Women in healthcare: Of leaky pipes and sluggish middles


Last year, in partnership with LeanIn.Org, we conducted the first annual comprehensive study of the state of women in corporate America. The findings reveal challenges – but also optimistic notes – for women in healthcare.

Corporate America is not on a path to gender equality, which, even purely economically speaking, is a matter of considerable urgency. These findings are based on a recent Women in the Workplace survey McKinsey conducted in partnership with LeanIn.org — involving 30,000 employees surveyed and data from 118 companies of which 10 are from the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries — to better understand the context and the path to gender equality.

Healthcare vs. Other Sectors

Relative to other sectors such as automotive and industrial, and electronics/technology hardware, the healthcare sector in the US fares better both in accessing talent and representation of women at every level of the organization, based on our research. For example, while the automotive & industrial sector has only 16% women in mid-management (e.g., Manager to VP) and electronics/technology has only 21%, the healthcare sector has 47% women at this level.  But healthcare falls to the bottom quartile for women in likelihood of advancement, especially at the VP and SVP levels (but, interestingly, not in the move from SVP to the C-Suite, where healthcare ranks high, as illustrated in the third finding, below). There is a slowness of advancement in the middle management ranks, a “sluggish middle,” that exists – which is similar to other sectors with high representation of women, like retail/CPG, hospitality and financial services.

Following are four stark findings about the healthcare sector:

  1. Women in healthcare have decreasing representation starting at middle management level.  Entry level positions in healthcare have only 59% women – however, we note with some comfort that this is better than other industries, which average only 45%. Of that 59%,as you look up the corporate ladder, the percentage representation of women in healthcare goes from 51% at the manager level down to 19% at the SVP level. Interestingly, women’s representation at the C-suite is higher in healthcare than the overall corporate average (at 23% vs. the average of 17%).
  2. The comparatively good news comes on the retention side:  The lower rates of women in the upper echelons of healthcare organizations are not a function of women leaving at higher rates than men. In fact, it appears that the healthcare sector is doing much better at retaining women at every level than in other sectors: Women in leadership positions, on average, are more likely to stay with their company than male counterparts – with a significant difference at the SVP level and above — where some 96% of women stay, versus only 87% of men remain with their companies.
  3. The industry seems to be facing a “leaky pipe” issue, with women in healthcare significantly less likely to advance than their male colleagues — specifically 61 – 75% less likely than their male counterparts — for entry level through SVP. This compares with an overall average of women’s likelihood of advancing at about 85% across all other industries. Interestingly, if you are a woman and you get to the SVP level in the healthcare industry, our data show that you are actually more likely than a man to make it to the C-Suite – in fact, 1.6 times more likely, which happens to be the highest of all industries, where the average is 86% for this promotion. Only electronics / technology hardware (1.58 times more likely) and logistics and transportation (1.41 times) show figures similar to healthcare for this metric.
  4. The roles women hold in healthcare – similar to other industries — are less likely to lead to the C- suite – giving them lower odds. In healthcare, only 15% of women at the SVP level have P&L responsibility or are focused on core functions, compared to 18% for all industries. Back to the lack of oxygen for women in the higher echelons of healthcare organizations: CEOs are promoted more often from line roles than staff roles. These numbers are lower for women in every industry, including in healthcare.

Read the full article, including exhibits, on Disruptive Women in Healthcare