When it comes to attaining IT leadership positions, women have come a long way — but there’s still a ways to go. According to a recent study in the Journal of Healthcare Management, women make up 74 percent of the healthcare workforce, but are only represented by 24 percent of the senior executive team. It’s a statistic that comes of no surprise to our panelists — Mary Alice Annecharico, Bobbie Byrne, MD, Jane Loveless, and Sue Schade — four influential leaders who have defied the odds and, in doing so, serve as role models for young women and men who aspire to become leaders in the field. In this four-part series, the four CIOs share their thoughts on the barriers that still exist for women — and how they can be overcome; why mentoring is so critical; the many benefits of women’s professional networks; and how technology can be leveraged to improve work-life balance. They also speak about their own career paths, the tough choices they’ve had to make, and the power of self-confidence.
- Attributes of successful leaders
- “We’ve become mentors because we’ve had great mentors.”
- Byrne’s football analogy
- Encouraging timid women to “speak up”
- Benefits of professional networks — “How do we reach out and leverage the people that can help us?”
- Guarding against being “too busy”
LISTEN NOW USING THE PLAYER BELOW OR CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE TO OUR iTUNES PODCAST FEED
For a woman to succeed, I believe she needs to be strong and flexible. Sometimes those attributes are not always inborn, and you can step aside and work with someone and show them that they can do it.
I definitely tend to mentor young women more than young men, and I notice a big difference in doing that. I feel like you only mentor people that you identify as having real talent and potential; you’re not mentoring the slackers.
If our young women are always working in their comfort zone, then they’re not going to reach their full potential. And it’s easier for me to explain that to the men than it is to the women.
How do we leverage those opportunities so that we can begin inviting those that we are nurturing into that same environment to get the look, the feel, and the acumen for that to be important for them as well?
Loveless: I agree. I think it’s our responsibility to mentor. In order for a woman to succeed, I believe she needs to be strong and flexible. Sometimes those attributes are not always inborn, and you can step aside and work with someone and show them that they can do it, and give them the confidence. I think a lot of times, women seem to be more kind and gentler and collaborative, but not necessarily assertive and provide that wow that you can give some direction and support that they somehow get that strength to be able to prove themselves. I think that women have been successful with someone behind them and I think that’s true of men also, but I think we as women in IT leadership have that responsibility.
Byrne: I’m struck by how similar these comments are to my own experience; that we’ve become mentors because we’ve had great mentors. Like Jane’s organization, I have a female CEO and an executive staff that’s about 50/50 men and women, and the balance is really excellent. I have learned from these mentors that you can be a strong leader and still want to chit chat about your kids from time to time, or maybe even a pair of cute shoes you bought. These are all okay things to do in an executive position.
I definitely tend to mentor young women more than young men, and I notice a big difference in doing that. I feel like you only mentor people that you identify as having real talent and potential; you’re not mentoring the slackers. So you take sort of the best of your junior people, and I find with the young men, I toss them the football, I give them something, and they run with it. I do the same for the young women — I toss them the football, and then I have to give them a little kick in the pants. And then maybe I have to pull them down the hallway a little bit and say, ‘you know you can do this.’
On the whole — and there is a lot of individual variation — but it definitely takes more pushing. I had a recent experience with a young woman with whom I’d been in a mentoring relationship for around a year and a half, and I really thought she was ready for the next step. She was going back to school to get her Master’s, which I thought was excellent, and she had just moved in with her boyfriend, and she said, ‘I can’t do anymore. That’s all I can do.’ And I said, ‘you know what? You really can do more. If you get in and it gets to be a little bit too much, then we’ll talk about how to work through some of these problems.’ But she was cutting herself off because she was afraid that it was going to be too much to do, as opposed to having that confidence to say, ‘I really can do it,’ and then working the natural implications. I mean, if our young women are always working in their comfort zone, then they’re not going to reach their full potential. And it’s easier for me to explain that to the men than it is to the women — at least, on the whole.
Gamble: This is really, really interesting stuff. I had a manager who called me into her office at one point and said, ‘I want to hear you more in our meetings. Speak up.’ It was a game changer. I don’t think I’ve stopped talking since then, but it was just such a boost of confidence, and these things really make a difference.
Schade: I absolutely agree with what’s being said. At the same time, regarding the last example I’ve said that to men who work for me: I need to hear from you. Don’t hold back. Don’t hold back in meetings. That can be gender-based at times, and it can be based on personality or other reasons.
Annecharico: It also depends on how thirsty the individual is for growth. Once you remove that barrier for the timidity that they do politely, either because of the cultural home environment from which they come, or whether they are transplants to a geography that they’re less familiar with; once you take that wrapper off, in my experience, I don’t know that I would say that I’ve had men or women be unable to unleash themselves once they realize that this is the direction that they really want to go.
Loveless: I think some of that is gender based. If you think about it, about at least when I grew up, sports was really big for men and not necessarily for women. And I think that’s changed, but if you’re in a competitive sport, you learn how to lead and how to work as a team and dominate, and you build the qualities that sometimes, with women, aren’t nurtured at home or they haven’t had in their environment, or they just come from a different perspective and need more of the push than the males do. I believe that they are definitely differences in sexes, but not necessarily across the board. But I think you’re right, I think a lot of it’s in the upbringing and what they know and what they’re comfortable with.
Gamble: Let’s talk a little bit about networking. The study that I referenced before found that many women still feel exclude from informal networks, like golf outings — I know many women do play golf, but things that seem to be a little more targeted toward men. I wanted to see if you all still run into things like that, and if so, how you deal with it.
Annecharico: I think one of the things that we’re beginning to see in our larger cities in particular are women’s professional groups getting together, because there are fewer formalized mechanisms for them to have a buddy outside of work. We’re so busy in the work that we do that we look for those professional organizations that talk about the things that are important to us for our own career growth, or how do we reach out and leverage, through networking, the people, that can help us with our day to day financial investments, a hairstylist — things that you just don’t have time to be able to think about or how do we network so that we can be aligned and associated with boards.
I’m finding in the last three cities that I’ve been over the last 10 years that this is a growing commodity, and it’s very important for us to be enriched, but then, how do we take that down a notch? And so the idea of the golf outings for the organization, I happen to be in a female-driven leadership organization as well, with our CEO and all of our presidents of our hospitals being female, as well as marketing and some of our other core services — how do we leverage those opportunities so that we can begin inviting those that we are nurturing into that same environment to get the look, the feel, and the acumen for that to be important for them as well?
Byrne: I find it interesting, and maybe it’s just because of where I am in my life — I have three teenagers at home and my husband is fantastic, but I don’t want to go out to dinner. I really don’t. I will do business dinners, of course, but I really would much rather go home and be with my family. That tends to be more a traditional female behavior, but certainly there are men in our organization who do the same thing. I find that I need to rearrange things and do the breakfasts and the lunches in order to do some of these networking opportunities, and then pick the dinners and the late-evening activities based on the benefit. Because to me, there’s really a cost. I’d much rather be with my family.
I also think that women — and I am also guilty of this — tend to say, ‘I don’t have time for that networking relationship type activity because I have too much work to do,’ instead of saying that the networking and relationship type activities are really probably some of the most important work that I can do — not only for myself personally in my career, but also to advance the mission and the vision of my organization and to sort of tell our story of the kind of work that we do. That doesn’t seem like work to women, and so we say, ‘I’m just too busy,’ and I think that’s something that we really have to guard against.
Annecharico: That’s a great point.
Schade: I think that goes back to divisions of labor and how you’re treating your employment and all of your responsibilities elsewhere. I’ll leave it at that.