Spring is in the air! While there has been no shortage of rain in the forecast, news in health care these days is often dominated by shortages. One group says in little more than a decade, the United States will be short nearly 100,000 physicians, nurses, pharmacists and dentists. In the second quarter of 2018, hospitals reported a 29 percent increase in drug shortages from the year before.
But behind the scenes, experts say that health care organizations may face a more significant leadership shortage. While almost 80 percent of the overall workforce in health care is women, only 19 percent of hospitals are led by women. Females make up only 4 percent of chief executives in health care. The disparity is especially striking when you consider that many of the attributes that top health-care workers possess also are those needed to be a top CEO.
There’s another crucial factor at play: a #MeToo backlash. We in health care cannot afford to ignore this.
The Me Too movement (#MeToo) has been around since 2006, but began to spread virally a year and a half ago. It is much more than promoting diversity in the workplace or taking better steps to prevent sexual harassment. It’s also about mentoring, an age-old workplace ritual that has always been an important part of one’s career growth.
Women striving to break into and advance in male-dominated fields often benefit from having the men who are already there as professional sponsors and mentors. We’ve all benefited from having more talented minds in these lines of work. But some men now are reluctant to take on this role (New York Times), instead retreating and separating themselves from women in their fields. This effectively adds glass walls to the glass ceilings women often hit in their careers. And this would be a huge setback for the progress we’ve all made.
Presumably, men are fearful of being wrongly accused by women of sexual harassment or assault. However, studies in the UK, Europe, and the U.S. reveal very low rates of false accusations.
Our own climate survey from last spring indicated unwanted sexual interaction still occurs at UCSF. For men who are accustomed to using power and sex to control others, it may not be such a bad idea to isolate themselves. These men are effectively on notice: This behavior no longer will be tolerated here. As for men who feel more generally uncomfortable: Consider simply treating all people as humans, rather than sexual objects. Try this litmus test for comments and behaviors: Would I say this or behave like this with my sister or my mother?
In the spirit of Women’s History Month (which just ended), let us keep in mind the value of support and allyship. I’m not saying women cannot succeed on their own; but we all can benefit from sponsoring, mentoring and coaching. It would be a tragedy if we viewed advancing equity for all as a passing fancy. #MeToo was built by very courageous people to combat very real transgressions. Using this as a convenient excuse to roll back the clock would be unconscionable. In health care and across society, we all would lose. Let’s spring forward instead.