Leveling The Field: How Leaders Can Help Advance Women in Health IT

Sue Schade, Interim CIO, University Hospitals of Cleveland

Sue Schade, Interim CIO, University Hospitals Health System

Deanna Wise, EVP & CIO, Dignity Health

Deanna Wise, EVP & CIO, Dignity Health

One of the biggest misconceptions about the movement to advance women in health IT leadership positions is the idea that it’s about promoting women at the expense of men. That couldn’t be further from the truth, according to Sue Schade and Deanna Wise, who are presenting a session at HIMSS entitled, “Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Lessons Learned for Aspiring Female Executives.” Rather, the movement is about leveling the playing field and clearing some of the hurdles that women have faced in the past.

It’s a cause both Schade and Wise were happy to take on, both having faced obstacles on the road to attaining leadership roles. But the road was perhaps a bit rockier for Schade, who recently started as interim CIO at University Hospitals Health System, having previously held CIO posts at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers. While working as a director for an Illinois-based organization in the late 80s, she was forced to content with male managers who held after-hours meetings (that excluded those with parenting obligations), and one colleague who refused to work with her, even going so far as to accuse her of being the beneficiary of nepotism.

Although Schade believes the environment is much more supportive these days, there’s still room for improvement. “I hope we start to see more sensitivity among men and women leaders of the need to be supportive and help develop both men and women so they can have an equal shot at those roles,” she noted.

One factor that could help that along? Getting more women into the technology field itself, says Wise, who has been CIO at Dignity Health since 2011, previously holding CIO roles at Vanguard Health Systems — where, at one point, she was the only woman at the C-suite table — and Maricopa Integrated Health System. She believes educational efforts geared toward young women in high school and even middle school can remove the intimidation factor and highlight the leadership potential that a career in technology can offer.

“We need to focus on the fact that much of what we do is being able to influence and build relationships, which is a strength many women have,” says Wise. Although technical knowledge is certainly important, she believes more emphasis should be placed on “highlighting the leadership qualities and removing some of the fear.”

To her point, many experienced leaders see hesitation in young women and a lack of self-confidence compared with their male counterparts, which makes it all the more important for organizations to have mentorship programs in place.

“Women might need for encouragement to take on things they haven’t done before or may not be an expert in,” says Schade. “There are things you can do to be sensitive to helping develop women leaders, and it’s not at the expense of helping develop male leaders.”

In the presentation, which will take place Wednesday, March 2 at 1 p.m. PST at the Rock of Ages Theater, they will discuss advancement strategies for female executives in health IT; evaluate different leadership styles of female executives and the impact they may have on their career path; and talk about the impact that female executives can have an organization.

“Between the two of us, I think we can give people some good stories, insights, and inspiration,” says Schade.

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