Lack of women CEOs is a problem for healthcare, Oliver Wyman says

More than 80 percent of the decisionmakers in the U.S. healthcare workforce are women — and 65 percent of women in C-suite healthcare positions fill technical or influencer roles — yet only 13 percent make it to CEO, according to the latest Oliver Wyman report. And, when they do make it to the top, it takes 3.5 years longer.

The report, released Jan. 7, was based on a study of 3,000 healthcare C-suite executives and board members across the U.S and the career paths of 112 CEOs.


Oliver Wyman analysts interviewed more than 75 men and women in the industry to try and understand “the visible and invisible dynamics women face,” and they discovered it’s “much harder” for women to earn the trust of their peers, when at the top it is mainly male dominated. “The closer women get to the top, the less diversity exists, and the more dominant male perceptions and unintentional biases become,” the researchers said.

Often when women get to a position that reports to the CEO, it is usually as a technical expert, such as a chief human resources officer, chief legal officer or chief information officer, the study found.


Women often build credibility early in their career as problem solvers, but this can sometimes backfire if they are perceived as being focused more on the execution of solutions versus strategies, Oliver Wyman said.

Some mistakenly believe women may lack the confidence for being at the top, the study said, but Oliver Wyman found that women often have different views on what it means to be competent. The women they interviewed overwhelmingly felt “results speak for themselves.” However, this strategy of over-relying on results can unintentionally keep women less top-of-mind for promotions, the study said. “Results are important, but leadership is broader than a result and the way results are achieved is also important,” Oliver Wyman advised.

Despite the challenge, women have been making a name for themselves across the industry, from Silicon Valley tech giants to major hospitals, academia and the public sector.

Healthcare IT News owner HIMSS, for instance, announced late last year the winners of its third annual HIMSS 2019 Most Influential Women in Health IT Award, who will be honored at the Awards Gala at HIMSS19 in Orlando. They include: Aashima Gupta, director of global healthcare solutions at Google Cloud; Kisha Hortman Hawthorne, chief information officer at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; Christine Hudak, health informatics program director and professor of Health Informatics at Kent State University School of Information; Lygeia Ricciardi, chief transformation officer at Carium Technology solutions; and Heather Sulkers, senior director of the enterprise project management office at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto Canada.


“Healthcare, unlike other industries, does not have a ‘women in healthcare’ problem, but a ‘women in healthcare leadership’ problem,” said Terry Stone, health and life sciences managing partner at Oliver Wyman. “How can the industry move toward becoming more consumer-oriented when it lacks a leadership team that reflects and relates to those making the most decisions?” 

Diana Manos is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance writer specializing in healthcare, wellness and technology. 

Twitter: @Diana_Manos
Email the writer: [email protected] 

Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication. 

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