Medical Imbalance

Gender disparity in health care leadership

LEADING THE WAY: Sonal Sura, top left, and Elizabeth Arguelles are role models at 21st Century Oncology/GenesisCare in Naples.

Sonal Sura earned her doctorate in medicine magna cum laude from George Washington University in 2006. But it wasn’t until 11 years later, armed with a master’s in business administration from New York University, she felt she truly had a seat at the table in health care leadership.

“It was interesting to go to those meetings and sit there and not really be taken seriously,” says Sura, now with 21st Century Oncology/GenesisCare in Naples. “At some point, I decided that I needed to do something about it.”

Even as a board-certified physician and director of radiation oncology at NYC Health + Hospitals/ Elmhurst, Sura still felt like she was on the outside. Then she added three more letters to the end of her name: MBA.

“Just that was a game-changer for me in my job,” she says. “They kind of just took me seriously. I wasn’t necessarily saying anything different or recommending different things, but it gave me more credentials. It was interesting because my male colleagues didn’t have to do that to be taken seriously. It’s a real struggle in health care.”

In 2015, McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.org launched the Women in the Workplace study, designed to help advance diversity in the workplace. Nearly 30,000 employees and 118 companies participated in the study, which revealed corporate America was not on a path to gender equality.

According to the study, at the current rate of growth, it will take 25 years to reach gender parity at the senior-VP level and more than 100 years at the C-suite level. In terms of pay, the American Association of University Women predicts it will take more than a century to close the compensation gap between males and females.

In health care, the gap in leadership seems even greater. Kris Fay, MHA, CMPE, is the chief officer of population health and physician services for Lee Health in Fort Myers.

“If you look at the health care industry, it is predominately women up to a certain point,” Fay says. “As you move up the ranks, they tend to fall off, and it’s about 20% at the senior leadership level.”

She admits that, following a bachelor’s degree in business management and then a master’s degree in health administration, she never paid much attention to having fewer and fewer female peers. But she feels Sura’s story.

“It’s pretty well known that women have to have almost more credentials than men to be seen as equal,” Fay says. “It’s not one for one. It’s different.”

Elizabeth Arguelles, MD, FACS, is a breast surgeon in the same 21st Century Oncology/Genesis-Care group as Sura. As the only female surgeon in her medical school class, Arguelles has seen the number of female surgeons grow in the last decade. But successful role models don’t have to be in the operating room or the boardroom for women.

“You don’t have to necessarily be a CEO or (chief nursing officer) or the head of something,” Arguelles says. “You just have to be someone who is strong, passionate, productive and a successful human in whatever profession you’re in. And then pass on that knowledge and foster that trust and show this is how you make success.”

And mentor along the way.

“I feel like it’s a duty, frankly,” Fay says. “If you’re fortunate enough to be in a senior leadership role as a female, then you have a duty to support those younger women coming after you, and you have to sometimes seek the talent out.

“At the same time, we’re never going to get to gender parity if men don’t get involved in supporting up-and-coming female leaders. Men have sisters and mothers and daughters, and have a vested interest in making sure everyone’s talent is recognized and supported.”

 

Photo Credit: Kevin Bires