Twenty-first century progress and challenges

Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.” How can women “cast stones” in order to create a “ripple effect” across the leadership challenges of 21st-century healthcare, which needs a diverse workforce and innovate leadership?

According to 2012 data, women account for 75 percent of the healthcare workforce. They comprise 73 percent of healthcare managers, 15 percent of executive officers, 19 percent of board directors and 18 percent of hospital CEOs. Even though women are few in number in senior leadership roles, research suggests that women leaders build strong diverse teams and have a positive impact on business results outperforming maledominated companies by 26 percent. Women are creating a ripple effect!

Since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the appropriate leadership approach is crucial to healthcare delivery. Instead of a command-and-control style, collaboration, inclusion, transparency and mutual respect are required to build interdisciplinary teams with highly skilled professionals. Healthcare needs a blame-free environment with communication barriers removed and an empowered staff at all levels. Women play a crucial role in this new leadership model, which requires a transformational rather than a transactional style. Women have a tendency to nurture, communicate, collaborate, inspire and motivate — all soft skills of transformational leadership that produce excellent results.

A vital skill for all 21st-century transformational leaders is emotional intelligence (EQ), the ability to be selfaware, self-manage and build relationships. In order to develop EQ, leaders must be empathetic and exceptional listeners. Since 21st-century leaders have three generations to manage, the ability to communicate and understand individual needs is critical to building high-performance teams.

Along with EQ, leaders need to display egalitarian attitudes toward their employees. Where baby boomers will listen to what the leader says, Generation X and millennials require explanations, negotiation and transparency to gain commitment. In general, women demonstrate EQ and egalitarian characteristics more naturally, although both skills can be learned and developed by men and women.

Comparatively, men may be perceived as transactional leaders, focusing on supervision, organization, group performance and concern with moving the organization toward their goals. This transactional style is not necessarily superior or inferior to transformational leadership. Research shows that a variety of leadership styles make for a diverse approach to problem solving and innovation, two essentials in healthcare. The healthcare leadership team should not only be gender diverse, it should be diverse in all forms — racial, ethnic, cultural, age and socioeconomic — in order to makes decisions that reflect their diverse patients and employees, and ultimately pursue the goal of creating healthy communities in which they serve.

Educational Strengths

Women are seeking advanced degrees to prepare for leadership roles. According to the Center for Education Statistics (2010), women equaled men in bachelor’s degrees (50 percent each), outpaced them in master’s degrees (54 percent-46 percent) and gained in doctoral degrees (45 percent-55 percent). In several areas of healthcare, women are making significant strides. Women pharmacists currently outpace men 60 percent to 40 percent. In 2014, 47 percent of dental graduates were women, and while they account for only 20 percent of U.S. dentists, 53 percent are solo practitioners. In 2015, 48 percent of graduates from medical school were women.

Navigating the Obstacles

Both men and women face challenges in getting into an executive leadership position. However, women face additional challenges. Work-life balance, biases and lack of mentorship can cause women to be stopped by the “glass ceiling.” Women are the primary caregivers at home. Sheryl Sandberg says in her book Lean In that women have three jobs and men have one. Women’s careers are often interrupted to spend time raising children, where men can continue with their careers. Sandberg says women who want to stay in the workforce and reach the C-suite, need to make their husbands equal partners in child rearing and with household chores. With an equal partner at home, they are then better equipped to handle the demands of healthcare leadership that currently faces dwindling insurance payments with the need to provide exemplary service to their patients.

There are biases in the workplace, as people tend to hire those who are like themselves. Biases can be based on past experiences, groups, family upbringing or other factors. Although there is a higher educational level and participation rate of women in the workforce, gender bias begins in the recruitment process. Human resource managers should develop neutral perspectives beginning with the wording in their job descriptions and make every effort not to allow gender bias to influence the hiring or promotion process. Since there is a lack of women in executive leadership positions, there are fewer senior women mentors. With more men in senior leadership positions, there are more male mentors who develop professional relationships. Although men and women benefit from mentoring, research states that women are more likely to develop others than men. A 2012 Catalyst report states 65 percent of women who have been mentored will “pay it forward,” compared to 56 percent of men.

Tips for Advancement

Women who want to advance in healthcare leadership can attend conferences, read journals and take advantage of networking functions. They can do more than what is required and seek opportunities to grow and learn.

What is most important for women — and men — is to find their passion. Understanding leadership strengths, intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, and what is important, “the cause,” will help healthcare leaders find that “sweet spot” where they are completely engaged, inspired and confident that anything is possible. To quote Sandberg, “I hope you find true meaning, contentment and passion in your life. I hope you navigate the difficult times and come out with greater strength and resolve. I hope you find whatever balance you seek with your eyes wide open. And I hope that you — yes, you — have the ambition to lean in to your career and run the world. Because the world needs you to change it.” Women should “cast stones” and create the “ripple effect” to become 21st-century leaders in healthcare. Deborah Hedderly is an assistant professor teaching healthcare management, organizational behavior and human resource management in the MBA program at Roseman University of Health Sciences in Salt Lake City. She earned an MBA and a doctorate in organizational change from Pepperdine University.

Deborah Hedderly is an assistant professor teaching healthcare management, organizational behavior and human resource management in the MBA program at Roseman University of Health Sciences in Salt Lake City. She earned an MBA and a doctorate in organizational change from Pepperdine University.

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