Top Women in Healthcare Talk Gender Parity

During 2017, the dam burst globally as women began to speak out on all the obstacles that women have faced for centuries in the battle for full and equal rights. “#MeToo” and “Time’s Up” shocked both women and men—bringing the epidemic of sexual assault and harassment into the light. And equal rights for women, particularly in the workplace, are taking on a heightened urgency as highly talented and competent women are still—consciously or unconsciously—not perceived to offer the same value as their male counterparts, who predominantly hold the reigns when it comes to pay and upward mobility within an organization.

PM360 tapped 12 of the top women in healthcare to share their views on gender parity in the workplace. We asked:

  • While the struggle for gender parity in the workplace has a long history, with the recent and massive movements including #MeToo and Time’s Up, women have found their voices, are galvanized, and are demanding that they no longer will be treated as anything less than equal. Some thought leaders believe that 2018 marks a tipping point—that gender parity in all areas could be within reach. What are your thoughts on this?
  • Do you have any personal anecdotes that illustrate the ongoing struggle in the workplace, i.e., what’s expected of women, and/or are you seeing any current shifts in how the workplace values women that could turn the tide in terms of equal pay and equal treatment? Are you aware of companies that have made major shifts regarding this issue?
  • Roughly 57% of women are currently earning college degrees—and many more women of color are earning college degrees than ever before, which brings more diversity and differing skill sets to the workplace that companies are missing out on, to their detriment. How important do you think diversity is to the workplace in terms of what women of all stripes can offer companies, and how do you think diversity in the workplace is currently perceived and valued?
  • Do you have anything you would like to say to women coming into the workplace in terms of how they can empower themselves to achieve the goals of gender parity?
  • Do you have anything else you would like to add?

Meg Columbia-Walsh

When the citizens in a democracy find a voice, it is the most powerful indication of the great free nation the USA is. Half of that population is women, and it is past time that we ditch the labels and rise to the occasion of equal rights and equal pay. The movements we see for women and for people of color, and their voices, are absolutely critical to demand change—and this change is past due.

For 34 years I have worked continuously in corporate America and in startups as a successful entrepreneur. I do not promise, I actually just put into action hiring diverse talent. And as all studies on the issue show, diverse teams are more productive. I do not want anyone, male or female, hired for gender but for talent and expertise. Every hiring manager must be incentivized to hire, and it is accomplished by demanding that for every open position they must interview at least one diverse candidate or they do not get the budget. Watch how the numbers change.

Companies have Chief Diversity Officers and have made strides. But until women are in the C-suite and on the Boards, that change is not powerful enough. When our graduating classes are 50% female, we need to make sure the faculty is female as well. The deans and leadership of the universities are diverse.

It will take men and women together, in corporations and especially in tech and venture capital, to make this change. We must give our poorer communities and people of color the same opportunities. They have to have the role models ahead of them to see the promise and have hope.

I have hope we have the momentum to close the gender and diversity gap. We must stay strong in our voice and in our commitment to equality.

Sharon Callahan

As one of the 200 original signers of the #timesupadvertising Letter of Solidarity, I really hope that 2018 is a tipping point for gender parity and that we all start having the conversations that we’ve been avoiding for years.

And, I’d like to see us start with parity in pay. I’ll be the first to admit, I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve got a career and a life that I never imagined possible—my life is comfortable, my children are well cared for, I support causes that I care deeply about, my future is secure—and I wouldn’t have any of this had I not had the income to do it with. My income alone has created the life that we have.

My years of experience managing both women and men tells me that women are a lot more amenable to lower compensation than men, and lower wages for women are a cost-savings companies happily take. How does this happen? It starts with the fact that women don’t ask. Many women I know don’t advocate for themselves as they should because they feel that they’re navigating more than a higher salary, they’re managing their reputation too—they don’t want to seem overly aggressive.

We have to get over it. Parity in pay is the first step to being equal in every other way. For me, asking for what I deserved and getting it made me powerful in so many more ways than just being financially free. Women should expect nothing less than equal pay for equal work. Gender parity is a tangled web of issues that will take time to sort through—pay parity is an easy one to take on immediately.

Carolyn Morgan

As an agency dedicated to changing behavior, the status quo is a formidable opponent. This issue continues to prove it is not an exception. It certainly helps that Hollywood has been shining a brighter light on inequality this year. Will it help?  Certainly—in the short-term. But for real change to occur, it isn’t about one rally or one petition. Real work needs to be put in every day to truly make this better. Executives at the top of every organization need to take stock of how this issue is managed within their company.

For me, this is not just about women’s rights. It is about equality for all—regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. You work just as hard as your peers—you should be paid just the same. Period. And for this to happen, training and information need to be provided; tips and tools need to be disseminated; and I would suggest an audit for companies to ensure they are meeting standards. And, those standards should be made public.

My advice to young women: Work hard. Every single day. Truly. Put your all into what you are passionate about and you will be very happy with the return. Knowing, truly knowing, you are kicking butt at your job—not just doing the basic, but going above and beyond as a team member or individual contributor—enables you to be fearless in advocating for yourself. Educate yourself; know what your position demands and what it is worth. Every position has a range. Be honest with yourself about where you fit in that range and what you need to do to be a top performer and then demand it of yourself, and then also of your employer.

Rayona Sharpnack

The majority of the 10,000 leaders recently surveyed by Deloitte cited diversity and inclusion as “important” or “very important” to their business. But they struggle putting these insights into action.

I work with Fortune 500 companies to provide immersion training in Gender Partnership for their male leaders. I have done this for 25 years, and I can testify that no amount of data, policies, quotas, or inspiring keynotes has the impact that a profound personal awakening provides. Virtually no executive I have ever spoken to thinks he is the one keeping women in his company’s lower ranks. In fact, most male leaders are well-intentioned, conscientious guys doing the best they can to “treat everyone the same.” They don’t realize they are failing at it.

Whether during the programs my company runs, such as those we did at Cardinal Health, or other gender-equity training, male leaders must take time for introspection and safe dialogue with other men on this issue. We bluntly (but politely!) ask participants to “marinade” in the fact that gender discrimination has been a continuous condition in virtually every sector, every industry, and every geography in the world. This condition could not exist unless men were consciously and unconsciously participating in acts of unconscious bias every day.

Asking men to confront their blind spots is not a casual request, but it can be a powerfully fruitful one. Men have a deep code of honor. Immersion training is a solution that taps into their powerful sense of responsibility to do the right thing.

Companies that are courageous enough to convene immersion programs for men will be rewarded with unbridled energy and advocacy from their male leaders. They will discover that their men didn’t really “get it” before, but once they do, they are unstoppable in making things right—for everyone.

Kelly Guterl

EY has made a major shift as it concerns women through its EP3 offering. I’ve had the chance to talk and work with companies across all sectors, including life sciences, about what their organizations are doing to address perceptions and realities around pay gap—and have been surprisingly encouraged by the resources and talent organizations are deploying in this area.

The data and processes used to determine pay gaps is very complex. The reality: A very wide continuum exists right now in terms of how well organizations understand their pay gaps and how they seek to address them in sustainable ways—education and trial and error are part of this.

Unexpected external forces are also influencing change. For example, activist shareholders have applied significant pressure over the past year for organizations to provide further transparency into pay practices. For large public organizations, this kind of external influence can play a significant role in change in strategy and direction. And while many activist shareholder efforts are focused on growth, others are driven by causes beyond direct growth. Shareholder activism played a major role in shifts in executive compensation and “say on pay,” and about a year ago, pressure on equal pay started to become more prevalent. Sustainably closing the pay gap will not occur without a convergence of several forces.

In terms of diversity—it is critical. Organizations have come to understand the economic impact of diversity within their organizations and on boards. The impact of disruption on sectors and economies creates an imperative to innovate at an accelerated pace. Innovation comes through challenging our norms—driven by diversity in thought. Women represent greater than 70% of global consumer market spending. Without well-defined objectives and metrics from recruitment through management and on to leadership, organizations will be more vulnerable to disruption and organizations more aligned to consumer spending.

Deb Dunsire

Women all over the world face unequal treatment in the workplace. The U.S. is furthest advanced, though we still have more to do. My experience in Japan showed me how much more there is to accomplish in that country’s workplace to capitalize fully on the talented, well-educated, and committed women in the workforce. While women made up half or slightly over half of all new recruits into pharma sales at that time, they made up less than 5% of first line managers and the ratios dropped precipitously higher up.

In U.S. biotech, a tremendous number of highly qualified women work in many fields of clinical development, commercial operations, HR, and legal with many women reaching the VP or department leader level. At the C-Suite level, I see more women in all roles than there were a decade ago. When I became CEO at Millennium there were only a couple of CEOs in the Boston Biotech ecosystem. Now there are at least 10. That is still a very small proportion, but it is growing.

The companies that have made the most progress on gender parity are those that actively measure how they are doing by annually evaluating their pay parity and their promotion practices, as well as being very intentional in developing diverse slates of candidates for open positions. Like anything in business—what gets measured, gets done!

Laurie Cooke

Women can take numerous actions as they come into the workplace, as well as those already well into their career.

  • Continually look for ways to partner with male colleagues to enable both women and men to better understand the different perspectives we bring to our work and then build the foundation for us to work more effectively together for better business outcomes.
  • Identify and secure sponsors (advocates) that will speak for you in the rooms where career advancement opportunities are being discussed.
  • Leverage mentors (internally and externally) to help you advance in areas where you would benefit from hearing additional perspectives to grow as a well-rounded leader.
  • Focus on advancing your skills and experience with business, finance, and strategy, as these areas are essential to opening the door to the more senior-level roles.
  • Develop, own, and promote your brand so that others know what you uniquely bring to the table.
  • Have the confidence to take your place at meetings and speak up (you were invited because of what you can contribute!), and support others who may be talked over or who have their contributions restated and their credit taken.
  • Send the elevator back down for other women as you gain increasing levels of seniority and provide a visible role model of a successful women leader.

Linda Phillips

Women entering the workplace should aspire to work at agencies that value gender parity. When interviewing at a prospective employer’s office, candidates should not only observe the general “vibe” but also the make-up of the employee base and any special offerings. For instance, are there any Mothers Rooms on site? It’s perfectly acceptable to ask what the ratio of males to females is for an agency. HR analytics are a useful recruiting tool for providing statistics measuring demographics. I love showcasing the fact that at our agency, 49% of director roles and 54% of vice president roles are held by women. With the war on talent being so pervasive, progressive agencies need to demonstrate that diversity is embraced at every level and, concerning compensation, establish specific criteria and salary bands to ensure equal pay for all.

The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have sharply increased awareness of sexual misconduct in the workplace and focused attention on concrete actions employers can take to create a culture of safety and equality. Agencies must be committed to zero-tolerance for sexual harassment, and actions speak louder than words. For the past 12 years, our agency has provided mandatory interactive training to all employees on this hot-button topic.

We’ve also instituted measures, including tracking promotions by gender and age, to assess how well we’re meeting our parity goals. When an employer invests in training for all employees to safeguard against sexual misconduct, and pursues equality in job opportunities and compensation, women feel empowered as well and have a sense of pride that their employer endorses providing a professional environment in which everyone can thrive.

Lori Grant

As a working wife, mother, and leader of a more than 700-person hyper-growth organization, I have come to learn over my career that empowerment really comes down to personifying three powerful words and making them core to your success:

Confidence: The word empowerment means “the process of becoming stronger and more confident.” In business, you need to have the confidence to succeed—but also to fail—in the initiatives you take on. While we all strive for success, we tend to learn and grow from our failures—sometimes even more than from our successes. And confidence will take you a long way on your journey regardless of what path you take. Embrace it.

Courage: Have the courage to speak up. Recognize that you are a professional with valued opinions to share. Women are often less likely to speak up and communicate what they need to be successful. You have an important voice—take the opportunity to use it and clearly communicate what you need to be successful.

Connection: Connect with people—this is often underrated, but in my experience, it is core to empowerment. Really connect. Get to know your team and clients and let them get to know you. Listen more than you speak—and really hear what others say—it can make a huge difference.

Neera Chaudhary

I work with incredibly talented women every single day—colleagues, clients, even my competitors in other agencies. And I’ll admit that throughout my career, as I progressed and moved into more senior roles, I noticed fewer women at the table, fewer women in positions of power. Why is that? We’ve seen all the statistics. More women than men earn college degrees. Women represent a greater proportion of the workforce. Women drive purchasing power. So, why is the representation of women in senior positions a fraction of that of our male counterparts across every single industry? Because it’s a culture that has accepted and enabled this discrimination since the dawn of time. It’s a systemic issue that we’ve really never been forced to address.

Until now. Companies are beginning to recognize that they can optimize their workforce and their bottom line by tapping female talent that has traditionally remained sidelined. For example, the career relaunch movement is engaging companies to recruit women who are re-entering the workforce after a break in career. There has been an explosion in career re-entry programs. In the healthcare industry, my agency, Golin, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic, and Young & Rubicam/greyhealth group all are proactive in ensuring they capitalize on the female talent pool that has long been ignored by many big companies. Tapping this talent pool is one of the important pillars of recognizing the value of women in the workplace.

Deb Schnell

Diversity in the workplace is very important, with high impact on the organization. In a 2015 study, conducted by McKinsey and Co., it was determined that companies with a gender diverse workforce performed better financially. In fact, gender diverse companies outperformed by 15%. Women bring different views and approaches, therefore providing greater depth to the organization. In a study conducted by Professor Paula Nicolson, HHS, University of London, it was determined that women in business should embrace their “maternal instincts,” as emotional intelligence is key to being a better leader.

What I would say to women coming into the workplace? The one who thinks they are going to win usually does! I believe women need to stop thinking of themselves as second-class corporate citizens. They need to know their worth and value to the organization, and then…GO for IT! Too often women are reluctant to ask for promotions, raises, etc. In fact, according to “Money Careers,” men initiate compensation negotiations 4x more often than women. And, according to the BBC Co-Chair, in all his years, not a few women, but NO woman, ever marched into his office saying they were under compensated, while men did so frequently.

Finally, Margaret Thatcher once said the following: “You might have to fight a battle more than once to win it.” Women have come a long way, but there is still much to be done to achieve gender parity in the workplace. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Blog, women comprise 47% of the U.S. workforce, own 10 million businesses and, yet, only 26% of Chief Executives are women. We need to keep pushing forward!

Nancy Miller-Rich

Much still needs to be done in the area of women succeeding in senior executive positions in the pharmaceutical industry. Some companies are attempting to look better optically with metrics that measure women at certain levels. But you have to look carefully at those measurements. Plenty of women are reaching middle management levels, but the number reaching executive and board positions beyond that drops off considerably.

I network with lots of talented women throughout the industry and have many friends who have been identified as high potential in their organizations. But as they reach more senior levels or look for board assignments, an all-too-frequent comment I hear is they feel a lack of inclusion and still encounter gender slights. The glass ceiling is still very much intact in many industries. A story in the New York Times, based on an analysis from Ernst & Young, sums it up with this statistic based on S&P 1500 companies: Men named John hold more CEO titles than all women combined.

I read an article recently that cited the experience of Liz Dolan, CMO of Fox International Channels, who resigned her seat on the board of a publicly held company after being excluded from discussions that lead to the firing of that company’s CEO. She was quoted saying, “Even when a woman earns a seat at the table, the men can put you in a soundproof booth.”

It comes down to people being more comfortable with people like themselves. Everyone brings biases into their workplace. Unconscious bias affects hiring, promotions, and compensation. If left unchecked this bias has the potential to unknowingly shape an organization’s culture and limit it from achieving its potential. Organizations need to authentically look inward to understand if unconscious bias is impacting their culture and business results.


You May Also Like

2017 Pharma Choice Bronze Social Media

AbelsonTaylor Sunovion Pharmaceuticals #MyEpilepsyHero #MyEpilepsyHero gave Sunovion the perfect opportunity to be part of ...

4 Reasons Why Healthcare Advertising Is Recession Proof

Having weathered the Great Recession in 2008-2009 and the Pandemic Recession in 2020, I ...

The PM360 Magazine Trailblazer Awards 2021 Winners

PM360 has announced the winners of their 13th annual Trailblazer Awards. The awards recognize ...