Leadership & Management

What is getting in the way of women being more equally represented at senior leadership positions?

Health Industry Hub | May 24, 2021 |
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Leadership & Management: As healthcare companies innovate with growing speed for an increasingly diverse customer base, the business case for diversity and inclusion has never been clearer.

AusMedtech 2021 session chair Gavin Fox-Smith from ANDHealth and panellists Sue Martin, Managing Director ANZ of Johnson & Johnson Medical, Louise Hogan, Senior Client Partner of Korn Ferry and Rebecca Wilson, Chair of Alcidion addressed how companies can leverage diverse teams to foster innovation, increase staff retention, productivity and company outcomes.

Louise Hogan, Senior Client Partner, Korn Ferry introduced a new letter ‘E’ for Equity to the Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) acronym making it D,E & I.

“Equity is an approach that ensures everyone has access to the same opportunities. Equity recognises that there are structures and barriers within organisations and as a result we don’t all start from the same place. Equity is the process of acknowledging the unequal sharing and starting or unequal starting place.”

A recent Korn Ferry survey of talent leaders showcased a near full consensus about the positive impact of inclusive leadership, with most respondents strongly agreeing that inclusive leaders empower teams to take risks and bring their authentic selves to work.

A McKinsey study of 1,000 companies in 12 countries found that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity were 36% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry median, and those in the top quartile for gender were 21% more likely to have financial returns above their median.

Conversely, companies in the bottom quartile for both gender and ethnicity and race was statistically less likely to achieve above average returns than average companies to which they were compared.

The panel addressed Health Industry Hub’s question – The evidence is compelling on the fact that a more balanced representation of women in top leadership positions produces better financial results for the organisation. What is getting in the way of women being more equally represented at senior leadership positions?

Rebecca Wilson, Chair, Alcidion shared a recent example of recruiting for a new addition to their senior leadership team.

“We looked very hard to make sure that we had a good representation of both women and men so that we could make the right decision about the right person for the right role. The reason I raised this is that we did not get one application from a woman.

“The evidence, both in terms of hard data and anecdotal, shows that sometimes women can suffer from a lack of confidence and feel like they can’t do the role. It really is heartbreaking when you’ve got an organisation where the environment is absolutely ripe for getting the best person for the role and you don’t have the candidates representing that diversity.”

Sue Martin, Managing Director ANZ, Johnson & Johnson Medical, stated “We’re here to achieve greater performance through diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I would be honest on this panel to say that I have suffered from that lack of confidence myself. Yet here I am leading an organisation. It’s really about having the network around you to make sure when you’re having those wobbly moments someone is giving you a nudge to raise that confidence to move forward.

“I also want to address the point of being very purposeful in your organisation at that middle management level to ensure you’re feeding the pipeline by providing the experiences, development, exposure and the sponsorship, so that women can develop their careers. That way we have more shots on goal at those senior levels because we have a greater pool to choose from.”

Louise Hogan, Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry, said “It’s a really interesting dilemma. We need to find our high potential talent women early in their careers, stand them up and get them ready for senior executive roles.

“In my role I see a gap in how males and females think about and present themselves for senior roles. I have many talented men call me regularly, talk to me about their careers and hassle me for jobs. They will present their skills that may not be ready for a CEO role but in their heads that’s what they see themselves as.

“I don’t get those calls very often from women who are positioning themselves in my mind as a future CEO.

“I will say to the women of med tech that if someone’s calling you to talk to you about a new role, take the opportunity to have a career conversation even if you’re not interested in that particular role.

“We need to take some ownership as women and say I don’t need to be 100% ready to do a role. I need to be talking early about what I can do and how to fill any gaps to get to the point where I need to be.

“Women balancing work and balancing of life, it gets in the way. We as hiring organisations get in the way of the aspiring senior leaders with their work-life balance. I took a recent client brief and said how would you feel about part-time or part-work. The response was that a part-timer will not be as committed to the role. Part-time and lack of commitment do not come in the same sentence.

“We need to just rethink what it means to be part time. Traditionally our work week is five days. Why do we think five days is the magical answer to doing a job. Why are we not thinking about carving jobs up into sections where we can actually get better talent to do something for three or four days or four split hours or whatever it takes. Rethinking the structure and the future of work is critical in building that female talent,” she noted.

Rebecca added “We have a responsibility – not just women, but men as well – to influence the women in our network to raise that confidence, to show them through our own experiences of how we’ve been able to get to senior leadership roles. It’s those proof points that are so powerful for women of all ages.”

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