Women CEOs still rare in digital health startups, Rock Health says

It’s no secret that the gender pay gap for women in health IT persists as they face the glass ceiling and a new report from RockHealth found that very few startups CEOs are female. Although the percentage is up slightly, very few respondents see change coming quickly. 

A mere 10.2 percent of CEOs at digital health startups are women, in fact, which rose from 8.8 percent in 2015. The same trend is evident in partners at digital health VC firms, where only 12.2 percent of partners are female. These rates pale in comparison to those of Fortune 500 healthcare leaders and hospital executive teams. 

“Perhaps pessimism comes from the sluggish pace of change. The percentage of women on Fortune 500 healthcare executive teams and boards has been nearly flat since 2015, hovering around 22 percent,” authors of the study wrote. “The percent of women executives at hospitals has remained around a third of all executives. Women in the startup world have also seen little change: the percentage of women CEOs of funded digital health startups, as well as the percent of women VC partners, stands around 10-12 percent. Things just aren’t moving fast enough.”

The survey was sent to over 600 women working in healthcare. Of those responses, 28.4 percent worked in digital health with another 8.1 percent working in medical device companies. The rest came from healthcare services, consulting, academia, pharma, insurance, venture, and government. 

The Northwest has the most digital health companies with female CEOs at 12.5 percent. Meanwhile, the Midwest had the lowest amount with only 3.2 percent of its digital health companies run by a woman CEO. Female CEOs made up 11.5 percent of digital health companies in the West and 8.3 percent in the South. 

“Twelve and a half percent of all funded digital health companies in the Northeast have a woman CEO — higher than any other region (albeit not high enough),” authors of the report wrote. “And women in the Northeast are least likely to see their location as a barrier to career advancement (18 percent consider their geography a barrier to career advancement, compared to 27 percent for the rest of the country). [Fortune] 500 healthcare companies in the Northeast also have a slightly higher average percentage of women board members: 24 percent, compared to 23 percent in the West and Midwest, and 18 percent in the South.”

The survey also found that both gender and race can be barriers to advancement across healthcare sectors. 

“Race and gender collide throughout one’s career, especially for non-white women,” authors of the report wrote. “Eighty-six percent of African American women surveyed say race is 'very much' a barrier to career advancement, compared to just nine percent of white women.”

Seventy-one percent of women reported underselling their skills. Among minorities, 80 percent Asian and Asian-American women and 71.4 percent of African-American women reported underselling their skills. 

While the women in the survey reported on the struggles of working in healthcare, few said they were optimistic that it will change soon. 

“Approximately 55 percent of respondents believe it will take 25+ years to achieve gender parity in the workplace (up from 45 percent in 2017)," authors of the report wrote. “Fewer (just 5 percent) say it will happen in the next five years (compared to 8 percent in 2017). Women taking our survey continue to be pessimistic about how long it will take to reach parity (although this year, fewer say parity will never happen).”

Female leadership in the healthcare space has been a hot button topic in recent years. Some studies are finding that female leadership is good for profit — for instance, a McKinsey & Co. study found that companies with the most women on their management staff were 21 percent more likely to achieve above-average profitability compare to those with fewer women.

The government’s United States Digital Service has also been reporting a move forward in the space with females accounting for 60 percent of its leadership team. 

“With awareness comes understanding, and with understanding comes responsibility,” the authors of the report wrote. “Right now, the data tells us this: while there have been marginal improvements for women in healthcare, things aren’t moving nearly fast enough.”

Twitter: @lauralovett7
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