example, AMIA runs a career development of women task force to advise and prepare women entering the field. M*Modal CMIO Gilan El Saadawi is a member.

To El Saadawi, it’s diversity that gives companies their strength. While women may be slowly advancing in health IT, leadership positions are still dominated by men. Part of that is many women “tend to accept the status quo and don’t speak up for themselves.”

“Women can achieve leadership positions if they remain focused and assertive in their field of study,” said El Saadawi. “It’s imperative to take the initiative and persist until you get what you believe is fair.”

“Additionally, women can have both a career and a family as skillful multitasking is one of the most important qualities women possess,” she added.

In fact, CedarBridge Group Founder, CEO Carol Robinson rejoined the workforce later in life, after being a stay-at-home with four kids for many years. The best advice she ever received was that it was never too late to start, as she still had at least 35 years of career ahead of her.

Some of her peers in similar situations didn’t think they had options to re-enter the workforce in the same way. But Robinson explained that there’s still plenty of time with the right mindset.

“Tenacity, resilience and a lot of energy are the best assets,” said Robinson. “My success thus far has been due to two things: my network and my hard work. A combination of utilizing people you know to help you learn and grow in your own sphere of influence.”

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