It’s certainly not news that women are underrepresented in health IT leadership, and have been for quite some time. The good news is that a number of initiatives are underway to figure out how to promote more diversity. But before a solution can be formulated, it’s important to examine all the components — not just the ‘why,’ but also the ‘how.’ To that end, Witt/Kieffer recently conducted a study looking at the strategies women employ in climbing the latter and how they define success, in comparison with their male counterparts. In this interview, we spoke Donna Padilla, Senior Partner and Vice Chair of Witt/Kieffer’s Healthcare Practice, about what the study found, what can be done to reverse past trends, and how the qualities most valued in leaders are evolving.
Gamble: What was the impetus for the Gender & Career Advancement study?
Padilla: We know that women are not well represented at the top ranks of healthcare leadership. Our 2015 survey report (“Closing the Leadership Gap in Healthcare Leadership Diversity”) showed this, but we also realized that women and men had different perceptions of how much “progress” had been made in terms of leadership diversity. In the latest survey, we wanted to test this idea further by gauging whether women and men seemed to perceive career advancement and career goals differently. We found that they did. We wanted to call attention to the fact that we need more women in leadership, but we also need to consider how women move up the ladder and can often define “success” differently than men. It’s a big topic but I feel like we are at least scratching the surface.
Gamble: One of the most interesting findings is that although both men and women said they’d like to be part of a senior leadership team, men were more likely to target the CEO position, whereas women were more willing to be part of a senior leadership team through other C-suite roles. Were you surprised to see this? Can this actually help women advance, or is it a barrier?
Padilla: I was not surprised to see this. The women executives that I meet do not seem to eye the CEO role as much as men do. They don’t often have a “CEO or bust” mentality and can find success and fulfillment in many different roles. I think this is a healthy and balanced approach to one’s career. On the other hand, women are more likely to pursue a CEO role if they have more women leaders in their organization. So it’s important that organizations maintain a strong number of women across senior leadership and send a message that they are entirely supportive of having a woman as CEO.
Gamble: Another intriguing finding was that although men are more likely than women to apply for CEO, once women do apply, they’re more confident they can get the job. What are your thoughts on that?
Padilla: Women seem to give more forethought to throwing their hats in the ring. They deliberate more, but once they make a decision to become a job candidate they do so confidently and without hesitation.
Gamble: Any other findings that stood out to you as interesting or surprising?
Padilla: One thing I found interesting was that women seem to place a higher value on mentoring, training, and networking with others as they advance. They utilize the career resources that are at their disposal more than men. This was something that came out in our survey that I found noteworthy.
Gamble: As you know, the percentage of CEOs in healthcare who are women in still low. Any thoughts on what aspiring leaders – and organizations – can do to try to level the field?
Padilla: There are so many things. From a pure business point of view, it is important to realize that diversity in leadership benefits an organization. There is strategic value in having many voices, many types of leaders and leadership behaviors. When organizations understand that diversity in leadership gives them a competitive advantage, they take it more seriously.
Gamble: In our interviews with CIOs, we’re finding that there’s no longer a specific path that leads to the role — more candidates are coming from areas outside of IT such as nursing or project management, or even outside the industry. Do you think this will continue?
Padilla: It will continue for expanding roles like the CIO, which are transforming from more technical management roles into true leadership positions that require poise, communication and people skills, the ability to influence, strategic vision, and more. As the pendulum shifts towards broader, less technical competencies, potential candidates can come from varied career backgrounds.
Gamble: As a recruiter, are you finding that the skillset requirements for leadership positions are changing? If so, in what ways?
Padilla: There has been a lot written about leadership in this century and how it’s becoming less authoritative and more team-oriented and relationship-driven. I think there is something to this; in healthcare, organizations are becoming less top-down and more matrixed. This trend lends itself to leaders who excel at working in partnership with others to get things done rather than through a command-and-control style.
Gamble: Finally, as someone who’s been in the industry for many years, are you encouraged by how things are evolving in terms of having more diverse leadership teams, or do we still have a long way to go?
Padilla: I am encouraged. It is clearly a different healthcare world than even 10 years ago, and leadership teams are more diverse. However, it is important to consider “diversity and inclusion” in a broad sense. Progress is not just a matter of increasing the number of women and underrepresented minorities in leadership, but also being open to different leadership styles and definitions of career success.