Women CIOs paid less than men? HIMSS has some theories about that

The gender gap has grown wider, even among executives, during the last decade. But why? 

Women who work in the health IT field — be they executives or other types of workers — are often paid less than men and that disparity has widened over the last ten years, according to a Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) study released in 2016.

The HIMSS Longitudinal Gender Compensation Assessment revealed that women were paid 81 percent of what men were paid in the health IT field in 2006, and that pay disparity actually widened to 78 percent in 2015. The study was based on a compensation survey conducted every two years among HIMSS members who self-report their incomes.

“We decided to take a look at the 2015 survey data and crunch the numbers. We looked deeper into the data,” said HIMSS vice president Lorren Pettit. “Long story short: no matter how you cut the data, there is a disparity in pay. And surprisingly the chasm was widest at the executive level.”

Healthcare providers, in general, tended to pay women less than men, whereas most health IT vendors were less egregious when it came to pay disparity, Pettit said.

Pettit has a theory as to why this takes place. In essence, women are hard-wired to care more about a mission, or a cause, than what they are paid. They are more altruistic than men. Pettit said he bases this theory on anecdotal conversations he has had with women CEOs. This might explain why women don’t ask for as much at non-profit organizations.

But this doesn’t explain why HIMSS discovered the greatest pay disparity among for-profit healthcare providers. “To be perfectly honest, we can’t explain that,” he said. “It’s just how the data came out.”

Pettit and other analysts at HIMSS theorize that perhaps non-pay elements factor into a woman’s negotiations over pay. If she can leave work early, or work from home sometimes, or in any other way be aided in taking care of her children, she might consider those part of compensation, instead of asking for the higher pay and the extra privileges. This might stem from something deeper. “Women are trained from an early age not to ask for more,” he said.

Women also are viewed in a negative light if they try to negotiate, which might prevent some from speaking up, Pettit said. They might be afraid they will lose the job offer. Whereas men are seen as strong if they negotiate or play hardball, Pettit said.

Some of the pay disparity could be attributed to how men look at their jobs, Pettit added. Men see things quantitatively. They want to make a certain amount this year, a certain amount next year. They demand it. Women tend to see compensation in terms of flexibility, the ability to hold down the job while also being able to care of their kids, he said. “’Why fight for more money?’ they think. ‘I’m just grateful to have the flexibility in this job.”

When it comes to vendors, most HIT vendor consultants are “road warriors,” he said. The job has the expectation that a worker will be away from their kids, on the road. This makes the job similar for both sexes, thus maybe that’s why the pay is closer to the same. There is no flexibility factor.

No matter what the reasons for the disparities, Pettit said prospective female employees should know that all jobs — and everything about them — are negotiable. Employers should work for a win-win for both the organization and their female workers. If not, they risk the loss of talent and the added expense of “employee churn.”

The HIMSS survey data will be part of the Views from the Top session “Shattering the glass ceiling: Lessons learned from aspiring feamle executives," scheduled for Monday, Feb. 20 at 10:30-11:30 AM in Room W320. 

HIMSS17 runs from Feb. 19-23, 2017 at the Orange County Convention Center.

This article is part of our ongoing coverage of HIMSS17. Visit Destination HIMSS17 for previews, reporting live from the show floor and after the conference.

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