One of the many things that industry is grappling with is gender diversity. The fairer sex (sexist remark?!) is underrepresented in the industry, at least in leadership positions. Now, new technologies that make it easier for providers to share information, enable patients to better track their health and prevent errors, can present an opportunity for women to progress in the healthcare sector. Currently, with investment in awareness programs and the like, patients are better informed and this, I believe has created a ‘distrust’ between patients and their clinicians. All these factors make healthcare services increasingly more challenging. To adapt to these changes and to enable distribution of high value healthcare services, comprehension of new technology can help. This coupled with strengths and attitudes that are peculiar to women can make women leaders count in the scheme of things in healthcare delivery.
Healthcare distribution is changing rapidly with new technology being adopted into the system. President Obama made information technology key in his plan to reform health care. GE in May said it would spend $3 billion in research and development to launch “at least 100 innovations that lower cost, increase access and improve quality by 15%” by 2015. This chase to reduce costs, improve quality and expand coverage is deemed the “iron triangle of health care by experts at the Wharton Center for Health Management and Economics.
How do women fit in here? While currently this adoption of technology is underleveraged, its potential is immense since technology is a big part of reform. The ubiquity of technology today makes it a lot less about capability and a lot more about strategy. This presents a unique opportunity to women leaders as it allows them to become strategists who can leverage technology to connect people with ideas – thus becoming ‘change leaders’.
By virtue of low representation in leadership positions, women at present have little say in how the healthcare industry is run, but it is critical for the future of the sector to increase the number of women in the industry. At a recent healthcare meeting, Kurt Graves, Chief Marketing Officer, Novartis PharmaAG remarked that women accounted for only about 15 per cent of the executives in the Forbes list of top 500 global companies and the figure was declining annually – last year it dropped by 1%. “If nothing changes it will take a staggering 73 years before there are equal numbers of men and women in the board room.” Wow!
I believe that women have unique skillsets that are relevant to and needed in the industry, in particular their collaborative skills. This allows women an opportunity to excel in the digital world because their unique talents and skills are more suited to the use of new technology. The world has gone digital and people need to immerse themselves in this world. This world requires one to master blogs, text messages and social networks to use them as a business advantage. There is a move from specialist knowledge to information ‘for all’ through these channels and power has shifted from esteemed institutions to everyone talking on blogs and chatrooms about health issues. Millions of adults look at health information online. The internet has become the second most popular means of finding information on health issues, next to doctors. Industry leaders must be proactive and keen in looking at information on these sites. This is ‘user generated content’ which is information that you can’t obtain from qualitative and quantitative studies. For the first time we can hear the language of our customers and actually talk to them online. Through discussion groups, patients are becoming more powerful, having an influence on service and care improvement. All this creates opportunities for women since leveraging technology – that connects ideas with people – gels well with ‘womanly’ qualities – their collaborative skills.
Undoubtedly, leadership is gender neutral where both men and women need to leave their comfort zones and think differently. A recent survey in The Wall Street Journal notes that the new kind of leader is someone who doesn’t mind sharing power and is ready to be accountable and encourages openness and dialogue. These are traits that many women possess. Women can bring skills to the table that men cannot such as the ability to communicate, listen and connect and collaborate well with teams at all levels of the organisation. However, to succeed, women leaders also need to embrace technology, think aggressively and innovatively about the implications together with the opportunities that present themselves. Most importantly, have a “motherly/sisterly (womanly)” attitude to the person who matters most – the patient.