Study: The gender gap in health care persists

McKinsey & Company’s latest report focused on women in healthcare found that progress has been made in some areas, with women making up a higher percentage of the workforce than before. But in leadership positions, the representation of women — and, in particular, women of color — continues to disappoint.

“There has been progress and healthcare is leading across the board,” said Rachel Groh, associate partner at McKinsey. “Having said that, we are at this pivotal moment which has the potential to really jeopardize this progress.”

Among the report’s more optimistic findings, the researchers found that health care continued to have better female representation overall than other industries. Sixty-seven percent of entry-level employees in the health sector are women, compared to 38% in other sectors. But gaps further up the corporate food chain persist.

“Where more than two-thirds of entry-level healthcare workers are women, that drops to less than one-third of women in the C-suite,” Groh said. “This decline is even more pronounced for women of color, where 20% of entry-level employees in healthcare are women of color, but only 5% of senior-level women are women of color.”

McKinsey also found limited progress (and in some cases no progress) for men of color, who remained at 10-12% representation at all levels.

Women in healthcare also disproportionately bear the burden of more responsibilities – and, as a result, experience high levels of burnout.

“There is an ominous feeling from the women when they answered more qualitative questions about how they felt,” Groh reported. “We saw that women are twice as likely as men to cite parenthood and increased family responsibilities as reasons for missing out on promotion opportunities.”

Women were almost three times more likely to say they consistently took on all or most of the additional household responsibilities – 50% of women surveyed, compared to just 18% of men.

Nonetheless, Groh believes that healthcare organizations and marketers can act to bridge and close the gender gaps. The first is to manage attrition by monitoring workloads and providing greater flexibility to workers.

“In healthcare, that really matters,” Groh said. “In healthcare there is this goal-oriented work and many women feel pressured to be available 24/7. So having those limits can be really important.

Second, managers need to be trained to spot signs of burnout and provide support and resources to employees. Finally, companies must maintain a deliberate focus on women of color.

“It’s important to look at race and gender and the intersectionality of those dimensions,” Groh said. “My advice to marketers would be to understand that this is a time of unprecedented exhaustion in the field, and that there are tactical actions to help mitigate that exhaustion.”

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