Accelerating the Path Forward for Women as Leaders in Healthcare

We are grateful to Leadership Council Member, Kevin Fickenscher, president and CEO of CREO Strategic Solutions, for this article.

The person who helped me the most, who contributed more to my graduation from medical school than any other, the one who consistently helped me to “focus on the important stuff” during the basic science years – was a fellow medical student.  She was a woman.  She was my steady mate through those formative years.  Without Cynthia, I would not have had the career, the opportunities nor any of the accolades that I’ve garnered over the years.  You would think that in an industry where 65% of the workforce and 80% of the consumer decision-making is derived from women, that there would be more women leaders in healthcare.  Yet, according to a recent Oliver Wyman study[1], a mere 13% of the CEOs and 30% of the C-suite are represented by women.   

How do women fare in the industry?

Let’s consider the physician component of healthcare.  In 1950, the number of women in medicine constituted 6% of the physician workforce.[2]  It took 50 years to get to 22.8% (2000). But, that trend accelerated and by 2015 just over 1/3 of the total physician workforce (36%) were women.  We should anticipate further increases with a new highwater mark being set this past year (2018) with 50.7% of new entrants being women!  While these changes are good, they are not good enough.  We will not even come close to reaching 50% of the physicians – let alone the other health professionals –  serving as leaders in healthcare unless the pathway to leadership changes.  In fact, if we accept the current trends, it is likely that we will not reach 50% of women in healthcare leadership roles until the start of the 22nd century.  Hmmm?  Perhaps we could do better?  But, there is no perhaps about it!!  We must do better. 

The Carol Emmott Foundation is committed to educating and promoting women in healthcare for leadership roles through its various programs and initiatives.  And, while expanding leadership capacities, providing increased visibility, and mentoring are important, the Foundation has determined that we must enlist the support of the entire industry if we are to be successful in changing the diversity of healthcare leadership. We are intent on bending the curve by enlisting healthcare systems, insurers and others to establish the Equity Collaborativean initiative to drive better outcomes, share creative approaches and establish definitive metrics for improving the presence of women as leaders in the healthcare community.

By working together, the Collaborative will define the impediments that are preventing the integration of women into leadership roles across the industry.  We want to ask critical questions like:

  • How can the existing leaders change the dynamics and improve the presence of women in leadership roles? 

  • What has research shown to be the important differences in the approaches of women and men toward leadership?  How do these differences impact their ascension to leadership roles in healthcare?

  • How do novel ideas and critical thinking rather than simply agreement with higher ranking individuals affect the ascendance of women into new and evolving leadership roles?

  • What types of support are needed to foster the growth of women in healthcare leadership roles? 

  • What is the role of professional associations in changing the dynamics of healthcare to be more inclusive of women leaders?

  • What are the expectations for the ancillary changes in healthcare delivery we can anticipate and develop through the involvement of women leaders? 

Most importantly, we want to establish clear metrics for the C-suite in terms of leadership involvement and presence at all levels of healthcare organizations.  By garnering institutional support from leading healthcare organizations, we believe that the existing trends will be accelerated. Will you join us?  The Equity Collaborative is not only a clear commitment of the Carol Emmott Foundation but also a tribute to a leader who contributed immensely to the development and inclusion of women as leaders in healthcare.  We look forward to your active participation and guidance. 

[1] Oliver Wyman, “Women in Healthcare Leadership, 2019”,

[2] StaffCare/AMN Healthcare, “Women in Medicine: A Review of Changing Physician Demographics, Female Physicians by Specialty, State and Related Data”,