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.
- About our CIO panelists: Annecharico, Byrne, Loveless & Schade
- JHM study on women in the C-suite
- “The barriers are really relatively complex.”
- Role of culture in enabling advancement
- Mentors & the confidence boost
- Challenging women to “look over the edge and do something scary.”
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There still are some barriers. It depends on the culture of the organization and what they are actually seeking in terms of leadership, because women often challenge the status quo, and that soft confrontation is sometimes not accepted.
It’s women like us who are willing to be role models and who are willing to speak out and help young women as they grow through their career, in terms of advising them, counseling them, and mentoring them
I said, ‘this is the right time, let’s move her up, and I personally will be her mentor. I feel so strongly that she can grow, and that we need to invest in her. Let her take that step and I personally will give that time.’
We take a look at those aspects that give them growth opportunities, but challenge them to look over the edge and do something that’s really scary. That prepares them for the behaviors that they need to be able to be comfortable with as they grow.
Gamble: Hi everyone, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedules to speak about this very important topic of Women in IT Leadership. I really look forward to hearing your thoughts. Let’s do some introductions; each of you please state your name, your title and organization, and we’ll start with Bobbie.
Byrne: Good afternoon. My name is Bobbie Byrne, I’m the vice president and CIO at Edward Elmhurst Healthcare, which is a three-hospital system in the western suburbs outside of Chicago in DuPage County.
Annecharico: Good afternoon, this is Mary Alice Annecharico. I’m the senior vice president and CIO for the Henry Ford Health System located in Detroit, Michigan. It is a complex regional system comprised of five hospitals and 140 ambulatory environments.
Loveless: Hi, my name is Jane Loveless, I’m vice president and CIO at Grand View Hospital in Sellersville, Pennsylvania. That’s in Bucks County, just north of Philly. I’m CIO for one hospital and four outpatient centers, and a growing ambulatory and very robust physician community.
Schade: I’m Sue Schade, I’m the CIO at the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers; that’s part of the University of Michigan Health System. We have three hospitals, nearly 1,000 beds and well over 120 ambulatory clinics as part of our organization.
Gamble: Okay, so a really great group today. I wanted to start by talking about a study that was published in the Journal of Healthcare Management on leveraging women’s leadership talent in healthcare. The study found that although 74 percent of the healthcare workforce is female, women continue to be underrepresented in the C-suite, which probably is no surprise to any of you. So I wanted to start by getting some thoughts on this and whether you believe women still face barriers in attaining leadership positions in health IT, and if so, what can be done to address this. Bobbie, would you like to start?
Byrne: Sure. I certainly think there are still some barriers, because if there weren’t barriers, we would have a much more equal representation of men and women in technology. But I think that the barriers are really relatively complex at this point. We have — at least in my organization — far fewer women even in our junior positions than we do men, and they tend to be more located in the positions that potentially don’t get as much attention from managers and directors, even when they start out in their junior positions and moving up. I think some of the real successes we’ve seen in healthcare IT as opposed to our colleagues in non-healthcare IT organizations is that women actually do better, especially those that start off in nursing or as physicians or in clinical roles, as that is actually their way of being seen. But certainly there are some factors that are maybe hard to identify as number 1, 2 and 3, but are keeping us from reaching our full potential.
Annecharico: I would like to compliment Bobbie’s comments, especially about the growth strategies within organizations. I am a registered nurse and practiced half of my profession as a director of critical care in a large academic environment. And although it was a wonderful opportunity for me, it was not one that I planned. It was not one for which I was educated at the time, other than those soft skills of relationship development and strategic thinking that were all part of that milieu that, for me, were able to be transferred into the roles that I have been holding for the last 20 years.
I would agree with Bobbie too that there still are some barriers. It depends on the culture of the organization and what they are actually seeking in terms of leadership, because women often challenge the status quo, and that kind of soft confrontation is sometimes not accepted, but at other times, it’s so openly embraced. With each of the steps of my own career, the willingness and opportunity to be at the table — to be part of those strategic conversations — it may be the graying of the experience, but I have found that the barriers for senior level women are a little bit more accommodated. It then begs the question of what do we do with those women that we lead, and how do we help fortify their opportunities for growth.
Schade: I’d like to make a comment on this. I think that there certainly are barriers; in terms of how it can be addressed, I think that it’s women like us who are willing to be role models and who are willing to speak out and help young women as they grow through their career, in terms of advising them, counseling them, and mentoring them, and I recognize at this point in my career that I serve as one of those role models. When young women come to me and say, ‘I want to learn from you,’ and ‘there are so few women in leadership roles in IT and you’re one of them — spend some time with me, talk with me’, I have to make that time, whether they are students (in an academic environment like this there are a lot of students who want to reach out) or staff within your own departments. I feel it’s part of my leadership role right now to help bring people along — women and men, but with a particular emphasis on helping women to grow into their roles. I say publically in my social media presence that I am committed to developing the next generation of health IT leaders; I take that very seriously, and it means spending time doing that.
Loveless: At Grandview, we’re in a unique position. Our CEO is a woman, as well as the CMO, the CNO, and our Chairman of the Board. Interestingly enough, three of the four of us that hold leadership positions in the C-suite have all been promoted within; only one of these four women has been brought in from the outside. So Grandview is unique in many ways. I think the barrier here for women has not been as significant and proof that we’ve been able climb the ladder and move into the C-suite. But I do believe that if you look across the many healthcare organizations, men are more likely to be in the C-suite arena.
Gamble: That’s really great to hear that your organization has so many women in leadership positions. It is encouraging. I’d like to talk a little bit about what Sue got into, which is mentoring. I know that with some organizations, they facilitate the relationships; they have some kind of organization to do that. But then for some it’s a matter of reaching out and taking the time to speak with younger women. I just wanted to hear about some of the experiences you’ve all had, either with a mentor or with you as the mentor, and anything that really stands out to you.
Schade: I have experience being in a formal mentoring program where I was a mentor to CHIME CIO colleagues, which was an interesting program that was established many years ago. Quite honestly, I don’t know if it still exists. I said I was willing to do it. I ended up being a mentor to two gentlemen who were in CIO positions but younger in their careers, and thought that I could be helpful to them. After doing that as part of that formal program for about a year, I thought to myself, if I’m willing to give X amount of time on a monthly basis to that, I need to be turning into my own organization.
I discontinued my involvement in that program, and instead switched that time to inside my organization with a couple of people — one young woman in particular who I felt very strongly was ready within my IT organization to move up into a manager role, but some others did not think she was ready. We had some turnover in the department and we definitely had some holes, and I said, ‘this is the right time, let’s move her up, and I personally will be her mentor. I feel so strongly that she can grow, and that we need to invest in her. Let her take that step and I personally will give that time.’ So then we established a structured mentoring relationship over an extended period of time to help her get up to speed in a manager role and everything that that involved.
Annecharico: Sue, that’s very powerful. I agree too; I think that one of our primary roles in our senior relationships with our organizations is that of succession planning. I have, over the course of my last three jobs, created the space for females to come together and talk about what leadership means to them and to create modeling opportunities, either through one-on-one mentorship or in group dynamics that help us shape why we think the way we think and what are our strong points. We complement those with one another’s skills and assets so that we can be open to the world of what leadership looks like. We often are in what could be contentious relationships with others as we try to influence change in multiple different directions, and young leaders don’t understand the dynamics of that, so you give them the opportunity.
I have had personal mentors for myself to help me continue to take a look at the ways in which we influence one another and how we influence our organization and then I have mentoring female leadership breakfast that I hold. I have four vice presidents who are females that report to me and my leadership team, and each one of them aspires to stretch and grow, but in different ways. So our performance planning becomes very formalized and we take a look at those aspects that give them growth opportunities, but challenge them to look over the edge and do something that’s really scary. That prepares them for the behaviors that they need to be able to be comfortable with as they grow.