MGMA’s Fischer-Wright says ‘sponsoring’ would bring more women into healthcare leadership positions

Table with chairs around it
Sponsoring peers can help women fill those seats at the C-suite table.
Halee Fischer-Wright MGMA
Halee Fischer-Wright

Too often, Halee Fischer-Wright, M.D., says she finds herself the only woman in the room.

Fischer-Wright, the president and CEO of the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), says that at almost every single meeting of healthcare leaders and executives that she goes to, women are underrepresented at the table.

“I’m in rare company with other women,” she said  in an interview with FierceHealthcare, and thinks it’s time for that to change.

One statistic indicates that while women represent 75% of the healthcare workforce, only 26% make it to the top CEO ranks. Fischer-Wright says she recently saw an even more compelling statistic that only 10% of healthcare executives are women.

Healthcare leaders are not a particularly diverse group at this point in time, she says. So what can be done to ensure more women, and beyond that, leaders who reflect more overall diversity, reach the top of the healthcare ladder? Fischer-Wright says it will require action to create more opportunities.

It’s a worthwhile effort as one study found diversity in healthcare leadership drives better patient outcomes and community connection.

RELATED: 10 diversity lessons for healthcare leaders

Instead of talking about mentoring, Fischer-Wright says she is advocating “sponsoring” of women and other minorities. What’s the difference? Mentoring typically occurs between a senior person and a typically junior one. Sponsoring is a more peer-to-peer approach.

By sponsoring a peer, a person can push women into opportunities and make sure they are seen and their contributions recognized, Fischer-Wright says. “It’s a much more proactive way to get women involved in healthcare leadership,” she says.

Sponsoring allows a person to help a peer get ahead. “I’ve always been successful at identifying talent,” she says. For instance, when she left a prior position, she made sure there were women candidates among those being considered to fill the job.

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A sponsor can assist a woman or other minority by helping foster a professional relationship with the organization’s CEO or other leaders. A peer-to-peer approach is also much more appealing to younger workers, says Fischer-Wright, who just authored a new book "Back to Balance"  with her ideas about how to fix the country's healthcare problems.

While healthcare may have lagged behind other industries in encouraging diverse leadership, Fischer-Wright thinks it is on the right path. “It really does take a commitment to have a diverse culture,” she says.