Health IT (still) has a gender bias problem

They are 'events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator'
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When talking about the gender discrimination problem in healthcare (there's a big one), it's best to listen to the people experiencing it: women. And they're speaking up, with nearly half of them citing gender bias hurdles that have held them back professionally. The numbers back them up. This according to a new Rock Health report. 
 
Despite composing more than half of the healthcare workforce, women represent only 21 percent of executives at Fortune 500 healthcare companies and a paltry 6 percent of digital health startup CEOs that have been funded in the last four years, according to new data from Rock Health, the San Francisco-based digital health startup accelerator.
 
And, after surveying some 400 women in the industry, nearly 100 percent of them said they believe gender discrimination still very much exists, and nearly half said discrimination and lack of respect have actually held them back professionally. 
 
 
Rock Health officials also analyzed gender data from the 148 venture capital firms that invested in digital health, and the lack of female representation was stark. Women represented only 10 percent of the partners, with 75 of those firms having no women partners whatsoever. 
 
"The problem is real, and the problem matters," said Halle Tecco, managing director at Rock Health. Venture firms with women investment partners are three times more likely to invest in companies with women CEOs. It's no wonder women CEOs aren't getting funded."
 
And don't forget, this gender discrimination is most often not egregious, in-your-face blatant and obvious. Tecco cites MIT Professor Mary Rowe who has described the discrimination as more subtle. They're "apparently small events which are often ephemeral and hard-to-prove, events which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator," said Rowe. 
 
Healthcare CIOs confirm that. 
 
"It's very subtle," Sarah Shelburne, former CIO at Odgen Regional Medical Center in Utah, one of the states reporting the lowest percentage (10 percent) of women in health IT in our 2013 analysis, told us back in 2013. (We did an analysis back in 2013 of 3,000 senior health IT roles and found that 75 percent of them were occupied by men.) Shelburne observed it when outside vendors or contractors came in to meet with her. "Many were very surprised that I was in the role that I was in." 
 
Florida Hospital's CIO Jayne Bassler echoed Shelburne's sentiments on what it's like to work in a male-dominated field and often not taken as seriously by male colleagues outside the organization. 
 
"I feel at times maybe viewed more as a showpiece, a voice, but not really as somebody who brings substance to the table," she told us back in 2013. Bassler says it's not an everyday occurrence, but when working with non-EHR vendors in the technical space, she has noticed a difference.

Gender disparities bad for business 

 
There's also the business case (think return on equity) for gender parity that healthcare organizations should consider. According to recent McKinsey Global Institute data, companies with top quartile representation of women in executive committees performed significantly better than companies with no women at the top. Think a 47 percent average return on equity, when women were at the top, and more than 55 percent average earnings. 
 
"The good news is that achieving diverse leadership teams is not just a moral imperative, it's good for business too," added Tecco. 

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