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Breaking the Bias in Healthcare Leadership

break the bias

Breaking the Bias in Healthcare Leadership

For all the progress that has been made, women continue to remain underrepresented in leadership positions. And Healthcare Leadership is no different! According to a recent survey by the Advancing Women in Healthcare Leadership (AWHL) project, despite making up 75% of the healthcare workforce, women are only 45% of public hospital board chairs, 39% of private hospital CEOs and 38% of state and federal chief medical or health officers. Women are the majority of the workforce but do not hold an equitable share of healthcare leadership positions.

Additionally, the fact that women in leadership positions continue to be paid less than their male counterparts is a big problem. And women in leadership rarely have the luxury of stepping back from work commitments which makes it extremely difficult to balance the demands of parental commitments – which increased a hundredfold since the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The sad reality is that until the pay gap is equitable, women will need to continually overcome unreasonable demands on their time to step up into leadership roles.

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard also warns of the effects of working from home for women, stating that when given hybrid work locations as an option most men are choosing to return to the office while most women are choosing to work from home so that they continue to balance domestic commitments. Gillard says the potential effects of this choice for women is that they will be seen as less committed than their male counterparts by their employers and also miss out on those ‘water cooler’ conversations that can lead to opportunities like taking the lead on a big project.

I truly believe that so much of what holds women back in the workplace is founded in society’s belief in a woman’s position. When I look around school at pick up time, 80% of the parents are women; Mother’s Day stall gifts continue to include items like oven mitts and decorative pegs; correspondence that comes home from school is almost always addressed to me. Honestly, we have not come as far as we think we have!

The Australian healthcare system is a mess of fragmented and inefficient systems that are poorly integrated. Women in healthcare leadership have the opportunity to shape the healthcare system for the better.

Melinda Gates writes in her book ‘The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World’: “You have to understand human needs in order to effectively deliver services and solutions to people. Delivery systems matter. Getting tools to people who need them in ways that encourage people to use them. It requires getting around barriers of poverty, distance, ignorance, doubt, stigma, and religious and gender bias. It means listening to people, learning what they want, what they’re doing, what they believe and what barriers they face.”

And I think that because women have been charged for so long in meeting everybody else’s needs we are so uniquely placed to do this work and actually deliver a system that works.

My personal journey in healthcare leadership has involved long hours and a lot of sacrifice – prioritising work over any kind of social life or hobbies. But all along, having the courage and privilege to speak my mind and #BreakTheBias has been important to me. I say ‘privilege’ because I think it’s important. Fortunately, I come from a wealthy-enough family and so I’ve always had the backup I needed to call out sexism or any form of discrimination from those in-charge. The need to do so arises a lot, particularly in corporate environments. But what I’ve learnt from those encounters is that perpetrators/people like that more often than not respect your honest opinion.

I know a lot of smart women who don’t speak up or change the way they show up in key moments. My advice to them would be to be authentic and courageous. Don’t dumb yourself down, don’t hold back your opinions – even if you think they’ll upset someone; in fact, especially if you think they’ll upset someone.  If you have something to say then say it. Don’t tolerate people, call them out if you can. Show up for women with less power than you. The more women that have the courage to take this path, the more we pave the way for future generations so that they hopefully won’t need to overcome the same struggles we did. This is how we break the bias.

It is so important for us to empower each other as women. And I’m privileged to be surrounded by some of the strongest women leaders I know and look up to. My role models are people I know rather than public figures because I feel closer to their journeys. I’ve been fortunate to work with some amazing women in Scale My Clinic’s Project X community, all of whom are leaders in their field. Julie Thompson is a General Manager of a group of medical practices in Yeppoon QLD. I’m in awe of her positivity and dedication! Dr Emily Carroll is the Co-Owner of Pear Tree Family Practice & a Business Coach at Scale My Clinic. Her ability to balance ownership, management, consulting and parenting commitments is a constant source of inspiration!

So many other talented female owners, managers and nurses whom I work with each day remind me that the cause we are fighting for is worth the effort. And I can’t stress enough the importance of surrounding yourself with strong women and lifting each other up. It really is true that when women support each other, incredible things happen. So, to all my fellow colleagues in healthcare and leadership, let us take a pledge to support one another and collectively #BreakTheBias today and every day!

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