Marissa Mayer annoyed a lot of people — especially her younger staff — several weeks ago when she cancelled work-at-home privileges at Yahoo, where she is CEO. Skeptics griped that, of course, she could afford to "balance" work and family by having a nursery built for her own child next to her office. And her declaration that she is not a feminist struck many as ungrateful, if not plain silly, pointing out that it was pioneering feminists who paved the way for more women to gain access to executive suites like hers.
About the same time, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg took heat when she started stumping for her book Lean In, which, among other things, advocates for women in corporate leadership. The book's been called a "feminist manifesto" — admiringly or sneeringly so, depending on the commentator.
Some members of the press have treated both Mayer and Sandberg in a way that reveals a lingering bias against so-called "strong women," a loaded phrase in itself. The Atlantic Wire recently cited several examples of retrograde coverage of Sandberg, much of it by female journalists, which you can read here.
What I find interesting is that in this day and age women in positions of power in American business are still something of a novelty. That's certainly the case in hospitals, where a recent study by Rock Health found that only 18 percent of CEOs are women. It's a startlingly low number, considering that women make up 73 percent of all health care managers and around half of medical school graduates.
In the study, women say a lack of female role models and the tendency of health care executives to identify and mentor potential successors who look like themselves are two of the main barriers to easing the gender imbalance in hospital C-suites.
Our "Generations in the Workplace" series, running throughout this year in H&HN, provides one hopeful sign of change. Younger health care professionals — physicians, nurses and administrators — tell us over and over that they refuse to pull the kind of workaholic hours their predecessors historically have put in. Gen X and Gen Y men and women want a lifestyle balance that allows them to thrive in their careers while also spending more quality time with family and friends.
If that actually translates into men assuming a fairer share of the obligations at home, perhaps women will have more time to climb the leadership ladder. In the meantime, it's incumbent on current hospital executives to consciously expand their mentoring horizons and develop a more diverse pool of future leaders.
What the Mayer-Sandberg coverage also shows is that even among individuals within the same generation — Sandberg is in her early 40s, Mayer in her late 30s — outlooks and values vary. In the "Generations in the Workplace" series we've tried to avoid painting any of the four generations of staff now working in hospitals with too broad a brush, whether they be pre-boomers, boomers, Gen Xers or Gen Yers.
As far as Mayer's work-at-home ban is concerned, that raises an interesting question for hospital leaders trying to attract and retain Gen X and Y staff. A COO at a large health care system in the Midwest told me younger nonclinical employees expect to telecommute at least part of the time, and he lets them — a maximum of one day a week.
"They can be much more productive at certain tasks without the constant interruptions and distractions we get in the office," he says. "But the face-to-face interaction in formal meetings or even just in casual conversations in the hallway is invaluable. It promotes camaraderie and creativity. And that just doesn't happen over the Internet."
As I was writing this, I received a press release about a new book from the American College of Physician Executives called Lessons Learned: Stories from Women in Medical Management. Author Deborah Shlian, M.D., compiled personal essays from a variety of women health care execs, including senior vice presidents and chief medical officers and others. To learn more, click here.
I'd like to hear what you think about the dearth of women in leadership roles in hospitals and about work-at-home policies.