Supporting women in healthcare leadership today and beyond

Colleen O. Hall
| 2/13/2023
Supporting women in healthcare leadership today and beyond

There’s a saying that women can do it all. At Crowe, we like to say women can do it all – but they don’t have to do it alone.

In a fast-moving industry like healthcare, all leaders, and especially women leaders, need support now more than ever to stay ahead of what’s around the corner and lead their organizations into the future – confidently. During the 2022 Crowe Healthcare Summit, Crowe launched the new Healthcare Women Connexxt program with this type of support in mind. The goal is to connect the businesswomen of healthcare to each other in meaningful ways.

Approximately 16.4 million women were employed in the healthcare and social assistance industry as of 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, making up nearly 78% of the total 21.2 million workers in the industry.1 Still, only 25% of executive-level positions in healthcare are held by women, underscoring that there is still work to be done to support women in their ascent up the leadership ladder.2

Women bring unique perspectives and qualities to their roles in healthcare leadership – and they face unique challenges. Several women in healthcare leadership shared their thoughts about women leaders in the industry during an Oct. 25, 2022, Crowe webinar. Following are highlights from their statements on the strengths and attributes women bring to the industry and advice for encouraging aspiring leaders. While the strategies are aimed at women leaders in particular, the ideas can benefit all healthcare leaders.

Women bring unique qualities to their roles

Women have a lot to offer the healthcare workforce. A 2021 study found that women leaders are more likely than their male counterparts to provide emotional support to employees, check in on their employees’ well-being, help their employees navigate work-life challenges, make efforts to prevent or handle employee burnout, and lead efforts to support diversity, equity, and inclusion.3

“Women are in a position to generate more societal impacts on things like pay equity, changing workforce policies in ways that benefit both men and women, and attracting more of a diverse workforce,” said F. Brooke Dunn, CFO and treasurer at Health & Hospital Corporation.

The different perspectives and management styles women bring to their roles can benefit the organization overall, particularly when it comes to decision-making. Different perspectives are even more essential in an ever-changing industry like healthcare.

“Women tend to bring a little bit of a different perspective to the business,” said Jaclynn Harrison, vice president of net revenue at CHRISTUS Health. “It’s not to say one way [the way women might think versus the way men might think] is necessarily the right way, but when you bring both of those perspectives to the table, you generally get a better overall answer and a better overall decision.”

Leadership skills for today

Navigating a dynamic industry such as healthcare requires leaders to be resilient, authentic, and confident and to possess a variety of other skills and traits to succeed.

Kathleen Swanson, director of revenue cycle analytics at Inova Health System, recommended aspiring women leaders in healthcare gain as wide a range of experience as they can, something she has found useful in her own career.

“The more experiences that I accumulate, the more value I feel that I bring to whatever I’m doing,” Swanson said. This could mean seeking out positions that might seem like more of a lateral move or volunteering for new challenges or opportunities.

Successful women leaders in healthcare today “should expect – and embrace – change,” said Dawn Davidson, vice president of national net revenue management at Ascension Health. “Things change all the time.” She recommended leaders roll with the changes and not be afraid to take risks.

Balancing work and life can be challenging for many leaders, and it’s an issue that has only been magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Being able to prioritize tasks and execute time management are critical skills. Equally important are knowing when to take a break and how to set boundaries.

For some leaders, the rise of remote work has helped ease work-life balance. Davidson and her team work primarily remotely, which has helped her set aside daily time to exercise and connect with family.

“Not having the commute has given some extra time in the day,” she said. “I do think it’s really important that you take care of yourself first, or you’re just not going to be your best self for anybody – for work, or family, or anyone.”

Taking care of oneself might mean asking for help or delegating, which also can benefit a leader’s staff members. “It gives them more opportunities to do things as well,” Davidson said.

Leaders also shouldn’t underestimate the power of saying no.

“I don’t like to say no,” Davidson said. “I like to serve. I like to do everything everyone has asked me to do. But sometimes you have to say you aren’t going to be able to do something or do it within the specific time frame in which they want it done. Don’t be afraid to set some boundaries.”

Kimberly Hodgkinson, senior vice president and CFO of Hospital Sisters Health System, agreed that balancing work life and home life can be tough and that setting boundaries is essential.

Leaders need to keep enough energy for themselves to “serve your organization as well as your family,” Hodgkinson said. Taking breaks throughout the day is key, as is avoiding “PTO”: “part-time off” or “pretend time off,” she said. Leaders should make sure to truly disconnect when they’re away from the office or on vacation so they can return reenergized.

Encouraging the next generation

As with other historically underrepresented groups in leadership, mentoring the next generation of women leaders is essential to increasing representation within the industry’s leadership ranks. Women in healthcare leadership roles serve as important role models for other women in the workforce. “They can assist with career advancement of other women,” Dunn said.

Hodgkinson cited the well-known sentiment that all leaders “stand on the shoulders of others.” Today’s leaders, therefore, have an obligation to support and lift up tomorrow’s leaders.

“We need to mentor them. We need to call them out. We need to give them the support they need to be successful,” Hodgkinson said.

Other advice the panel of women leaders in healthcare offered aspiring leaders during the webinar included:

  • “Take chances. Step outside of your comfort zone. Do different things. Understand that you are the master of your fate.” – F. Brooke Dunn
  • “Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and to have meaningful conversations. Ask your leader: ‘This is what I want: How do I get there?’ That can help get the mentorship you need to make that next move.” – Jaclynn Harrison
  • “Have sponsorship – someone who has you as part of their voice at the table, whether it’s for a senior executive team or an area that you want to rise and continue to grow in, and who knows what you’re aspiring to. Find those leaders who are going to help you grow.” – Kim Hodgkinson
  • “Identify people who you believe have a similar point of view to you. Reach out to them, express your interest, and say ‘In my future, I want to be ….’ Then you suddenly might have a mentor and a sponsor who will suggest a direction or speak up for you.” – Kathleen Swanson
  • “You need to ask for opportunities. Volunteer for things that are outside your normal job responsibilities, such as cross-functional projects where other people will start noticing you besides people just in your area.” – Dawn Davidson

Women leaders in healthcare need support from each other. The Healthcare Women Connexxt program was designed to be an avenue of support, networking, mentorship, and inspiration for the women working on the business side of healthcare. Although it is targeted for women, all leaders can gain value from the insights and education the program will comprise.

1 “Over 16 Million Women Worked in Health Care and Social Assistance in 2021,” TED: The Economics Daily, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 7, 2022,
2 Tlalit Bussi Tel Tzure, “Developing More Women Leaders in Healthcare and Cancer Management,” Forbes, June 27, 2022,
3 “Women in the Workplace 2021,” LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company,

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Colleen O. Hall
Senior Vice President, Revenue Cycle, Kodiak Solutions