Tuesday, Apr 11, 2023

Driving Change for Women in Medicine

Liz BickleyCOO, Korn Ferry

HLTH Foundation

Every career path has its twists and turns, especially for women seeking leadership and C-suite roles. At Korn Ferry we have long been committed to driving change in this regard both in the healthcare industry and more broadly. We recently followed up our original 2017 research into women CEOs by interviewing the women CEOs from Citigroup Inc., CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance, IBM and more to find out what has changed, what has stayed the same, and what organizations need to do to continue making progress.

The report highlights three major themes regarding the role of women as CEOs:

  • Women are actively seeking and stepping into the CEO role – but not frequently enough. Many talented, high-potential women often do not consider the CEO role for themselves, seeking out functional roles instead of being in charge of a profit-and-loss center, which is seen as a clearer path to the CEO position. More than half of those interviewed said embracing tough assignments and delivering stellar results helps women gain the courage, confidence, and visibility needed to propel their careers.
  • Women are transforming the CEO role. Traditional command-and-control leadership is not yielding the same returns; instead, 60% of the CEOs say leaders today must be more collaborative and empathetic to create truly diverse and inclusive enterprises that unleash the full talent in their ranks.
  • Women are growing through experience. For the women CEOs interviewed, early board service has been integral to their success as leaders. In fact, 70% underscored how early board exposure benefited their careers—by developing leadership skills, boosting visibility, and preparing to manage their own boards once CEO. The study also shows a variety of diverse paths that lead women to the CEO role – everything from engineering to sales, law, and medicine.

In healthcare specifically, COVID-19 has provided us with additional setbacks, with over 4% of women globally leaving the workforce and an even higher percentage in healthcare; specifically, over 2 million women leaving the workforce in the US alone. The challenge in Health Systems and also in the academic medicine space is even more profound. We have been challenged in moving the needle over the last 30 years and many fear that COVID-19 may have undone a lot of the progress made. 

Medicine, like other areas of society, is changing because of the significant efforts that women and their allies have put forth to effect change. This has allowed greater opportunities for women in medicine, but inherent biases remain, both in medicine and society at large, that continue to impede the careers of women and limit their abilities to fulfill their potential.

The American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA) and Korn Ferry have joined forces to explore the challenges that confront women in medicine and the work that is still needed to close the gender gap in healthcare leadership. COVID-19 has taken a significant toll on women in medicine. Yet many of the issues being faced are not new but have been magnified through the pandemic, including: 

  • Burnout driven by overrun hospitals and health systems, staffing shortfalls, personal protective equipment (PPE) challenges, and inadequate management support. 
  • Mental health crises ranging from anxiety and depression to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide. 
  • Caregiving conflicts as women juggle their professional and personal lives. 
  • Heightened fertility concerns among women trainees and practicing physicians. 
  • Underrepresentation of women in leadership roles and the slow progress in driving change in this regard.

Problem analysis alone is not our ultimate objective; therefore, we have been recommending solutions and policy shifts that reach across healthcare and medicine — from the actions of individual physicians and healthcare employers to new roles for universities, medical schools, training programs, professional organizations, and society at large. We are committed to a single shared goal: Broaden opportunities for women in all areas of healthcare and medicine — from academia, research, and public health to venture capital, start-ups, and technology. The shared AMWA / Korn Ferry vision: Increase women’s leadership to bring influence and innovation across the spectrum of healthcare and medicine, serving patients, practitioners, insurers, associations, institutions, government, and industry.

In summary: 

Building diverse, equitable, and inclusive organizations is about actively leveraging the power of all. It is about making the workplace a great place for all employees, where positions are not defined by demographics.


If companies are not advancing women, then they are minimizing the value of all talent. And that talent, no matter their background, will take their expertise, knowledge, and experience somewhere else. Nurturing diversity of talent, in all its forms, is therefore not simply a moral imperative but a commercial one—companies that build resilient pipelines can better weather storms, instead of losing ground. And unlocking the power of all has never been more needed or rewarded.


Link to articles: 

Korn Ferry Study Reveals Attributes, Priorities and Career Paths of Women CEOs

AMWA/Korn Ferry Women in Medicine Report Focuses on Leadership and Gender Equity - American Medical Women's Association (amwa-doc.org)

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