It was 7 a.m., and a room full of women were ready to talk about how to break down barriers and pave the way for the next generation. The problem was that one of the panelists — Lea Rosenauer, president and CEO of Girls Inc. of San Antonio — was delayed because of the heavy fog that had settled in during the early morning hours. And what’s worse, she was traveling with a group of young girls who had been chosen to attend several events at the Fall Forum and meet with some of the top women leaders in health IT.
Fortunately, Rosenauer and the group of girls didn’t let the weather stop them, and proceeded to take the stage for a session that examined how women leaders can gain more visibility and overcome the obstacles that stand in the way. Other panelists included Sarah Richardson, CIO of DaVita Healthcare Partners; Rose Ann Laureto, CIO at Gunderson Health System; and Adrienne Edens, VP of Educational Services with CHIME.
“As an industry, we’re not seeing the progress we want to see with women in leadership,” said Edens, citing lack of visibility as a major factor. “You can’t become what you can’t see.”
The other major factors, according to the panelists, are a lack of confidence and mentorship. According to data presented, women are not likely to apply for a promotion unless they meet 100 percent of the requirements, whereas men are likely to apply when they meet just 60 percent of the criteria.
“There’s a reluctance to seek higher positions,” said Edens, noting that women often need a “gentle nudge” to go after a promotion.
Therefore, the onus is on leaders to put systems into place to provide women with answers to their questions, along with encouragement, noted Laureto. “We need to create an environment that enables women to expand their skills,” whether it’s through continuing education programs or networking opportunities.
And beyond that, there are other steps leaders can take to help remove some of the barriers faced by women.
- Get out and speak. According to Rosenaur, one of the biggest obstacles is keeping girls interested in STEM fields. By speaking to at events and hosting programs like Girls Inc., women leaders are able to show girls what they can achieve and help keep them in the path to technology-focused careers.
- Creating jobs that appeal to millennials. On the same hand, it’s important to emphasize that there are multiple paths that can lead to CIO (or other health IT leadership) roles. “There are many opportunities for people with clinical or informatics backgrounds — it’s not just about technology,” said Joanna Sunquist, CIO at HealthEast Care System, who attended the session. Another area that can present opportunities for young people is digital health, added Laureto.
- Establish mentors or coaches. These types of programs can either be formal or informal in nature; what matters is that young women have “someone they’re accountable to and someone whose opinion they trust,” said Rush Health CIO Julie Bonello, also in attendance.
- Create a supportive environment. According to Richardson, this starts with getting to know your staff and colleagues on a personal level. “The first thing I always say to people is, ‘how are you?’ Not ‘what are you working on,’ but ‘how are you? How are things in your life?’ It helps build trust and let people know you’re invested in them,” she noted. Both Richardson and Bonello stressed the importance of a healthy work-life balance, which leaders can do by encouraging new parents (or those caring for elderly parents) to take time off.
- Be each other’s support system. In an industry as competitive as health IT, “We need to have each other’s backs and be each other’s ambassador and brand manager,” said Richardson.
Finally, Edens urged attendees to “bring your true self to work” and embrace the characteristics that women bring to leadership roles. “I’m tired of being told I need to act like a man to succeed at work,” she said. “We have our own strengths,” which include a strong focus on team-building, collaboration, and organization. “We’re uniquely skilled at identifying goals and making a plan to get them done.” She also believes women are particularly strong when it comes to recognizing that things are going well and pivoting in another direction. “We’re not just trying to rush to get it done today; we’re trying to go an exceptional job. These are qualities I believe women can bring to the table.”