We Still Need More Female Leaders In Health Tech

Posted on July 12, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Despite the looming presence of Epic’s Judy Faulkner, women are still underrepresented in the boardrooms of health tech companies. This point was underscored a recent article in Healthegy News, which offered a bracing reminder of the need for better gender balance in the industry, especially at the top.

As the article points out, women are grossly underrepresented within digital health, arguably the least traditional niche within the business, running only 6% of these ventures. I don’t know what the stats are for health IT at large but I can’t imagine the ratio is any better (and it may be worse).

And as writer Kirti Patel notes, it’s probably not a coincidence that only 6% of venture capitalists are female. Patel cites stats suggesting that VC teams with women on them are twice as likely to invest in management teams that include women, and three times more likely to invest in companies with female CEOs.

Of course, Faulkner isn’t the only woman to hold a powerful position in the health IT world. Female influencers and leaders in U.S. healthcare industry range from Nancy Ham, CEO of Medicity to Carla Kriwet, CEO of Patient Care and Monitoring Solutions at Phillips to AHIMA CEO Lynne Thomas Gordon. Other standouts include Deborah DiSanzo, General Manager of IBM Watson Health and of course Karen DeSalvo, Acting Assistant Secretary for Health at ONC. But numbers-wise, women with top roles in health IT are still in the minority.

To be fair, the lack of women in the health IT boardroom reflects the larger technology industry. Research suggests that only 25% of professional computing physicians in the 2015 U.S. workforce were held by women, and that just 17% of Fortune 500 CIO positions were held by women that year. This dovetails with other trends, such as the fact that only 15% of 2014 computer science bachelor’s degree recipients at major research universities were women.

Still, even given these statistics, I’d argue that we all know incredible women in health IT who might be capable of far more, including top leadership roles, if they had the opportunity. And while I’m not suggesting that conscious discrimination is going on, gender bias pops up in ways that people don’t always recognize.

The problem is so pervasive, in part, because it extends beyond technical positions to healthcare as a whole. According to statistics from a couple of years ago, women made up 80% of the healthcare workforce, but just 40% of the leadership roles in the industry.

Health IT faces too many challenges to pass over anyone who might have good solutions to offer. Health IT organizations should do everything they can to be sure that unseen gender bias in preventing them from moving the industry forward.