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FAQs About Gender Equity in Health Care

What do we mean when we talk about equity for women in the health care workforce?

The goal is to guarantee equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for women working in comparable positions to those that men hold throughout the health care field — not only physicians and scientists, but also nurses, technicians, administrative personnel, executives and support staff.

What is the situation in health care now?

Women hold more than three-quarters of the jobs in the health care industry in the United States (the figure at Rush is 72%), but only about one-third of hospital executives are women. More than one-third of active physicians, and nearly half of all medical students, are women, but only 21% of full professors at academic medical centers, 15% of department chairs and 16% of deans are women.

Significant salary gaps exist between men and women as well. In fact, three health care fields are among the 10 professions with the highest pay gaps, according to a recent survey. While American women who work full-time make, on average, only 80 cents for every dollar paid to a man, many female health care workers do even worse. Female physicians earn 71 cents for every dollar their male colleagues make; female medical and health services managers take home 77 cents for every dollar a man makes in a comparable job. Even female nurses, who account for 91% of their field, are paid less than male nurses.

What are the goals of this effort at Rush?

Simply put, the goals are to achieve measurable parity for women in the workforce at Rush, and to develop and test models of equality at Rush that can be exported to other health care institutions nationwide.

Individual goals include pay equity, fair promotions at all levels, an inclusive and respectful culture that offers women opportunities to acquire the skills they need to move up and the active fostering of a work-life balance throughout the system that recognizes that women are the likely family caregivers at every phase of their careers.

What's going to move the needle on equality for women in health care?

  • Walking the walk — leaders need to show every day that equality matters
  • Eliminating pay gaps
  • Increasing workplace flexibility
  • Flagging inequities, setting targets to eliminate them and measuring progress
  • Developing mentoring and sponsorship programs
  • Investing in training
  • Ensuring fairness in access to assignments, promotions, committees, publication opportunities and other avenues to advancement
  • Providing managers with incentives to develop women leaders and holding them accountable

What's the timeline?

The goal is to get the ball rolling in a systematic way in 2020, with pay equity a top priority, followed by a decade of authentic change in the workplace culture that will lead to more qualified women making their way into responsible jobs, capped by parity in leadership roles by 2030.

Will equality for women health care workers be good for patients, too?

Yes! Women's participation in the health care system has repeatedly been shown to be good for patients; job satisfaction is important to the system as a whole. One study of 1.5 million Medicare patients showed that they were more likely to survive and do better long-term if female internists treated them than if male internists did; another showed similar results for surgical outcomes. A third large study showed that while all patients who suffered heart attacks fare better if they are treated by women physicians, female patients were even more likely to survive if they were treated by women doctors. That last study suggested that all physicians would benefit from learning more about female patients, which, it's hoped, a new consciousness of equality for women will facilitate.

Only when input from growing numbers of female physicians and scientists began to be heard at the National Institutes of Health in the 1980s and 1990s did the distinct characteristics and needs of female patients begin to be addressed. As a result, women patients are now routinely included in clinical trials, which was not previously true, and other important changes have occurred to enhance the understanding and safety of women's health.

What about LGBTQ+ people?

The focus of this effort is women, but at its heart are inclusion, fairness and respect. Discrimination and harassment have no place in our workplace. The goal is equality for all women working in health care, of all races, religions, ages, cultures and sexual orientations.