Let Women Call the Shots

Two hundred and forty-one years ago, as the Continental Congress struggled to create a code of laws for a new nation, Abigail Adams famously urged her husband John Adams, delegate from Massachusetts, to “remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands.”

Today, as we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, Abigail Adams’ wise words are particularly prescient.

Women’s Equality Day commemorates the 1920 certification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Yet on a vitally important issue, women are still being sidelined: healthcare.

Research from the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), a New York-based think-tank, shows that 94 percent of women make healthcare decisions for themselves; among those who work and have children under the age of 18, 94 percent make decisions for others. These “Chief Medical Officers” (CMOs) comprise the core consumer segment of a $6.5 trillion market, accounting for healthcare purchases, setting the health and wellness agenda for themselves and others, choosing treatment regiments, and hiring and firing doctors, pharmacists, and insurance providers.

But even though the vast majority of healthcare decisions are made by women, women’s power of the healthcare purse has yet to translate into influence over how they and their loved ones receive care.

One key reason: industry pundits and policymakers are overwhelmingly male.

The numbers tell the story: As of 2015, according to a report from RockHealth, despite making up more than half the healthcare workforce, women represent only 21 percent of executives and 21 percent of board members at Fortune 500 healthcare companies. Of the 125 women who carry an executive title, only five serve in operating roles as COO or President.

Similarly, both branches of the 115th Congress are overwhelmingly male-dominated: just 21 women serve in the Senate, and women account for just 84 seats -- fewer than 20 percent -- of the House of Representatives. As the Senate continues its debate on the future of healthcare policy, not a single woman Senator has been invited to the 13-person working group to draft a new bill.

CTI research has shown that a diverse workforce that matches the market confers a competitive edge in terms of selling products or services to that end user -- in this case, female CMOs. But market-worthy ideas don’t provide a competitive boost until they’re developed and deployed, which requires the buy-in and endorsement of decision-makers at every level. And the homogeneous nature of leadership in healthcare -- white and male -- tends to promote a culture resistant to diverse perspectives and the talent that brings them. CTI research found that a man’s ideas are 24 percent more likely to be endorsed than a woman’s ideas in pharmaceutical or life sciences companies; 21 percent more likely to be developed; and 45 percent more likely to be implemented. That doesn’t bode well for women’s healthcare issues.

It’s more important than ever that women’s voices are heard. Here are two ways:

Let the industry know the importance of women’s ideas. “The healthcare industry employs many women who are CMOs of their households,” says Carolyn Buck Luce, author of the CTI study and subsequent book, Reimagining Healthcare: Through a Gender Lens. “It has the opportunity to connect with this huge consumer segment and create better health care outcomes for women and their families at an economic benefit for both their bottom line and the health of our society.”

Let your elected representatives know your concerns. Speak up -- not just to your representatives in Congress, but also to the state and local officials who are responsible for policy decisions that affect women’s health. No one doubts that the U.S. healthcare system could be improved. Yet until policymakers and industry pundits make more of an effort to truly understand and connect with female CMOs, this sad situation will not change.

Abigail Adams could have predicted as much when she warned her husband, “Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could.” Perhaps the fact that John Adams ignored her is one reason that healthcare has become such a sensitive subject. Our prescription for a healthy outcome: Listen to the ladies and let more women call the shots.

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