Gender discrimination in leadership is alive and well in many industries, including health care.

What health care organizations do to increase the number of women in leadership roles? What can employers do to prepare talented female employees to assume the reins of leadership in the years ahead? Some Capella University staff and faculty recently talked about what might change the game.


1. Acknowledge the problem.

“If your staff can’t see the challenges, they won’t rise to the occasion and create solutions. Find ways to show how a lack of female leadership in health care limits your organization and how supporting women in leadership benefits everyone, says Terry Karjalainen, PhD, a core faculty member at Capella’s School of Nursing and Health Sciences.


2. Level the playing field.

“I think there has been a lot more required for women to become leaders than has been expected of men,” says Karjalainen. “Women are making some advances, but it’s slow.”

Hiring committees need to think carefully about who has the actual qualifications to do a job, without regard to an applicant’s gender. Too often, Karjalainen says, it’s assumed that men can handle a position despite lack of experience, whereas women have to have the resume before they can get in the door.


3. Create a schedule that works for all.

Challenges for many women in leadership come from having to juggle intense demands at work and at home. At home, many female leaders are expected to manage the household, children, and sometimes eldercare, says Adele Webb, PhD, Capella’s Senior Academic Director of Workforce Solutions. These duties come on top of whatever they are expected to do at work.

“People burn out pretty quickly—working 12-hour days, caring for family, and so on,” Webb says. One way to help leaders succeed is to allow them to work out a flexible schedule that allows everyone to serve their families, find time for education, and care for themselves.


4. Commit to having a diversified leadership culture.

Seeing women in powerful positions in health care can inspire other women. Employers need to place women on their boards and in the ranks of executive staff, Karjalainen says. There need to be opportunities for women to compete for all leadership roles, and those who attain such roles need to connect with and mentor female staffers who have potential and ambition. Visibility is key to inspiring dreams.


5. Invest in employees.

Education is vital to getting ahead in the fast-paced field of health care. “But when it comes to a degree, you need time and money,” says Webb. Employers should offer incentives like scholarships, release time, and loan forgiveness that helps women (and men) to pursue the education they need to succeed in health care.


Find out more about education for careers in health care administration at Capella University.

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