Gender Equality in Healthcare

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Golden Opportunity for Gender Equity

It’s happening right now across our industry: health systems both large and small, having survived the worst of a global pandemic and the accompanying systemic shocks to our organizations and society at large, are contemplating a “new normal” for their employees and workplaces.

This is also a long-overdue moment for fundamental reimagining of the workplace that actively supports women. Knowing a “new normal” is now inevitable, healthcare leaders can use this opportunity to actively shape a better, more sustainable future for our industry.  

At The Equity Collaborative, an initiative of The Carol Emmott Foundation, we work with healthcare executives to enact this change that we so desperately need. Driven by the goal of gender equity in healthcare leadership and governance, and especially as it intersects with larger DEI initiatives, we provide support, a robust network, and national visibility for women leaders and help our Foundation members create meaningful policies that accelerate change.

We have found that our member organizations are able to make significant and noticeable impact in their institutions through three areas originally identified by Girls Who Code founder, Reshema Saugani, who was also instrumental in the development of the “Marshall Plan for Moms” (pay equity, flexibility, and child and senior care). These issues represent the common needs of women and caretakers in the workplace, regardless of age or stage of life.

Our members have realized that real change for pay equity can begin with the way we recruit, hire, and retain. Actions they’ve taken in this arena that other healthcare executives can and should follow include:

  • Revisit training for human resources professionals: Ensure that training includes tactics for addressing unconscious bias in policy writing, hiring, and promotion practices.
  • Rethink the value of job categories: Consider how skilled positions are paid in other industries and adjust payment for female dominated work categories like nurses, therapists, and other highly skilled healthcare employees accordingly.
  • Rewrite job descriptions: Across the organization, remove non-inclusive language and include new language that promotes change for the way your employees see their value in their jobs.

All of these are ways you can make pay equity change, and many of them are possible to begin right now, today.

To improve flexibility, The Equity Collaborative members are building processes and systems that allow us to listen to our workers rather than simply make decisions on their behalf. Actions we’ve seen work include:

  • Creating systems and structures to listen to workers: Often the most important thing to do is to recognize the specific concerns and needs of individuals rather than instituting a one-size-fits-all solution.
  • Allowing shift workers autonomy over their collective schedules: Set up systems where employees can swap and problem-solve amongst themselves when their lives and schedules require some flexibility.
  • Providing non-clinical and administrative workers hybrid and remote work options: Return to work policies should respect the ways that employees’ lives have become easier by working remotely or in a hybrid structure and seek to maintain that benefit. Examine policies to ensure they require in-person work only when there is an actual reason to be in person.

Assisting with child and senior care also improves flexibility. So many well-meaning solutions for childcare and senior care fall flat because they don’t meet the caretakers’ actual needs. It’s important to think creatively, but feel free to borrow some approaches our members have taken:

  • Find a customizable range of options that meet working parents’ needs: Find ways to help with finances and other challenges that answer many circumstances.
  • Forge partnerships with local care centers: Improve access for employees to an increased number of reasonable care options.
  • Provide flexible spending accounts for dependent care: Set up plans that give workers the flexibility to meet the specifics needs of their families.

Now is clearly the moment to make these kinds of sweeping culture changes, and not only because of the acute staffing shortages health systems are facing. As an industry, we also know that creating more inclusive workplaces, with diverse, equitable leadership, leads to both better patient care and improved bottom lines.

In the midst of every crisis lies opportunity. If healthcare leaders don’t seize this opportunity, we risk losing an entire generation of working mothers who are the senior healthcare leaders of tomorrow.

It’s up to healthcare leaders to reimagine our workspace in support of our workforce. A more deeply equitable and employee-centered culture is not only desirable on its own, it has also never been more clearly necessary than it is today.

Gayle L. Capozzalo, FACHE, is the executive director of The Equity Collaborative—The Carol Emmott Foundation, and a past ACHE Chair. You can email Gayle or visit to join us in pursuing change toward fully inclusive gender equity.