By Yvonne Hawkins, MD
There is a healthcare revolution brewing, and females are at the forefront.
Let me begin by saying that this is not a feminist diatribe of the appalling inequality we are subjected to in our professional settings. This is one woman’s exercise in faith. This is an article of hope. Hope that, in time, healthcare will be a reflection of humanity at its best.
Equality is not a female issue, it is a social imperative. Even as we shine a light on the gender discrimination in our healthcare experience, patriarchal positioning in leadership and research that plagues our medical society, we have to identify threads of positive change and build upon them. Through my lens of hope, I have discovered some promising trends. There are three major areas of commerce that have recently launched efforts to put focus on females in their given industry. Technology, medical research and development, and healthcare delivery systems are helping to bridge the gender gap that has historically overlooked women and our valuable contributions.
Over the past few years, there has been an increase in health-related products and services developed with the female consumer in mind. The booming industry known as FemTech (female technology), is one such innovative approach to healthcare. Companies like Clue, a reproductive and sexual health application, are leveraging technology to address the health and wellness needs of women. At the helm of many of these women-centered healthcare companies, are women. As this sector continues to expand, research and consulting firm Frost and Sullivan predict this industry to be a US $50 billion dollar market by 2025. Its impact will likely expand beyond healthcare and into other domains that lack gender parity.
Healthcare leadership roles in America have been disproportionately male dominated. Though about 65% of healthcare workers are female, only 33% of senior executives and 13% of CEO’s are women. Women are everywhere in healthcare, except at the top. But that is changing. The reality is, beyond gender diversity, we need sponsorship. Kaiser Permanente, one of America’s leading healthcare providers, is getting it right. They are making sponsorship of women a strategic priority. And the statistics are impressive, with nearly half of its executives and more than 35 percent of its board of directors being women.
In the field of medical research, the issue of gender bias is not a new problem. Today, of all the funding for research and development for healthcare products and services, only 4% is invested in women’s health. Overwhelmingly, there remains a paucity of women in all aspects of medical research, perpetuating a scientific data gap. However, bright spots are emerging. Women’s health advocates such as the American Medical Women’s Association (of which I am a proud member) are working to create more inclusion in research studies and continue to serve as a voice for women’s health as well as promoting the advancement of women in medicine.
While the status quo reminds us of how far we still need to go, these aforementioned successes are rays of hope, portents of the trajectory on which women will gain equality in this field. As women increasingly hold more financial, social and political power, the revolution will take an inevitable course towards large scale transformation. In the field of medicine, the reign of patriarchy is coming to an end, and the future of healthcare is female.
Yvonne Hawkins, MD
Primary Care Physician