Women CEOs Describe How Organization’s Supported Their Career Trajectories

This is the fourth in a series of posts from a recent study was to analyze the career trajectories of women who successfully achieved the hospital CEO position executives to determine the factors that generated inflections in their careers. The study was conducted by NCHL with investigators from the University of Michigan and supported by a grant from Hospira.

We will now turn our attention to the executives’ perception of the organizational supports that helped them ascend to the CEO position.

We all know that leaders and organizational culture can have an impact on job satisfaction, organizational commitment and tenure. Over half of the executives in our study stated that they worked in hospitals with positive work environments and cultures of growth and opportunity. On the other hand, nine of the executives described working in biased work environments. The majority of these CEOs began their career in clinical roles (nurse, physician).

Other studies have shown that the gender composition of the governing board may impact the gender diversity in the CEO position. The findings of our study, however, were inconclusive. For instance, half of the executives in our study stated they were hired by a governing board that was comprised of both men and women. Conversely, four of the interviewed CEOs were selected by all male governing boards— in some cases comprised of many physicians. In addition, two of the executives were selected by another female CEO and four executives were selected to be CEO by the system CEO or the division president, all of whom were men.

Besides leadership and governing boards, the CEOs in the study mentioned that they felt supported by organizational programs designed to promote diversity in the workforce. A few CEOs mentioned that there was an organizational diversity strategy. The more formal diversity initiatives included long-term strategies, goals, and incentives for diversifying the workforce, while less formal ones focused on diversity training. In this study, nine of the executives reported being hired as a CEO in a hospital with a formal diversity strategy, but only two of these said the diversity strategy included specific goals and incentives.

Women CEOs in this study mentioned the importance of succession planning. Half of the executives stated they were involved in a succession plan when they were selected into the CEO position. Several of them stated this type of program was important for their career development and retention. Of interest, most of the organizations with a diversity strategy also had succession planning.

Family and work responsibilities often negatively impact the careers of female executives. A common solution to the issue is to have family-centered work practices to help reduce the stress of managing family and work responsibilities. In this study, only eight of the CEOs said they were aware of family-centered work practices in their organization. The most commonly mentioned practices were flexible work schedules, extended paternity leave, and onsite daycare.   Half of the interviewed CEOs stated that family-centered programs were more recently developed in their hospital and were not available earlier in their careers. In addition, one of the CEOs noted that family-centered programs were not designed or utilized by those in executive positions.

Let us know what you think. How has your organization hampered or helped your career? Are organizational supports different for male versus female employees? Which organizational supports are most helpful to have in place?

About Christy Lemak

teacher and scholar interested in strenghthening leadership in health care

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