Survey: Majority of women in healthcare don't expect parity for 25 years

Women working in healthcare say there's still a way to go before the industry reaches gender parity. (Getty/monkeybusinessimages)

Even though more women are taking on positions of power in healthcare, they're not exactly optimistic about the future of gender equality in the industry.

Rock Health, a digital health venture fund, surveyed more than 630 women between May and June and found that 55% believe it will take 25 years or more to achieve gender parity in healthcare.

Just 5% believe parity is achievable in the next five years and another 5% believe gender parity will never be achieved in the industry, according to the survey. 

Halle Tecco Rock Health
Halle Tecco (Rock Health)

Halle Tecco, founder emeritus at Rock Health and one of the report's co-authors, told FierceHealthcare that the report in part seeks to capitalize on the cultural shifts happening across the country which have made women feel more comfortable opening up about their experiences at work. 

"This year, we really wanted to piggyback off of the #MeToo movement," she said. "It created a palpable change in the conversation." 

RELATED: 6 recommendations from ACP to foster gender equality in pay and career advancement 

Healthcare certainly has been no exception to the spate of #MeToo experiences being shared as part of an online movement over the past year. Physicians, for example, have taken to the #MeTooMedicine hashtag to share stories of harassment at the hands of colleagues and patients. 

Employment improving, but slowly

One bit of light amid the gloomy report: The number of women serving in executive roles in the industry is on the rise, albeit slowly, according to the report. 

In 2018, 34.5% of hospital executives, 21.9% of executives at Fortune 500 healthcare companies, 22.6% of board members at those companies are women.

However, the digital sphere still has a ways to go, according to the survey—just 12.2% of digital health venture capital partners are helmed by women, as are a mere 10.2% of digital health startup CEOs.  Also, the growth in these figures is incremental, Tecco pointed out. For example, 22.1% of board members at Fortune 500 healthcare companies were women in 2017, marking an increase of less than 1%. 

"When you take a step back on it, it really isn't progressing the way it needs to," she said. 

Women were more likely to lead smaller companies, according to the report. The surveyed women also ranked smaller companies higher for supporting female employees and fostering leadership among them. 

RELATED: Demand continues to push up physician salaries, yet gender and racial pay disparities persist 

Employers of different sizes face different challenges in making the workplace more welcoming to women, Tecco said. Smaller employers have fewer resources but steer a ship that's easier to course-correct than a larger company.

Racial diversity plays a part

The report also examines how women of different races face different challenges in the healthcare workplace. Just 9% of white women said that race posed a career barrier, compared to 86% of black women.

"Everything is ten times more complicated for black women," Rashida Bobb, digital health specialist at Germany-based Bricks Health, said in her survey.

Asian-American women, however, said the biggest career barrier they face is underselling their own skills, with nearly 70% citing this as a concern.

Tecco said that Asian-Americans are viewed as a "model minority" and are a blind spot in diversity efforts.

"I've seen the 'model minority' theme undercut Asian-Americans in medicine, when there is an assumption that we will be 'book smart' but lack social and verbal skills at the bedside," said Esther Choo, M.D., associate professor in the Center for Policy and Research at Oregon Health and Science University, in the survey. "How do these perceptions collide with women's low confidence and gender stereotype susceptibility?"

RELATED: American College of Physicians says factors such as gender, race should not affect salary 

Ways to improve the environment

Tecco said the women surveyed flagged several ways healthcare organizations can improve the work environment. Peer mentoring and support groups can work—but there needs to be backing from the top for them to be effective. 

Employers can also be more considerate about planning social events that are inclusive and don't make women feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, she said. In addition, expanding family leave—including paternity leave—and offering on-site childcare options can ease some of the major stressors for female employees. 

Workplaces that are flexible in these types of benefits can also leverage that as a recruitment tool, she said. 

"Making the experiences of women working in healthcare better and more fair is good for business," Tecco said.