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.
- Work-life balance
- “Everything I learned as a manager I learned by being a parent first.”
- Using technology to stay connected
- “We all make choices in our lives.”
- Learning when to embrace opportunity & when to let go
- Setting the tone — “It’s okay not to be working at night, working around the clock.”
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Times have changed dramatically. I think our young parents — men and women both — have a much better situation in terms of the work dynamic, and much more supportive, family-friendly policies in many organizations.
You have to chunk it down and say, okay, how is it going to work today? How is it going to work this week? How is it going to work next month? Is my daycare working? Do I have the right balance? Just take it day by day.
The key word is choices. We all make choices in our lives, and I think that as leaders, bosses, and managers, we here to hear out people when they have certain situations and they’re great employees you want to retain.
When you’re on vacation, my expectation is no peaking, meaning don’t be looking at your emails and responding to half a dozen people and being so engaged that you can’t break away.
Gamble: That’s a good transition to another really big topic: work/life balance. It’s something that’s particularly important to me. I’m a mom of two toddlers, so it’s a constant struggle right now, but I have a work environment where I have flexible hours. And that actually makes me work all the more harder because I’m engaged more and I really want to keep this arrangement. I wanted to get your thoughts on the experiences you’ve had with balancing work and family, because I’m sure in some cases this has changed for many of you along the road.
Schade: I’ll jump in here. When I’m on panels talking about these kinds of issues, I like to tell some stories from the way back when I was raising kids. My daughters are in their 30s now and I’m a grandma, so one of them has a child and is doing the balance herself. In fact, she lives in California with no family support system. She was trying to find someone to take care of her child because she’s got something that’s contagious at the daycare center, and so she has to stay home. But my daughter and son-in-law can’t necessarily take the time off from work right now, so, déjà vu, that brings back many memories. Because I, too, with my two young daughters and husband had no family support system when they were young, in terms of living in a different city from family.
It has changed so much in that it’s not just the female mom, working mom who needs to deal with it. Either the working mom or the working dad ought to be able to say, ‘Okay, who’s going to deal with this,’ and I will say that when I was raising my kids, my husband and I shared all of that, so it wasn’t an issue. But I think for many women it probably fell to them in a way that it didn’t necessarily fall to the husband.
At that time when my girls were young, I worked as part of a management team for a good five years where I was the only female in the IT management team. I drove in the Chicago area a good 20-plus miles in traffic to get to daycare, with my husband coming from another direction to get there. We traded off, and we knew you had to get there by a certain time or there’d be a fee — I paid many late fees. And they said that if I didn’t get there by a certain time they would take the children to the police department, because that’s where the department of welfare services was. I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? I’m sitting in Chicago traffic. I’m going to get my kids. I’m not picking them up at the police department.’ I never had to.
What was happening during those times was what I’ll call the old boys’ network — a lot of informal strategy discussions after normal hours in the boss’ office; sitting around doing big picture thinking, and I’m the female running out the door to get my kids. I think at that time many of the men had wives who were at home, and they didn’t understand or couldn’t relate to what I was working with. Times have changed dramatically. It’s just not like that. I think our young parents — men and women both — have a much better situation in terms of the work dynamic, and much more supportive, family-friendly policies in many organizations. So that’s a good change.
Loveless: I agree with Sue. With daycare and grandparents taking care of children, times have really changed. When we were taking kids to daycare, it was primarily the mom’s job, and a lot of people were frowned upon because your kid was sick and you had to stay home. And this is typical of healthcare though — I think they’re more family-friendly, more of a female working population, and so I think healthcare is a good place for women from that standpoint. I believe other organizations and businesses have caught up, but times have definitely changed. I think there are still issues, unrelated, but we’ve come a long way.
Byrne: I think one day when I have nothing else to do, I want to write a book that says, ‘everything I learned as a manager I learned by being a parent first.’ Because almost everything that you learn by being a parent has applicability into management — I mean, how do you juggle multiple priorities? How do you deal with needy toddlers or needy employees or needy doctors or whatever we’re dealing with? How do you use distraction? All of these techniques. For people who are kind of struggling with the work/life balance, it seems so overwhelming when you look at it as a grand design. Even the description of fighting Chicago traffic, which I do right now, it’s overwhelming. You have to chunk it down and say, okay, how is it going to work today? How is it going to work this week? How is it going to work next month? Is my daycare working? Do I have the right balance? Just take it day by day, which is obviously a good way to kind of take life, and work some days, as well.
I have a boss who says, you should be at your kid’s school when you want to be, you should be at conferences, all of those things. But there are still some times when there are a few strategy meetings and I say, ‘when did that happen?’ And it’s, ‘Oh yeah, we all went and grabbed a drink after work.’ And I think, ‘oh man, I missed that.’
Annecharico: I think the other aspect of today’s environment is that we’re such a mobile society that, especially in healthcare IT, there are opportunities for staff who need to be with their families, or for other reasons can’t be in the office, but they can be productive, so that we are embracing the use of technology in ways that were just not existent before for us to stay connected. Although the barrier to entry is that face time is so essential in some meetings that if you can’t be there, the conference line or the teleconferencing opportunities that we have using LinkedIn and other ways to stay connected don’t mean quite the same thing. But it gives us flexibility and it enables us to appreciate the human issues that, as Sue was describing, each one of us went through in spades. I like Bobbie’s analogy of you need to be a parent first in order to be a manager. I think that’s a pearl of wisdom.
Gamble: Now as far as offering things like flexible hours, do any of you believe there’s a downside to that? It sounds like your organizations are progressive, and that’s really good to hear, but we still here about women who fear that requesting flexibility could hurt them. Is that something any of you have run into, at least recently?
Schade: I can tell you a story in terms of one of the women that worked for me back when I was Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the Boston area who was a project leader. When she had her first child, she asked about being able to come back part-time for a period and what would that do to her role. Quite honestly, it’s within the last 10 years and details on what we worked out are a little fuzzy, but my advice to her very much at that time was, ‘Make choices. You’re young yet. You don’t have to try to do it all. If the right choice for you right now is to come back part time and I need you to step out of a project leader role because I can’t have a part time project leader, don’t worry. You’re going to have a time where you come back into that role.’
This is a young woman who eventually had two more children over the span of maybe five years and just managed that in terms the choices of how her career was advancing and having her family. I was right there with her being supportive of her making the right choices and offering her what I could, but supporting those choices.
I think the key word is choices. We all make choices in our lives, and I think that as leaders, bosses, and managers, we here to hear out people when they have certain situations and they’re great employees you want to retain. You can help them think through what choices they have, personally and professionally, while also keeping in mind what are the needs of the organization. Can you give that person in that position that part time flexibility, or do you need to put them in another position in order to make it work for the organization and for them?
Byrne: I think the key there — and we have the same thing with women who work part-time — is that there are choices. And if you’re going to go part-time, then you are not going to be promoted, because they’re in a different place in their life. Just like you, I couldn’t have a part-time team lead; it just wouldn’t work for the business. So I think it’s great that women have the opportunity to go part-time, and men as well, and then when they want to get back on the ladder, to continue up. But if you get completely off the track — which I know some women have felt like they didn’t have any choices and it’s not good that they had to choose all or nothing — it’s very tough.
I got a resume recently from somebody who had worked for a vendor 12 years ago and then left to raise her family. It was a friend of a friend, sort of a ‘will you talk to her and get her connected’ situation, and I said sure. But when I talked to her, she had these expectations that after 12 years of being out of the workforce, she was really going to be able to come in to this relatively right where she got off. I said, ‘Twelve years in this industry is a really long time. We have some open positions that are really more entry-level, and you probably could move up quickly if you really put your mind to it.’ But she was absolutely aghast that she was going to be into the same category of somebody who had one or two years out of college experience, but I just thought that after 12 years out of the workforce that she really had limited how much she was going to be able to jump right back on that track.
Annecharico: I think that one of our obligations as female leaders is to look at the soft side of life-work balance. Our organization has flexible scheduling to a point; what we do to set the tone and the expectation for what a 10-hour day looks like? If you don’t give relief, then you need to indicate that you’re totally offline; the evening is yours, your family is totally important, and only in extreme circumstances am I’m expecting to be able to be in touch until you’re back to work the next day.
The same thing is true with elongating what that stress level is that makes people feel like they can’t do it anymore, or they can’t do it full-time, and their career is going to be in jeopardy, because they can’t work 19-hour day every single day and make the sacrifices at home. When you’re on vacation, my expectation is no peaking, meaning don’t be looking at your emails and responding to half a dozen people and being so engaged that you can’t break away for the period of time that you need with your family, or just simply with yourself for that special time that is not considered work time. I think that type of flexibility is a piece that we as a society need to start focusing more on so that we maintain the endurance of some of these incredibly bright people who are going to replace us over the years in the roles that we play in our organization.
Schade: I just want to jump in and say I agree with what you’re saying, Mary Alice. You commented on the soft side — we need to also lead by example and say, ‘It’s okay not to be working at night, working around the clock, checking your email all the time.’ Take the vacation. Take the break.’ We preach to ourselves — or, at least, I preach to myself — and I preach to my folks, and I follow it a good portion of the time. I enforce it with them and they remind me when I send an email on vacation. ‘I thought you weren’t on email,’ and I’ll say, ‘It’s just this one issue I feel like I have to track, and so here’s my reply.’
Byrne: That is just so true for all of us.