President's Message - Women in Leadership: Bridging the Gap

by Jen Phillips, PharmD, BCPS, ICHP President
June 14, 2016

I thoroughly enjoyed attending this year’s ICHP Spring Meeting held in Peoria on April 8-10, 2016. There were a number of unique things about this year’s Spring Meeting. First, it was held in conjunction with another association – the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), which allowed us to broaden our influence and networking capacity. Second, it was the first time that continuing education was offered for attending the poster session. This led to much higher attendance at the poster sessions and more in-depth conversations with the poster authors, which both the authors and attendees seemed to thoroughly appreciate. Third, the programming was specular! There were top-notch clinical programs covering topics such as immunizations, geriatrics, hepatitis C, new lipid-lowering drugs and new anticoagulant reversal agents. There were also a myriad of programs covering everyday issues facing healthcare workers, including regulatory issues, emotional intelligence, change management, and crucial conversations. I was truly impressed with the quality of the speakers and the timely and relevant messages they imparted to the audience.

There is one educational session that I would like to spend more time reflecting on because it is an issue that affects many practicing pharmacists today. Dr. Despina Kotis delivered a session on Women in Leadership, which focused on the gender gap in healthcare leadership as well as strategies to address this issue. She began by highlighting data that revealed that although women represent 74% of the healthcare workforce, they comprise less than 25% of senior executives or hospital CEOs.Representation in pharmacy is slightly better – with women holding 39% of director of pharmacy positions, 31% of college dean positions, and 59% of residency program director positions.In addition, women tend to be better represented in mid-level management positions (71%).However, there is apparently still room for improvement in this area.

This gender gap phenomenon has been identified in other healthcare disciplines as well. A survey of 4000 high-potential individuals revealed that women generally tend to have more mentors than men, but are still paid less, are not promoted as much, and have less career satisfaction.What needs to be done to ameliorate this situation?

A number of strategies have been considered. In one recently published study, researchers interviewed 30 women who had obtained full professorship at the University of Kansas School of Medicine.These women indicated that factors responsible for their academic success include academic excellence, hard work, and their ability to “carefully construct their femininity”.Women included in this study also noted that they had one person – usually a male – who acted as a sponsor for them during their career development.3

This concept of a sponsor was one that I had not previously heard of before. Sponsorship is different from mentorship. While mentors can be at any level, sponsors, by definition, need to be in key leadership positions. Sponsorship involved the public support of an individual by an influential person.By virtue of their influential role, sponsors are able to open doors for others, enhance their credibility and potentially unlock more opportunities for them.4

So where do we go from here? ASHP has recently created a Women in Pharmacy Leadership Steering Committee to help advise ASHP on this important issue. I look forward to seeing the work and recommendations from this committee.In the meantime, I think the first step is awareness. I applaud the ICHP Spring Meeting Planning Committee for having this session at the Spring Meeting. The next step needs to be action. If you are in a position to be a sponsor for the high-performing women in your institution, then I encourage you to embrace this role. By promoting their accomplishments and finding or recommending opportunities for them, you can help play a pivotal role in helping to reduce the gender gap in healthcare leadership. When it comes to career advancement, studies have shown that sponsorship benefits both men and women and that women tend to be less likely to have sponsors than men.Therefore, if you are a woman who is interested in building a leadership career, then consider proactively identifying a sponsor who can help promote your capabilities to key decision-makers within your institution.

I look forward to a day when a gender gap does not exist in healthcare and pharmacy leadership. We can all play a role to help alleviate this issue. I encourage everyone to do what is in your power to either raise awareness, serve as a sponsor, or help with initiatives that address this issue.

  1. Kotis D. Women in Leadership. Presented at the ICHP Spring Meeting, Peoria, IL. April 8-10 2016.
  2. Ibarra H, Carter NM, Silva C. Why men still get more promotions than women. Harv Bus Rev. 2010;88(9):80-5.
  3. Pingleton S, Jones EVM, Rosolowski TA, Zimmerman MK. Silent bias: challenges, obstacles, and strategies for leadership development in academic medicine – lessons from oral histories of women professors at the University of Kansas. Acad Med.
  4. Travis EL, Doty L, Helitzer DL. Sponsorship: a path to the academic medicine c-suite for women faculty? Acad Med.  2013;88:1414-17.
  5. ASHP.  Women in Pharmacy Leadership Steering Committee. Accessed 9 Jun 2016.
  6. Hewlett SA, Peraino K, Sherbin I, Sumberg K. The sponsor effect: breaking through the last glass ceiling, Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review; 2011.

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