Why more female board members in healthcare organizations are needed. The diagnosis for healthcare today is concerning: healthcare boards need more women.
There are many benefits of female board members for healthcare organizations. Gender diversity on healthcare boards accelerates innovation, creates greater revenue, improves corporate governance and enhances crisis management. For example, organizations where women held a third of board seats have generally outperformed their peers during the COVID-19 crisis.
But, despite the obvious benefits of women on healthcare boards, healthcare organizations are lagging on board gender equity. Below are the current statistics on gender bias in healthcare boards:
- Boards of venture-backed healthcare companies have less than 50% women
- Women make up only 27% of the boards of not-for-profit hospitals and health systems
- Six percent of companies on the Russell 3000 have no women board members. Just 8% of these boards are 40% female
- Only 71 companies have boards where half of the members are women
1. Consider gender equity through the lens of a high-performing, talent-centric board
High-performing boards that are free of gender bias in healthcare promote diversity, enable their members to reach their potential and work effectively in teams. Use the three questions below to determine whether your board is meeting these goals.
- Element 1: Board diversity. Does the composition of your board support strategic decision-making? Is your board diverse across gender, race, ethnicity, geography and cognitive styles?
- Element 2: Board effectiveness. Have you enabled your board members to reach their potential? Do board members give and receive feedback? Do you offer development opportunities to help board members build their knowledge, experience and leadership style?
- Element 3: Board team effectiveness. How well does your board work together as a team? Do they understand their role and responsibilities on the board as individuals and as a collective? How well do they collaborate, share ideas and resolve conflicts?
2. Make female healthcare board equity a strategic goal
The first step toward gender equity is not to recruit women on healthcare boards. It’s making gender equity part of your overall strategy so you have evidence of your commitment.
Look at your organization’s mission, vision and values. Ensure that you’re recruiting potential board members who support your core strategic imperatives and mesh with your organization’s values. Train everyone to recognize that gender equity can help fulfill your mission and vision and align with your strategy.
3. Create a diversity, equity and inclusion plan that includes board gender equity
First, you must understand what gender equity goals are realistic for your board to achieve. To learn where your board is and where it can go, ask a series of questions:
- What roadblocks prevent you from recruiting and developing women on healthcare boards?
- What role does conscious and unconscious bias play in hampering your efforts to promote gender equity?
- What do your statistics reveal about the extent and depth of gender inequity or gender bias on your board?
As you build your plan, include an assessment of your board’s strengths, challenges, opportunities, gaps and needs. Make sure the plan also sets reasonable goals, outlines your strategies and sets metrics for measuring your progress. Finally, the plan should include steps for implementation as well as communication strategies and tactics.
4. Solicit help from external experts to open the door to board gender equity
You can’t go it alone when you’re trying to recruit qualified women on healthcare boards . You’ll need recommendations from an executive search consultant or a broad range of stakeholders, including donors, community leaders, staff and industry experts.
When you implement change, you may find that it generates tension or backlash from board members. It can help to bring in a facilitator to confront the board’s anxiety about change and surface hidden gender biases. The facilitator may recommend strategies to deal with board members’ feelings of rejection, exclusion, isolation and abandonment. And they may suggest strategies to reduce friction, such as setting term limits or appointing lifetime or emeritus board members.
5. Build a board culture that supports women
Women on healthcare boards often face roadblocks that prevent them from contributing fully to an organization. Traditionally, women have been assigned work in human resources, community outreach, public relations and design. And boards typically turn to female members when they need to address women’s needs, priorities and preferences. But boards need to shed this traditional viewpoint and recognize that there are many more benefits of female board members.
Healthcare boards need to recognize that women are well-qualified to address every area that healthcare boards touch, including finance, reimbursement, regulation, technology, quality and crisis management. And, while women board members are a valid touchpoint for women’s health needs, they bring much more to the table. They may serve as an early warning system for gender bias, discrimination and unintended exclusion or marginalization.
Female board members may also shed light on other problems such as these:
- Communication: How does the way the organization communicates and uses language reveal gender bias?
- Operations: Where is the organization falling short in how it approaches decision-making, problem-solving, conflict resolution and innovation?
- Talent management: How well does the organization recruit, hire, engage and develop women employees, managers, executives and board members?
- Markets: How can the organization offer more understanding and empathy for the concerns of marginalized communities and stakeholders?
6. Focus on improving the inclusion of women on healthcare boards
The C-suite sets the tone at the top when it comes to promoting the inclusion of women throughout the organization. Here are issues that healthcare CEOs should consider.
Evaluate the effectiveness of your management and leadership. Do your executives and managers unlock the potential of women employees and empower them to take charge of their careers? Have they embedded diversity, equity and inclusion strategies into their culture? Do they regularly promote diversity, equity and inclusion in routine interactions with their team members?
Next, review your policies, procedures and processes. Do your recruitment, hiring, development and promotion policies promote fairness and gender equity, or do they create roadblocks to advancement? How do your recruitment, onboarding, mentoring, development, promotion and compensation practices champion or compromise gender equity? How does conscious or unconscious bias hamper women?
7. Develop a change management plan to support and sustain gender diversity efforts
A change management plan can drive the adoption of your efforts to support gender equity in healthcare. Your plan should include several elements:
- Identify the end goal: Document the benefits of female board members for your stakeholders, policies, processes, roles and structures.
- Establish a change task force: The task force will implement the shifts required to achieve your gender equity goals. The task force will interact with stakeholders, address confusion and resistance and lead the transition.
- Set key milestones: Establishing a timeline will show stakeholders that your board is heading in the right direction and that their investment is worthwhile.
- Plan for communications: Your communication plan should detail how you’ll build enhanced visibility for gender equity and trust among stakeholders. Explain how you’ll set a positive tone and help your organization grasp the ROI and benefits of gender equity. Create feedback loops, such as forums, where stakeholders can raise questions and express opinions on gender equity issues.