Punching Holes in Health Care’s Glass Ceiling
Oct 21, 2015 8:00 AM
If you took a snapshot of all the Utah women in leadership positions in health care, you’d be hard-pressed to believe we have a gender gap.
Some of our most prominent health organizations are run by women: Mary Beckerle, M.D., CEO of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, Katy Welkie, R.N., M.B.A., CEO of Primary Children’s Medical Center, and Linda Leckman, M.D., CEO of the physician group at Intermountain Healthcare—to name a few. There’s the insurance side of the equation. Women helm the state’s two largest health insurers: Patricia Richards, CEO of Select Health, and Jennifer Danielson, president of Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah. There are entrepreneurs like venture capitalist Amy Rees Anderson, who founded the medical records retrieval and storage company MediConnect Global, which sold three years ago for $348 million.
And that’s just a sampling of a more thorough, but by no means exhaustive, list of Utah’s “Titanesses” of health care pictured above and named below. The reality, of course, is there exist stark gender disparities in health care, and Utah is not immune. Nationally, women account for 73 percent of medical and health services managers but only 18 percent of hospital CEOs, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Utah, the ratio is lower; one of 10 hospital CEOs is a woman.
It’s not a pipeline problem. Nationally, women are more likely to graduate from college than men, and half (40 to 50 percent) of the nation’s medical school graduates are women. Yet men are twice as likely to be the full professors teaching them. Men also comprise two-thirds of funded medical researchers. Add pay disparities to the mix, which are widening for women doctors, nurses and physician assistants, and it should be clear that it’s going to take more than wishful thinking to correct the imbalance.
And correct it we should. The health care gender gap hurts everyone. Women make most of the health decisions for their families, and health systems should be reflective of, and responsive to, their needs.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently highlighted a few of the proactive steps we are taking at the University of Utah to cultivate a culture of gender equality. We are training our hiring committees on unconscious bias. We are standardizing interview questions and job offer letters. Every year, we analyze salaries. And we’re adjusting our tenure and promotion policies to make it possible for women, and men, to take paid parental leave without being penalized.
A junior faculty mentoring program started by my colleague Carrie Byington, M.D., Vice President for Faculty Development, has resulted in extramural funding rates of more than 90 percent for all participants. And it has had the added effect of increasing inclusion and retention of women in the research enterprise.
Clearly more needs to be done. And as the training ground for future health industry leaders and scientists, it is the job of academic medical centers to lead the way.
First, and foremost, though, we as a community and industry need to acknowledge the problem. No one wants to admit their biases. We’d all like to believe that we’re blind to gender, race and ethnicity. Look, again, at the photos of Utah’s female health care leaders and let them sink in. Then ask yourself, is this the image that first comes to mind when you hear the words “CEO,” “surgeon,” or “scientist?”
Culture is something we inherit and collectively create. The same can be said of our impressions, how we make sense of people and the world around us. The process of perception may be something that happens over time and beneath our awareness. Yet we have the tools to change our own perceptions of the world. So what’s stopping us?
Utah’s Health Care Leaders
- Vivian Lee, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., Senior Vice President of University of Utah Health Sciences, Dean of the School of Medicine, and CEO of University of Utah Health Care
- Amy Rees Anderson, Managing Partner and Founder of REES Capital, former founder and CEO of MediConnect Global, Inc.
- Katie Welkie, R.N., M.B.A., CEO of Primary Children’s Hospital
- Kristin Carroll, M.D., Chief of Staff of Shriners Hospital in Salt Lake City
- Mary Beckerle, Ph.D., CEO of Huntsman Cancer Institute and Distinguished Professor of Biology and Oncological Sciences
- Jennifer Danielson, J.D., President of Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Utah
- Linda Leckman, M.D., Vice President at Intermountain Healthcare, and CEO of Intermountain’s Medical Group
- Patricia Richards, R.N., President and CEO of SelectHealth
- Terri Kane, M.B.A., CEO of Dixie Regional Hospital
- Barbara Ohm, M.B.A., CEO of The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital
- Jennifer Sadoff, CEO of Moab Regional Hospital
- Jennifer Crouse, M.B.A., CEO of Northern Utah Rehabilitation Hospital
- Sherrie Pandya, CEO of Kane County Hospital
- Carrie Byington, M.D., Pediatrics Professor and Vice President for Faculty Development at University of Utah
- Cynthia Furse, Ph.D., Furse, Electrical Engineering Professor and Associate Vice President of Research at the University of Utah
- Robin Marcus, Ph.D., Chief Wellness Officer, University of Utah Health Sciences
- Kristen Keefe, Ph.D., M.S., Professor and Interim Dean of University of Utah’s College of Pharmacy
- Patricia G. Morton, Ph.D., Professor and Dean of University of Utah’s College of Nursing
- Karen H. Gribbin, M.D., Chief of Staff of the Veteran’s Administration in Salt Lake City
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