Women in Leadership

How do we get from here to there?

Christine Dean

Christine Dean is grateful for the mentors who have helped her achieve her career goals. She wants to ensure that other women in the healthcare supply chain have the same opportunity.

Dean is director of membership and communications for Strategic Marketplace Initiative, a community of healthcare supply chain leaders – providers and suppliers – who work to move the industry forward, she explains. At its Spring 2017 Forum, SMI assembled a group of successful female executives who shared their thoughts, experiences and advice on women in supply chain.

“‘Women in leadership’ is a major area of importance for our members, and one I am very passionate about,” says Dean.

A real problem
The problem of gender inequality and unconscious bias in the healthcare supply chain is serious, she says.

A 2016 study done by Gartner and AWESOME (Achieving Women’s Excellence in Supply Chain Operations, Management and Education) found that women make up 35 percent of the total supply chain workforce but just 5 percent of the chief supply chain officer and senior VP positions, she points out. Within the healthcare-specific supply chain, women made up 37 percent of the total workforce but only 18 percent of senior directors and vice presidents.

“That shows there is a tremendous amount of talent being overlooked. We need to do a better job of helping young women see the value of a career in healthcare supply chain.

“Probably the largest and most significant barrier is that of unconscious bias, which restricts diversity throughout the top leadership levels of many organizations. People often promote and are most comfortable with people who look and act as they do. It takes conscious effort to create diverse teams.”

Women also face a double standard when it comes to exhibiting what is considered leadership behavior, she continues. Often the words and actions taken by a woman in leadership are considered aggressive, not assertive.

Women can be their own worst enemy when it comes to raising their hand and self-promoting, says Dean. Studies show women think they need 100 percent of the skills listed in a job description to apply, while men will apply if they have just 60 percent of the skills listed.

Action steps
Women can take steps to address some of these concerns, says Dean. Some examples:

  • Become a mentor and/or sponsor, that is, an advocate for other women to be given challenging projects and greater responsibility.
  • Be a good role model and create diverse teams while recognizing their own unconscious bias and how to overcome it.
  • Have the confidence to take a risk and to learn from failure.

Men must take action too, she says. Examples:

  • Look for new and innovative ways to help foster diversity and gender equality in the organization. Reverse-mentoring – in which a older person is mentored by someone younger – is one.
  • Give female direct reports candid feedback on their performance. “Often male executives indicate they are uncomfortable giving negative feedback to women. People can’t develop and grow without balanced feedback.”
  • Listen and be open to new ways to accomplish the team’s goals and ensure that there is balance among all team members.

Dean especially believes in the power of mentors and sponsors.

“I have been pleasantly surprised at the willingness of our members (mostly vice presidents and above) to help foster their younger colleagues, and the eagerness of these emerging leaders to learn how to transition from management to leadership,” says Dean.

Mentoring is a two-way relationship. “The mentee must be committed to learning from the mentor and vice versa. Understanding the value of having a mentor is also vital.  Mentors can provide tips and techniques to navigate challenges, including negotiating pay raises and preparing for meetings. Most important, mentors provide constructive criticism, which is often hard to hear but necessary.

“I also think there is a notion that if someone has a mentor, they don’t need to put in time and effort,” she says. “Just the contrary is true. The mentor is investing their time and professional reputation; they don’t want to sponsor/mentor someone who is not totally engaged and motivated.

“Having diverse teams benefits the entire organization. Research shows that having diversity throughout an organization can lead to greater financial success. Inclusive leadership is about ensuring your organization is competitive and empowered.”