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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 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.

Why You’re Never Going to Leave a Healthcare IT Job at 5:30

Posted on April 19, 2012 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

Anybody catch the recent or CNN articles on the feedback Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has received because she makes it a point to leave work at 5:30 pm every day? (You can read them here and here.) In a nutshell, Sandberg has always left the office around that time – a practice she started when she first had kids, but has only felt comfortable talking about it now that she is in upper management and (presumably) somewhat immune to corporate push back. ( Don’t confuse leaving work with not working, by the way. Sandberg, like many others, checks email at all hours.)

Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore, who authored the story, summarizes the mini-controversy that has evolved in the tech world as a result of Sandberg’s coming clean: “In a competitive industry where your work is never truly complete, has it become socially awkward to leave work at a time that used to be the standard? And are those working eight-hour days that end at 5 p.m. being quietly judged by their co-workers? Whatever happened to “work-life balance”?

Good questions, to be sure. So good, in fact, that I felt compelled to pose a similar query to a panel of current and former healthcare CIOs – all guys, by the way – at the recent Women in Technology International (WITI) / GAHIMSS event, “Women in Healthcare IT Talk.”

Piedmont Healthcare CIO Mark Pasquale was refreshingly candid in his response: “I don’t have a work-life balance.” His point being that, as a CIO overseeing a near-future EPIC ERP system go-live, his work day never really ends, especially given how connected he is via multiple mobile devices. He also pointed out that, as 85% of Piedmont’s install team is internal, Piedmont spent copious amounts of time preparing that staff for the time commitment required to travel to Epic headquarters in Madison, Wisc., for training. Pasquale kept an open door, and said many staff members came by multiple times to hash out whether committing to such an intense project was the right move for them.

From left to right: Christopher Kunney, The BAE Company; Sonny Munter, Georgia Dept. of Community Health; Mark Pasquale, Piedmont Healthcare; Praveen Chopra, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

Fellow panelist Christopher Kunney, HIT Strategist at the BAE Company and former CIO of Piedmont, made the point that you have to be aware of what you’re signing up for when you enter healthcare’s executive ranks. Long days aren’t unusual; they are the norm. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta CIO Praveen Chopra concurred, adding that his wife makes him limit use of his Blackberry on vacation to just one hour a day. Sonny Munter, CIO of Georgia’s Dept. of Community Health, joked that he leaves his job everyday at 4pm – but gets going around 6 in the morning. Munter added that he makes it a point to surround himself with good staff members, which also helps in balancing his work and family obligations.

From left to right: Lisa McVey, McKesson; Gretchen Tegethoff, Athens Regional Medical Center; Patty Lavely, CIO Consulting LLC; Deborah Cancilla, Grady Health System

A second panel of healthcare executives – all female – pretty much agreed with their male counterparts. Patty Lavely, founder of CIO Consulting LLC and former CIO of three different health systems, did echo Facebook’s Sandberg just a bit in her comment on the subject: “There comes a time when you have to say, ‘This [work] will be here for me tomorrow. I need to go home and have dinner with my family tonight.”

All of the panelists mentioned the need to prioritize workplace projects and challenges in a way that is suitable to the particular balance they need in their lives. They have triaged, so to speak, their commitments, priorities, deadlines, etc. to fit their schedules.

So, can healthcare IT folks – providers or vendors, executives or otherwise – ever be off the clock, never mind leave the office between 5 and 6? Share your stories and advice in the comments below.