Make more room at the table for women in health care

Make more room at the table for women in health care
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It’s no secret that in most households across America, women are the individuals making health care decisions for themselves and their families. A recent study from the Center for Talent Innovation, a New York-based think-tank, showed that of women who work and have children under 18 years old, 94 percent make health care decisions for others.

Often referred to as a family’s chief medical officer (or CMO), women have become the backbone of the $6 trillion health care industry — doing the bulk of the purchasing, scheduling and research around healthcare decisions.

Despite continued advances in medical therapies and treatments, Americans increasingly face a variety of health care challenges. When it comes to prescription medication adherence, patients are compliant just 50 percent of the time. Female CMOs can be the vital partner that healthcare companies need to achieve the best possible health outcomes for patients at the lowest possible cost.


Still, while health care decisions across the country are disproportionately made by women, we have not seen this translate into putting any material number of women in positions of leadership within these companies.

In a 2015 report from RockHealth, women represented only 21 percent of executives and 21 percent of board members at Fortune 500 health-care companies. This is disheartening as a woman serving in an executive position in health care, but our industry is merely par for the course with respect to women holding leadership titles in this country.

As of 2016, women held only 5.8 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies – only 29 in total. Women make up only 20 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies, and as we recently saw with Arianna Huffington during Uber’s board meetings, female voices are often drowned out in favor of respect for their male colleagues’ voices.

As one could imagine, this trend continues to the highest levels of elected office in the U.S. Congress. Currently, only 84 women serve in the U.S. House of Representatives (holding less than 20 percent of seats), and only 21 women serve in the U.S. Senate (holding just 21 percent of seats).

These women were also pushed aside during negotiations around a new health care bill earlier this year — not a single female Senator was included in the 13-Senator group tasked with drafting a new bill. With an estimated 162 million women in the U.S., compared to 157 million men, it’s hard to understand how not one woman was invited to take a seat at the table to advocate for policies that would affect the majority of the American population.

These statistics need to change. But where do we go from here? How do we correct this? Why do we want women in positions of leadership and power, especially when it comes to health care?

To start, women disproportionately control health care decisions for their households, so it only makes sense to enlist more female leaders to join the companies that are driving products for consumers. By giving women greater opportunities to assume leadership roles in health care, we will see better health outcomes for women and families, along with the companies and caregivers that treat them.

Furthermore, recent research shows that women in leadership positions are more trusted, more collaborative, and better at adapting and problem-solving. From a legislative perspective, research from Quorum, which analyzes public records and legislative data for corporate clients, shows that female Senators have a better record of passing legislation and working across party lines at the federal level.

The study, conducted during a seven-year period from 2007 to 2014, showed the average female senator co-sponsored 6.29 bills with other Senate women, while the average male senator co-sponsored 4.07 bills with other Senate men. Additionally, the average female senator co-sponsored 171.08 bills with a member of the opposite party, while the average male senator co-sponsored only 129.87 bipartisan bills.

We need to learn from the facts and statistics available, and put an end to notions that women lack the skills or interest in holding positions of power.Women drive the health care industry, yet lack the opportunities to assume leadership roles and drive consistent change at the top level.

In a time of uncertainty around the future of health care in America, we need to embrace ways to diversify who calls the shots, bringing more women to the decision-making table to ensure the best possible outcomes for patients — regardless of gender, generation, geography, or income. 

Rebecca Shanahan is the CEO of Avella Specialty Pharmacy and president of the National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP)