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Women Dominate Health Care – Except in C-Suite


In United States health care, women make 80% of buying and usage decisions and represent 65% of the workforce. However, they are not progressing to the C-suite, making up 13% of chief executive officers (CEOs), according to a new Oliver Wyman report titled “Women in Healthcare Leadership.”

“Health care, unlike other industries, does not have a ‘women in health care’ problem, but a ‘women in health-care leadership’ problem,” said Terry Stone, Health & Life Sciences managing partner, Oliver Wyman. “How can the industry move towards becoming more consumer-oriented when it lacks a leadership team that reflects and relates to those making the most decisions?”

What’s Holding Women Back
The report found it is much harder for women to achieve the same level of implicit trust in male-dominated workplaces. The closer women get to the top, the less diversity exists, and the more dominant male perceptions and unintentional biases become.

When women do make it to roles reporting to the CEO, they tend to serve as technical experts (such as chief HR officer, chief legal officer or chief information officer) where technical expertise potentially supersedes more intangible qualities such as leadership. In fact, the report found 65% of women in C-suite health-care positions fill technical or influencer roles.

Additional key findings:

  • Path to CEO. The path to CEO for women in health care takes an average of 3.5 years longer than for men.
  • Beyond the perfect resume. Organizations with at least 40% of their C-suite positions held by women had talent and promotion approaches that prioritized ability and potential above a perfect resume.
  • Problem solver’s dilemma. Women often build credibility early on as problem solvers. However, this can unintentionally backfire if the perception becomes they are not strategic and are pigeonholed into executional, not strategic, roles.
  • Debunking the myth: It’s Not About Confidence. The confidence gap and imposter syndrome are often cited as part of what may be holding women back in business. However, the report found this was not true among the women interviewed. Rather, they appear to have different views on what it means to be competent.
  • Results: They Don’t Just Speak for Themselves. Women interviewed overwhelmingly felt “results speak for themselves.” However, when women over-rely on results, it unintentionally causes them to be less top-of-mind for promotions. Results are important, but leadership is broader than a result and the way results are achieved is also important.

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