Why Healthcare Needs More Women Leaders

Dr. Dondeena Bradley is Vice President, Global Design and Development, Nutrition Ventures at Pepsico.

This past summer, I decided to learn more about left and right brain thinking. The left brain generally converges on a single answer, while the right diverges into multiple paths. The left grasps the details, but only the right can see the big picture. The left is active in long-term planning, while the right is involved with emotion. The left and the right must come together for a whole view.

That got me thinking about somewhat controversial ideas regarding how men and women rely on different parts of the brain. Whether it has to do with our brain chemistry, or not, women certainly appear to play a different role than men in the home. We are the Chief Health Officers most responsible for managing our families’ health issues. A March 2011 Women’s Health Care report by the Kaiser Family Foundation based on survey data of more than 2,000 American women found that “women are the primary managers of their children’s care…,” and “women play a central role in providing care for chronically ill or disabled family members.”

Like many women, my experiences navigating the healthcare system have helped me develop strong opinions about how and where it could improve. And as we all know from visits to clinics and phone calls to insurance companies, there are plenty of us working in healthcare. Unfortunately, women are apparently not well-represented in the highest ranks of healthcare organizations, where important decisions are often made. A Rock Report on women in healthcare shows that while women make up 73% of medical and health service managers, they represent just 4% of healthcare company CEO’s.

Theories abound about the cultural norms and policies that discourage women from rising through the ranks. These barriers need to be examined and addressed, because we would all benefit if there were a more equal balance of women and men leaders in healthcare organizations. A recent study by two researchers at Harvard Business School showed that women outscored men in all but one of 16 competencies identified as being indicative of great leaders when judged by peers, bosses and direct reports. Many of the characteristics women scored highly on would be particularly desirable traits for health leaders, such as “displays high integrity and honesty”, “collaboration and teamwork”, “drives for results,” and “champions change.”

If we truly want to improve our healthcare system, we must encourage more women to overcome the challenges they face in climbing to the top. More women leaders in healthcare organizations would mean a more equal balance of that left brain / right brain thinking, and a better healthcare system for all of us.

Dr. Dondeena Bradley is Vice President, Global Design and Development, Nutrition Ventures. She is responsible for designing new solutions that target special nutritional needs of consumers with diverse health issues like obesity and diabetes. Previously, Dr. Bradley led PepsiCo’s nutrition organization which is responsible for delivering global strategies for nutrition standards, nutrient fortification, and education programs.

Dondeena talks about nutrition and health with women at the XX Retreat.