Women are approximately 50.8% of the U.S. population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). They earn around 60% of undergraduate degrees and 60% of all Master’s degrees. It is not a surprise they comprise 59% of the college educated entry level workforce equaling 47% of the total U.S. workforce (Bureau Labor and Statistics, 2016).

In 2014 women held 52% of all management positions in this country (Warner, 2014). In healthcare that number has been as high as 73% of middle managers being female (Chase, 2012). Yet women only hold approximately 4% of the Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) positions and similarly 4% of healthcare CEO positions (Sola, 2016).

Why is there such a disparity in female representation when it comes to the ultimate authority of an organization? Women account for 78% of the healthcare and social assistance workforce (Warner, 2014). The above noted statistics indicate more than 4% meet the educational requirements to lead. Of the 60% of women with graduate level degrees more than 44% are in business management with 37% being Masters in Business Administration (Warner, 2014). Surely more than 4% of that 44% have demonstrated the competencies to lead a healthcare organization.

Why doesn’t the diversity of C suite executives represent the population that it serves? Historically white men have held roughly 85% of corporate executive and board member positions. Johnson and Heckman (2016) cite the tendency of individuals to promote people like themselves leading to the perpetual cycle of selecting white men to lead in all American industries.

Promoting gender diversity in the C suite does not equate to anti-male sentiment. It is a simple request to acknowledge the accomplishments of women leading healthcare to the level of leadership they have earned. Research demonstrates the top 10 United States healthcare companies have at least 1 woman in their C suite (Chhina, 2016). While only 8 of the top 100 hospitals have a female CEO, 4 of those 8 women leading healthcare have achieved the prestigious Everest Award honoring hospitals that have achieved the highest current performance and fastest long-term improvement over a five year period (Chhina, 2016).

Gender bias continues to be a major contributing factor in failing to promote women in healthcare leadership. It may be more covert but still exists. It is often due to stereotyping of women due to personal and social pressures of their role as a mother, wife or care taker of family members. If a woman fails, it tends to create bias toward other women in leadership regarding their capabilities based on nothing more than shared gender. It also feeds into the American stereotypes of the men as the formal leaders.

Considering the existence of gender bias, it is not a surprise Takeda, Helms, Klintworth, and Somparyac (2005) found the predominance of female CEOs to be blonde. More specifically, 48% of female CEOs of the S&P 500 are blonde (Peck, 2016).The same is not true of their male counterparts at only 2.2% (Peck, 2016). It is implied that having blonde hair which stereotypically projects ditzy, youthful, attractive, dependence, warmth, and femininity can be disarming. This strategically encourages others to disregard the individual’s more assertive, independent, and masculine behaviors that can often undermine female leadership emergence.

The statistics are even more disparate for women of diverse backgrounds. Representing 36% of the female population and 18% of the U.S. population women of color only hold 11.9% of professional and managerial positions (Warner, 2014). African American women have the highest representation at 5, 3%, with Latinas at 3.9% and Asians at 2.7% (Warner, 2014). Since women from diverse backgrounds have less of a tendency to be blonde, that strategy is less likely to assist them in changing perceptions based on gender bias. Very few fortune 500 companies have women of color on their board of directors; more than 66% have no minority women representation (Warner, 2014).

Gender disparity in healthcare leadership is by far the most easy to identify and correct. Primary tactics should involve having no tolerance for gender microaggressions. Permitting microaggressions encourage unconscious gender bias. Be mindful not to be punitive toward hiring and promoting officials when women are selected in healthcare leadership positions. Research has shown that managers who support women and minorities are often penalized and viewed as less competent for doing so (Johnson, and Heckman, 2016). Senior healthcare executives need to mentor women in leadership who have demonstrated excellence in leadership competencies. Review succession plans to ensure there is no inherent gender bias in the process and procedures. Develop strategic initiatives to highlight the accomplishments of women in leadership. Support healthcare leaders who support emerging female leaders because it’s the right thing to do.


Chase, Dave. (July, 2012). Women in Healthcare Report: 4% of CEOs, 73% of Managers. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/davechase/2012/07/26/women-in-healthcare-report-4-of-ceos-73-of-managers/#5fe2dea27ff8

Chhina, Diljot. (January, 2016). The state of healthcare gender diversity 2016, Retrieved from https://rockhealth.com/the-state-of-healthcare-gender-diversity-2016/

Johnson, Stefanie K., and Heckman, David R. (March, 2016). Women and Minorities Are Penalized for Promoting Diversity. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/03/women-and-minorities-are-penalized-for-promoting-diversity

Peck, Emily. (August, 2016). Retrieved from http://amj.aom.org/content/58/5/1476.short

Sola, Katie. There Are Just 20 Women CEOs Of S&P 500 Companies. Here’s How Much They Make. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/katiesola/2016/05/06/there-are-just-20-women-ceos-in-sp-500-companies-heres-how-much-they-make/#10f736c3420f

Women in the labor force: a data book. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/womens-databook/archive/women-in-the-labor-force-a-databook-2015.pdf

United States Census Bureau. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045216/00

Warner, Judith (March, 2014). The Women’s Leadership Gap: Women’s leadership by the numbers. Retrieved from file:///C:/Users/Dr%20Love/Downloads/WomenLeadership.pdf

Written by:
Dr. Tiffany Love

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