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X and Y: The Path to Gender Balance in Healthcare Leadership

Published on : 12/3/19
  • This article was first published on the personal LinkedIn account of David Boyd Williams, Director of Global Diversity for Sodexo.

    Imagine the year 2127. It’s 108 years from now. Four generations. Your children may have great grand children. That’s how long it will take to close the global gender gap - the difference in the social, educational, political, and economic opportunities between men and women. 

    At the current rate, achieving economic gender parity, where women are paid the same as men, will take an additional 100 years.
    We can’t wait that long. 

    Even though many companies are working diligently to achieve gender balance between men and women in the workplace, getting to gender balance is just one step to gender equity. Our study looks at representation of men and women and identifies the optimal mix while simultaneously addressing issues of equity including access to opportunities, equal pay etc. We need to create a tipping point that significantly boosts and sustains success within this century. Gender balance is just the beginning. 

    Why Gender Balance Matters

    Gender equity used to be considered primarily as a social initiative. Now it has evolved to where leading organizations are creating strategies to compensate for historical and social disadvantages women have experienced that lead to inequality. This marked change isn’t just about good will, it’s about performance.  

    The data is clear: achieving gender balance doesn’t just benefit employees; it also benefits the entire ecosystem of the organization. Numerous studies show a positive correlation between women on boards and an organization’s financial returns, including revenue, sales growth, market performance, return on assets, return on equity and return on sales.
    Our own gender balance study looked at 50,000 managers in a variety of functions in 70 entities worldwide and found that when management teams have a gender ratio of 40% to 60% women, the organizations have better results including:

    • Operating margins increased 8+ percentage points
    • Employee retention increased 9+ percentage points
    • Client retention increased 9+ percentage points
    • Employee engagement increased 14+ percentage points
    • Workplace accidents decreased 12+ percentage points 


    Gender Balance in Healthcare

    In healthcare, the issue of gender balance is pronounced. Although the number of women entering the medical field has increased, the number of women in leadership positions hasn’t. Female physicians make up 38% of full-time medical school faculty, but of those, only 21% are full professors, 15% are department chairs and 16% are deans. One study found that female academic physicians at public medical schools in the U.S. are also paid 8% less than their male counterparts.

    Inequity continues beyond medical school. Once employed, male primary care physicians make 16% more than female physicians. The same discrepancy follows for male and female specialists, with women being paid  37% less than men.

    Although women comprise more than a third of active physicians, only 9% are division chiefs and 6% are department chairs. And those women may have to meet a higher bar of qualifications for the same positions. For example, more than half of women leaders (56%) have experience seeing patients compared to less than one-third of men in leadership positions. By not having leaders at the table who can provide valuable perspectives from clinical experience, healthcare organizations miss the opportunity of a competitive advantage.

    Woman looking into microscope

    Tackling Gender Balance Issues

    Gender imbalance is a systemic issue and solving it requires a multifaceted approach from an interconnected community of stakeholders such as hospitals, schools, businesses, and individuals to correct inequities at each point in the talent pipeline. So, where do we start? Determine what aspect of the imbalance that you can tackle now. 

    At Sodexo, for example, we are focused on creating gender balanced senior management teams, with women comprising 40% to 60% of the teams. In 2017, we committed to having 100% of our employees working on gender-balanced management teams by 2025. Although gender balance is not a new direction for us, committing to a target with a specific timeline creates a sense of urgency that fuels innovation, action, and accountability. As we work toward our objectives, we’ve identified tips to help address gender balance issues as well as ways to avoid derailing our efforts.

    5 Ways to Move Toward Gender Balance

    1. Conduct an internal assessment of your data to identify gaps in the representation and compensation of women. Look for pockets of imbalance within departments or geography. 
    2. Evaluate your workplace culture. Create a culture where employees, including men, feel comfortable sharing in targeted focus groups that give your leaders solid insight.
    3. Ensure that unconscious bias does not impact your HR processes. Take proactive steps to interrupt unconscious bias and ensure that no organizational policy or process allows for systemic bias to inadvertently derail your efforts.  
    4. Implement initiatives like mentoring and sponsorship to provide equitable opportunities for women’s advancement. 
    5. Hold leadership accountable for inclusion results. For gender balance to be effective, leaders must be invested. 

    Let’s not wait any longer to break down the barriers to the best and brightest leaders, regardless of gender. When we as leaders take a hard look at the current environment of our organizations, commit to achieving gender balance, addressing underlying gender equity issues, and show sustained results, real progress will be made. Corporations can lead the change if we each make a significant start — and that dedication makes gender equity much more likely to occur during our lifetime. 

    Sodexo partners for gender balance

    1. Catalyst
    2. Global Summit of Women
    3. United Nations Global Compact
    4. WeCONNECT
    5. Women’s Empowerment Principles

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