In the battle of the sexes, we’d all be better in this together

Preparing competent leaders in health care is going to take more than cracking the glass ceiling.

While interviewing for general surgery residencies, Zach Bauman, D.O.’09, was shocked when female candidates were asked whether they were married and planned to have children in the next five years–“illegal” questions he was never asked.

Valerie Vote Castle, D.O.’01, an Air Force physician stationed in Japan, struggled to understand her male supervisor’s leadership style in an attempt to “ease the tension” at their workplace.

These experiences led Bauman and Castle to take a new online course that explores the role of gender in health care leadership. Two factors led F.R. “Fritz” Nordengren, M.P.H., and Ann York, Ph.D., faculty in DMU’s health care administration and public health programs, to create the course: First, the college’s dean, associate dean and five program directors are all women, which is unusual in academia and particularly among medical schools; second, students increasingly represent different generations and cultures, giving them varying views on gender roles.

“Understanding gender and leadership models is important because we’re preparing leadership in health care. Students recognize there are gender-related issues in the industry,” says Nordengren.

“We began with the question, ‘Do men and women lead differently?’ York says. “We tried to keep a balance between both genders–we did not have a gender agenda going into the course.”

Instead, she and Nordengren took an evidence-based approach requiring students to locate and appraise research and literature on four central questions: the impact of family responsibilities on gender and leadership; whether leaders are born or made; whether gender leadership differences are based on discrimination or choice; and whether men and women lead differently.

Finding literature was a challenge, Castle says. “What surprised me was the vast amount of literature on leadership issues and gender roles in business, but not in leadership of medicine,” she says. “We have to know the best types of leadership to make a new health care model succeed.”

The 11 students in the course–six women and five men in their 20s to 50s in the United States, Japan and India–also were challenged to understand their own gender, cultural and generational biases and assumptions.

“I really thought my generation was going to change things, making opportunities more equal,” says Bauman, now a general surgery resident in Detroit. “But women are still facing issues they faced back in the ’50s and ’60s.”

Men face issues, too, say York and Nordengren. For example, the desire among young fathers to spend more time with their children than their fathers did may mean they’re not as willing or able to put in long hours on the job. Issues of bullying and mentoring also vary among men and women.

“The glass ceiling has been fractured for some time. Achieving leadership roles is more of a labyrinth,” York says. “But there are separate labyrinths for men and women, and navigating them remains confusing.”

York and Nordengren gave a presentation on the role of gender in health care leadership at an Association of University Programs in Healthcare Administration conference in July. They plan to offer the course–part of the CHS Health Care Leadership Certificate Program–again next spring, and they’re exploring the idea of a statewide conference on the topic.

The genders, they are a’changin’…sort of

  • For every hour a man spends with children, a woman spends 2.1 hours. However, the amount of time fathers spend with their children under age 13 on workdays has increased from two hours in 1977 to three hours in 2008.
  • 78 percent of the health care workforce is composed of women.
  • Women under age 29, both with and without children, are as likely as men to want jobs with greater responsibility.
  • In 1975, 47 percent of mothers with children under age 18 participated in the labor force; by 2007, that proportion had risen to 71 percent.
  • By 2007, the average full-time employed woman earned 80 percent of what men earned on a weekly basis.

Sources: Families and Work Institute and American College of Healthcare Executives

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