LAS VEGAS — The U.S. might elect its first female president later this year and, all across the nation, there are glimmers of hope that the glass ceiling is, perhaps, cracking, if not shattering. There’s one industry, however, where women are still playing catch-up with their male peers — health care IT.
That was the topic of a frank conversation here at HIMSS Wednesday between two female hospital chief information officers. A new white paper, released by the trade group this week, reveals that female health IT workers earn an average salary of $101,000, almost 20 percent less than the $126,000 taken in by their male counterparts.
Women in the first year of non-executives health IT roles earned just 80 percent of what’s made by their male peers, and the salary gap widens further in the C-suite. First-year female health IT execs and senior managers collected paychecks just 63 percent the size of men in the same career situation, HIMSS found, and it takes them a “startling” 15 years of work to close that salary gap, said Carla Smith, executive vice president of HIMSS and the session’s moderator.
“I don’t know about you, but I find those [to be] rather startling findings,” Smith said. “We wanted to present these findings as a way to begin the conversation. I firmly believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” she added, hoping for more research and uproar from female health care leaders on the topic.
The glass ceiling hasn’t really been smashed, one attendee pointed out during the Q&A, it’s just been moved up a couple of floors. Sue Schade — a blogger, consultant and current interim CIO with University Hospitals Health System in Cleveland — urged aspiring female health IT leaders to “think like a man” to help reach that next rung on the ladder. Find a trusted male colleague, learn from his own career trajectory, confide in him and watch how he behaves as a leader.
Deanna Wise, executive vice president and CIO with Dignity Health in San Francisco, meanwhile, urged women in health IT to take a facts-based approach to advancement. Stay abreast of salary demands and position supply trends by tapping into resources such as market studies and job recruiters. Women don’t boast about themselves enough in health care, she believes, and that needs to change if they ever plan to reach parity. Persistence often pays off.
“ We don’t brag,” she said. “We don’t have those conversations about marketing ourselves as individuals, and I think it’s important that we have that information in front of us and we know what our facts are.”
Self-confidence is critical to ascension in IT leadership, Schade believes, and she urged young female to never sell themselves short by uttering phrases like “I’m not technical.” Over her long career — including more than a dozen years as CIO at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston — she’s put up with her fair share of ridicule. Male colleagues have put her down, started nasty rumors and tried to undermine her leadership. Schade said aspiring female leaders must report such behavior and nip it in the bud on Day 1.
“One of the messages I want to give people is: Don’t put up with crap. Don’t. It takes time and energy and cycles that you don’t have,” she said.
And when things do take a turn for the unpleasant, Wise believes it’s important that female leaders and aspiring managers have already built strong relationships with their coworkers and customers. People who they can confide in, seek advice, and role-play any frightening but crucial conversations.
“In our field of IT, there will be times when things don’t go right, I know that’s shocking,” Wise said. “But if you have relationships with your customers, if you have relationships with your peers or people above you, you can get through most of the rocky road.”
“Surround yourself with great people and you can keep doing great things,” she added later.