The need to accelerate women in healthcare to the top

Gender disparity at the top tables such as boards and c-suites are not a new issue.

However, with the focus on healthcare, particularly with the Covid-19 pandemic, it needs to be urgently addressed. Not just because it is the right thing to do in an industry that is so public facing, but because it will lead to healthier outcomes for all of us.

Data from The US Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that nearly 80% of the healthcare workforce in the US are women, with less than 20% in executive roles. The UK is not much better; approximately 75% of the NHS workforce, the fifth-largest employer globally, is made up of women with less than 40% of them Trust directors. Globally, the situation gets even worse with just 5% of global health leaders being women from low and middle-income countries according to Global Health 50/50. They also note that 70% of the leaders from 200 global health organisations are men.

The missed opportunity here is enormous. Study after study demonstrates that gender parity brings high-performing teams that can drive the innovation and change we desperately need in healthcare.  It has been estimated that if we continue at our current rate of addressing this disparity, we will not reach a balanced workforce until 2074 – we cannot wait.

As a female leader setting up a global business school for health, I see it as my responsibility and privilege to highlight gender disparity in healthcare management and actively do something about it.  There are several issues here that need to be addressed and acknowledged if we are to move quickly.

Firstly, women in healthcare have often been seen only in frontline carer roles, so role models of excellent female health and healthcare leaders have not traditionally been there. Secondly, men and women in healthcare management need to become more aware of developing and promoting their female colleagues. A survey in the US by recruitment agency Korn Ferry found that 64% of those who responded ranked their women’s development programmes as ‘fair, poor, or non-existent.’  Thirdly, we need to empower women in healthcare to step up by rewarding and encouraging them to take risks by applying for stretch roles rather than thinking they must “earn” their place at the table through experience only. It should be a combination of experience, support, and development.

At the UCL Global Business School for Health, we are ready to work with the sector to address this gender disparity through our programmes and scholarships. We want to identify mentors and role models along with a scholarship programme that is focused on getting women to the next level, the ‘Women Healthcare Leaders Scholarship.’ I see this as developing and educating women to be future leaders alongside educating men to see this issue as something they want to solve for improving healthcare management and patient care. 

The ‘Women Healthcare Leaders Scholarship’ will be available for female students on our MBA Health or MSc programmes who demonstrate leadership potential. By focusing on women and really helping to give them the confidence, leadership skills, and training, we hope that they can move into senior management or c-suite roles

Nora ColtonAbout the author

Professor Nora Colton is the Director of the new UCL Global Business School for Health, the first business school in the world to focus on health and healthcare. A health and international development economist by training, Prof Colton has a wealth of experience in leadership and change management and has increasingly moved towards the research area of health economics and healthcare over the past several years.

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