Indeed, women have made significant progress in their decades-long equal opportunity fight. But they still have quite a slog ahead of them before they become true vocational counterparts to men: The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates the dawn of workplace equality to occur sometime in the 23rd century, specifically, 216 years from now.
That’s T-minus 78,840 days and counting.
The WEF’s depressing projection is based on the economic regression women experienced last year as measured by labor force participation, wage equality, and professional leadership. In a November 2017 report, the organization determined the planet’s economic gender gap reverted back to its 2008 level, after having peaked in 2013.
“Talent is one of the most essential factors for growth and competitiveness,” WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab wrote in the report’s preface. “To build future economies that are both dynamic and inclusive, we must ensure that everyone has equal opportunity. When women and girls are not integrated—as both beneficiary and shaper—the global community loses out on skills, ideas, and perspectives that are critical for addressing global challenges and harnessing new opportunities.”
The global healthcare community is particularly being short-changed, as the industry—for better or worse—is still mostly a man’s world. Despite dominating the healthcare labor pool (80 percent of workers are female), women continue to be underrepresented in both the boardroom and corner office.
Data from San Francisco, Calif.-based seed fund Rock Health shows that females are completely shut out of the chief executive position at Fortune 500 healthcare firms, and they comprise only 22.1 percent of all board members in the sector, up slightly from the 21 percent recorded in 2015. Notwithstanding the increase, board-level gender inclusion is spotty at best, with only eight Fortune 500 companies building a directorate comprised of one-third or more female members (Abbott Laboratories and Cardinal Health have one of the highest ratios at 36.36 percent). One board (Centene Corporation) remains all-male, and five (including QuintilesIMS and Baxter International) contain 10 percent or fewer women directors.
“The goal of having more women in senior leadership is the same as any other diversity initiative,” noted Jennifer Stewart, managing director at the Advisory Board, a global best practices firm that helps healthcare organizations improve their performance. Stewart also oversees research at the Board’s HR Advancement Center and Nursing Executive Center.
“You want to ensure your leadership team—and overall workforce—is representative of the diversity of the patient population you are caring for,” she continued. “The challenge isn’t to only increase the absolute number of women in healthcare leadership, but to expand their representation beyond CNO [chief nursing officer], VP of HR, and any other executive seats they’ve been historically likely to fill.”
Those expansion efforts have been fairly futile, though: Despite outnumbering men four to one, women are still a C-suite minority, comprising only 22.6 percent of all Fortune 500 healthcare executives with president, vice president, or chief in their professional titles (up 2.6 percent from 2015). Adding insult to injury is the Fortune 500 group’s inability to achieve a true 50-50 executive-level gender balance, and the outright exclusion of any female executive at both LifePoint Health and Kindred Healthcare.
Such injustices, not surprisingly, are spawning pessimism among women about their chances of shattering healthcare’s glass ceiling. Nearly half the respondents (45.4 percent) to a 2017 Rock Health survey believe it will take 25 years or more to achieve gender parity in the medical workplace, and 12.4 percent are convinced it will not occur for at least 50 years. Only 7.5 percent are confident the labor force will be equally balanced in five years, and an alarming 16.1 percent are skeptical it will ever take place.
Still, there is reason for hope: The Rock Health survey found an optimism among respondents about healthcare’s opportunities for female leadership positions, and noted a sharp increase in gender parity within digital health startups. Data indicate women lead 9.7 percent of all digital health startups funded since 2011, and nearly a quarter (24 percent) founded in 2016 alone.
In its report, Rock Health provides various reasons for women’s advancements in digital health, including investment diversity; grassroots efforts like blogs, non-profit groups, and summits; and perhaps most importantly, a determination among women to build a female friendly culture currently missing in Corporate America.
“I started CancerIQ not only to fill a need in the cancer market, but also to create the kind of company I dreamed of working at,” CancerIQ Founder and CEO Feyi Olapade told Rock Health in its 2017 report on the state of women in healthcare. “My mom is my co-founder and nearly half our employees are women. But my goal is to make women the majority of our company because that’s how you solve women’s health problems.”
As well as the gender disparity problem in healthcare.