Women’s voices largely missing from healthcare conferences (and how we can fix it in 2014)

Research by Serene Lau and Kelly Hennessee

Where the ladies at? Not on stage at healthcare conferences. Hundreds of leaders were given the spotlight at dozens of healthcare conferences this year, but we couldn’t help but notice the uncomfortable dearth of women on stage.


I spoke at 22 events this year, most looked like this.

We wanted to know the actual numbers, so the XX in Health team looked at speaker demographics from 11 of the 12 largest conferences of 2013 (we couldn’t access speaker lineup from HIMSS).  Here’s the dismal data:

xx women healthcare conference logos

At very best, women were still just 38% of the faces on stage. Even our team failed at diversity on stage—our annual Health Innovation Summit clocked in at only 36% female speakers.  We have to do better than this.

Why? Women are a driving force in healthcare. They are the Chief Medical Officers of the home, making 80% of health care decisions for their families (United States Department of Labor).  As we watch the consumerization of healthcare unfold before us, it will only become more important to have women join men and share their experiences on stage.

We all know there are fewer women in leadership positions than men (e.g. women make up just 14% of the Fortune 500 healthcare company boards, and only one CEO). In addition, these women are in demand and have to turn down speaking opportunities at a higher rate. From our experience inviting speakers to Health Innovation Summit 2013, males were 20% more likely to accept our invitations than females. We also received at least a dozen inbound requests from men to speak, and not a single e-mail from an opportunistic female speaker.

Let’s make it really, really easy for conference organizers to learn about amazing women working in healthcare. Visit our database of leading female speakers. Do you know a woman who deserves some stage time? Just add her information. We’ll share with conference organizers around the world.

We have the opportunity to make our industry more diverse and dynamic, starting with healthcare events in 2014. We can and should set a better example for the industry, and for the next generation of leaders.

Learn more about our XX in Health initiative.