In a field where 65% of healthcare professionals are women, only 30% are in C-suite leadership roles and women make up only 13% of CEOs. The closer one gets to the top, the wider the gender gap. It is interesting to note that in their January 2019 study, Oliver Wyman found that “Most women… did not feel men were directly obstructing them from reaching the top,” and most men acknowledged the lack of gender diversity at the top levels of hospital leadership and agreed that it needs to be addressed. It would seem clear that a shift in defining leadership ability in healthcare needs to take place.

It follows to look at what actually drives promotion to leadership positions in healthcare. Promoting someone to a senior position involves a level of trust. What is this key ingredient of trust? In their 1995 study An Integrative Model of Organizational Trust, Mayer, Davis and Schoorman broke the 3 trust barriers to women into these:


That common set of values and experiences that guide collaborative operations is different for men and women. Unfortunately, women have fewer informal, non-work opportunities to make connections with men for many reasons including gender role ideas for off-work responsibilities, social activities that tend to be male driven and in the era of “Me Too”, can be a loaded gun. Even mentoring relationships are different between the sexes in that women often have fewer experiences.


This can create barriers for women in that men and women have different ideas about what it means to lead and effective methods of leadership. These are often based on cultural bias or societal norms. An example of this is viewing and valuing collaborative efforts as opposed to decisive, one-person decisions.


Defining and demonstrating ability in healthcare can be somewhat ambiguous as in all fields. 5 commonalities include:

  1. The ability to motivate, inspire and communicate effectively
  2. Passion and Confidence
  3. Decisive Nature
  4. Broad Business Perspective
  5. Connections and Influence (internally and externally)

Trust is integral ingredient in the promotion process, but most don’t understand the dynamics of trust development and the impact it plays in leadership advancement. Rational factors like ability and integrity are usually readily identifiable. Affinity or empathy; that personal investment in someone’s well-being is less recognizable but no less important for women. Perhaps the most difficult barrier is the difference between perception and reality. In this area, perhaps women need to take a page from the male playbook when it comes to mentoring and self-promotion. In the latter, women tend to let results speak for themselves and often, that does not lead to top-of-mind when leadership positions are considered.

NHS Solutions specializes in Healthcare Interim Leadership so we have a front row seat in this arena. Interestingly, most of our candidates are in fact, women. However, we do not differentiate based on gender and often send blinded, gender-neutral resumes to our clients for consideration. Our trusted team of client managers and recruiters are available now to answer your questions, either about your next career move or your hospital’s unique need to fill a leadership gap. Contact us with your Interim Manager, Director, and C-Suite needs.

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