Featured ArticleIssueMarch 22

Is Gender Gap Undermining Healthcare Businesses

As more industries strive for gender equality for sustainable growth, we ask experts to explain why women do not reach senior ranks in healthcare organisations in India and how is this affecting the healthcare business

In India, almost 70 per cent of the healthcare workforce is made up of women but less than 25 per cent of this workforce occupies leadership positions. Gender equality in the workforce is a passionately discussed subject leading to a number of actionable pointers but nothing much has changed in reality. In the management segments, some of the key barriers include gender stereotypes and bias, lack of mentorship and poor organisational support. Domains like hospital operations, housekeeping or clinical departments can be found with women leaders because they have the necessary acumen and knowledge. However, this is not the case in nursing as a majority of the workforce in the nursing sector constitute women. Still, there is something amiss when it comes to women holding the leadership role.


Dr Alok Roy, Member, FICCI Health Services Committee and Chairman, Medica Group of Hospitals says, “Yes, it is true for the Indian Healthcare sector, that private hospital ownership might be limited, then you have to primarily look at the constituents of those in a leadership position. Our hospital has female Vice President of Operations, the Vice President of Facilities is a lady, the housekeeping is headed by a lady and the list goes on. We consciously nurture women’s talent and by their merit and hard work they have got promoted to go higher up the ladder. We keep a very close watch on women leadership to balance genders and for a more equitable representation. It is required that more women should come into administration and leadership positions.”

Rama Venugopal, Executive Director, Value Added Corporate Services says, “Healthcare sector, like any other sector, needs a balanced mix of leadership roles at levels of organisation structure. This lays a very strong foundation for the growth of the sector.” She also feels that a gender balance across levels is non-existent and will remain elusive unless proactive measures are taken to eliminate the obstacles that keep women from reaching leadership positions.

Says Ishiqa Multani, President, Sagar Group of Hospitals, “As a woman, getting to the highest offices in healthcare takes a lot of work, given that there are more constraining factors that make it challenging for women to climb the ladder of leadership. Many of the C-Suite executives and department heads in healthcare organisations are men.”

Main constraints
There are multiple constraints for women to hold a senior-most position. Maintaining a work-life balance, gender discrimination and sexual harassment are some of the challenges that a woman comes across in the corporate sector.

Dr Minnie Bodhanwala, CEO, Wadia Hospitals explains, “Women sometimes may lack confidence, they are underpaid and there is the absence of agency to navigate gender discrimination and sexual harassment.”

Adding to this, Aishwarya Vasudevan, Group COO, Neuberg Diagnostics says, “To name a few corporate speed breakers, a company may not have a proper agency to navigate the institutional structures and may also be scarce on the support and mentoring required to bring women to senior positions. Sexual harassment is another crucial reason for women to be kept away from such senior roles.”

However, Dr (Major) Harshita Surange, Founder, CEO, Clinical Head, DESH Clinics a venture of Family First opines, “With changing times and mindset the constraints to reach the top in the hierarchy by women is not very difficult and if you are eligible and qualified nothing comes in between the top line and you.” She adds, “The child bearing period and its connected leave period always make the employer to have a preference to male.”

India’s patriarchal system in is the main impediment- where men are given the top position always. It is very difficult to accept the women in the top position and men are reluctant to be under a woman leader. According to Dr Beena KV Additional Medical Superintendent Amrita Hospital, Kochi, “Women find it difficult to get support from her men folk.”

Woman traditionally adjusts her career option to suit that of the husband and keeping the interest of children in mind. To that extent balancing the family, prioritising the needs etc., are posing a challenge of sorts. According to Ramesh Kannan, Partner at Somerset Indus Healthcare Fund, “Post Covid there is a significant technology development and work from home is the new norm. This can be taken advantage of by the lady professionals and clearly offers the scope to achieve their objective. While we see lady employees occupying senior posts in the metro cities partly, we don’t see that happening in other cities.”

Do women leaders (CEOs, CXOs) perform better?
Better capabilities lead to success. Research proves that a balance of men and women leaders in a company outperforms Companies that are led solely by men. Having women in a leadership position proves to be inspirational for other women who aspire to reach that position as well. Gender diversity is key to success, better productivity, innovation, decision making, and satisfaction is seen in companies with a healthy gender ratio. Women have less mentors than men to help them navigate the institutional ecosystem.Women also do not have the same opportunities like the men do.

Thinking about it Multani adds, “Women leaders tend to be more empathetic, making them better placed to occupy leadership positions. Empathy is also beneficial in leading employees, making it much easier to motivate them. Thus, it is safe to say that women leaders perform better, which is why companies should invest in female leaders.”

Dr Devlina Chakravarty, MD, Artemis Hospitals, while citing an example about her organisation, says that most of the leadership positions are taken up by women as the workforce has learned better than any male counterparts. According to her, women should be given better roles in leadership positions not just in healthcare but across industries.

Negating gender bias
Dr Surange says, “Why to compete on a gender basis. Equality and leadership are different. A leader or top brass is a more capable person and capability does not come by being of anyparticular gender. I am a woman and I am heading two companies. I have my strengths and weaknesses, and so do other CEO’s/CXO.” Investing in female leaders There is a huge need to invest in female leaders as it will lead to gender balance in the workplace. Investing in women makes good business sense because diverse and inclusive workplaces are essential in meeting the needs of today’s diverse clients, communities and other key stakeholders.

For instance, Medica Hospital has women valet drivers, that was all this while considered as a pure male bastion. Similarly, the hospital trains and promotes women in managerial positions as well, depending on the availability of positions. Besides, regular training sessions and workshops are also organised. This adds to the value of the organisation says Dr Roy. Dr Bodhanwala says, “Women’s leadership in healthcare is imperative. Better hiring, promoting, enabling networks, and mentoring will help a large number of women to take up leadership roles. It is a fact that female leaders will make a better society for women to thrive.”

“Doing the balancing act, caring and empathising comes naturally to women. These are the strong ingredients or qualities a good leader is supposed to possess. Healthcare deals with sick people and stressed outpatient attendees that require a lot of energy and patience, empathy, sympathy to manage this segment of customers. Women are used to doing multitasking act and managing multiple scenarios at a time comes naturally to them,” Venugopal adds.

Investing in female leaders creates a culture of diversity and equity within the organisation. Having more female leaders will encourage female employees and attract more qualified women to the organisation. Multani says, “Female leaders tend to perform better as they are more thoughtful and communicate much better, which will improve employee morale, which will affect output.”

Recommendations for more equitable healthcare leadership
Companies should actively pursue the path of gender balance, encourage more women to come forward and break the so-called glass ceiling and encourage them at a grassroots level. The leadership positions at Medica
are very well represented by women leaders. Out of the 25 highest positions, a good ten of them will be women who are leading by example. Almost 40 per cent of the women are leaders in the system and housekeeping consists of almost 70 per cent.

According to Dr Surange, “We as women should not look for extra privileges, support and hand-holding unless we feel we are less privileged. If we relate our self-equal to our counterparts no matter how much we are supported we shall always feel that we are not being given equal opportunity.”

Company cultures must be created in a manner that encourages more equity in leadership. More women should be mentored and groomed for leadership positions. Says Multani, “This can be done by selecting a few promising women with leadership acumen and pairing them with a leader in the company who shall serve as their leadership mentor. This will expose more women to leadership and what it entails, and increase the number of women interested in leadership opportunities.”

According to Vasudevan, a non- gender biased leadership will enhance productivity, decision making etc. and will also affect the level of satisfaction among employees. A fair sense of recognition will also work as a driving
force among employees. Gender diversity should be the key that will in turn bring any company success it desires. “Lady doctors are becoming entrepreneurs, thanks to their qualification. In the management andleadership role play there is definitely significant scope to enhance the role of women,” opines Kannan.

Kannan further adds, “Women are very apt for health education and play a stellar role in harnessing and improving talent. Investing in female leaders is ultra-beneficial in the long run and builds a better bonding and
compatibility with the team.”

It is important that a company is seen as an equal opportunity company promoting the interest of all subject to merit. Companies see a huge advantage in terms of lessor attrition, greater responsibility, focussed approach,
challenging tasks, ability to manoeuvre tricky situations and attitude that is adjustable etc. A lot of initiatives are being undertaken by various stakeholders to take in more women’s workforce in the health sector. Despite
this, the number of women leaders are negligible. Companies need to relook strategies and minimise the gender gap and promote more women to climb the leadership ladder.

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