Events, Telemedicine

Panelists at ATA discuss why there’s “a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”

One of the panels at ATA this year focused on female leadership in the healthcare and telehealth fields. We’ve come a long way, but we’ve got a long way to go.

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Among the many trends at this year’s American Telemedicine Association conference was a focus on the advancement of women in telehealth. Though every conference attendee donned a badge, all the females had a “Women in Telehealth” sticker on theirs. And in a first-ever event, one of the panels at ATA was titled “Women Executives in Telehealth: Positioning for the Future.”

“What we really want to talk about is women as leaders,” Charlotte Yeh, CMO of AARP Services, Inc., said at the opening of the session. And indeed, the panel of women provided an insightful and realistic look at the challenges women face in leadership.

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There’s no denying it’s a challenge for women to move through the ranks of leadership positions. But the panelists agreed that self-assuredness is key. “I think it’s a confidence thing,” said Kristi Henderson, vice president of virtual care and innovation at Seton Healthcare Family. “We need to contribute and add a voice to the table.”

Salus Telehealth President and CEO Paula Guy agreed. “Don’t let anybody get you down,” she said. “Don’t let people tell you that you can’t.”

Other panelists underscored the importance of mentorship. “Find that young woman and become their mentor,” said Julie Hall-Barrow, vice president of virtual health and innovation at Children’s Health, Dallas.

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” noted Susan Dentzer, president and CEO of the Network for Excellence in Health Innovation. “If you don’t have a mentee, adopt one, find one and pass it on.”

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Later in the discussion, Yeh asked panelists what they would include in a letter to their younger selves. “I’d tell myself not to let life happen to you,” Henderson said. “I would say to never settle, to raise the bar as high as you can.”

Other panelists were a little more forthright in their responses. “First of all, I’d tell myself not to get married so many times,” Guy said, earning uproarious laughter from the audience. “I would be more confident in myself, period,” she added.

The thoughts of the panel point to the elephant in the room: Women still aren’t getting the same leadership opportunities as men. Research from 2011 claims women make up about 75 percent of the healthcare workforce. But women only comprise four percent of healthcare company CEOs, according to 2012 research from Rock Health.

The problem even exists within the American Telemedicine Association. Of the 18 past presidents of the ATA, only four have been women. That’s less than 25 percent.

What we need are more discussions like the “Women Executives in Telehealth” panel at the ATA conference. And we need more men to be attending them. Of the more than 100 people in the audience during the panel, I counted less than 15 men. How can we expect to make changes if everybody isn’t on board?

Panels like this are a step in the right direction. But the numbers show we still have a long way to go before we reach gender equality in healthcare leadership.

Photo: baona, Getty Images