With HFMA’s Women’s Leadership Conference coming up on April 28, it’s a good time for female leaders to think about how they can support women in the workplace and promote greater equality. Despite the progress that’s been made, statistics show there’s still a significant gender gap when it comes to female leadership, even in the healthcare field, which has relatively high female employment. According to a recent JAMA study, only 15.3% of health system CEOs were women. And while the playing field continues to change, women still find it difficult to advance into executive roles in various healthcare settings.
One challenge is with the way women communicate and present themselves in meetings, conferences, and even performance reviews. Although it is unfair to generalize behavior based on gender, in speaking with experienced and successful female professionals in the healthcare field, there was marked agreement on some noticeable differences between men and women in terms of conversation styles, body language, and how women interact with colleagues. The following are some key moves women can make to present themselves as strong, confident leaders in various business settings.
- Stop apologizing. Women often start sentences with “I’m sorry,” as in, “I’m sorry to have to ask you to help out with this tomorrow, but we really need you.” Try explaining, articulating a new thought, and redirecting instead: “Your skills will move this project along, and tomorrow’s prep session would be a great time for you to get involved.”
- Sit at the head of the table, and don’t offer to take notes. Where you sit sends an unmistakable message, and fair or unfair note-taking implies an administrative role. If you need notes from the meeting, ask if anyone would be willing to take them or if you can record the meeting to return to important points later.
- Let someone else be the default to fix things that go wrong during a meeting. Instead of doing it yourself, ask if someone else can make sure the dial-in feed is working, can call to see if a missing participant is running late, can fix the presentation screen, etc.
- Everyone should pitch in to clean up at the end of the meeting. While you don’t want to leave a mess for anyone else to clean up, instead of cleaning yourself, as everyone stands up, encourage participants to make sure they take their trash with them so that administrative staff doesn’t have to do it.
- Keep your voice even. When presenting or talking in a meeting, be aware of raising your voice at the end of a sentence. This changes the sound of a statement into a question and pulls authority away from your ideas and comments.
- Do not let others interrupt or talk over you. And definitely keep others from taking credit for your good ideas! You can do this politely: “Bob, it’s great to hear that you agree with my idea – do you have any suggestions about how we can get started?”
- Call out inappropriate remarks at the moment. Stay calm and, in a reserved manner, make it clear that the remark was inappropriate. Then move on.
- Dress the part. Project the image of a leader through your attire. At the same time, be comfortable in your skin and clothes, and dress in a way that is authentic to you.
- Ask for a glass. When speaking at a conference, don’t drink directly from a water bottle, which may give the appearance of being less polished.
- Set up monthly meetings with a mentor. Set up at least one meeting a month with someone who can help your career: a former boss or colleague, someone from another department in your company who you don’t converse with on a regular basis, or even someone you admire from afar and would like to learn from. These interactions will help hone your presentation and speaking skills, broaden your knowledge base and strengthen your network.
Women continue to break down barriers in the workplace, and it’s exciting how much has been achieved up to this point. But much work remains to be done before we see true gender equality. Women must continue to champion each other and share advice that enables women to reach their full potential at work. These so-called “power moves” may not be a panacea, but they are an important puzzle piece to help more women get ahead.
Another power move would be to attend our Women’s Leadership Conference entitled “You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup: Learn the Secret to Keeping Your Cup Full” on April 28 at the PwC offices in the Seaport. Click here to register!
Deb Schoenthaler is the Executive Director of Physician Performance LLC, a 2,400-member physician organization in Massachusetts. She is an accomplished healthcare executive with deep experience in Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) and value-based payment models from both the provider and payor perspectives.