Women in HIT: Continuing to Break the Glass Ceiling

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While the industry is in the midst of an employment growth period, now is the time for women to continue pushing the barriers.

[Editor’s Note: This article was contributed by Grace Feliciano. Feliciano is vice president of professional services for Merge Healthcare.]

With developments like artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, to name a few, right now is an especially thrilling time to be part of the booming field of health IT. While the achievements of the industry as a whole are astounding, one demographic in particular has made especially progressive changes over the years: women in healthcare. Although roadblocks may still remain, the developments are undeniable as women now make up 80 percent of healthcare workers and 40 percent of executive leaders, according to the Advisory Board Company. A few prominent women in this space have taken a look at reasons for this shift and also discuss what it’s like being a woman in health IT.

Reasons behind the progressive changes in HIT

The transition towards a growing number of women in healthcare IT and their success in the field can be attributed to a few different factors. Perhaps the most prominent reason is that technology has infiltrated everyday life. Carol Joseph, RN, director II of Clinical Imaging Programs at Ascension Health, believes that, “the exposure to this for young women has been one of the drivers for the evolving attitudes in the types of roles women can be instrumental in. Young women are seeking and thriving in advanced IT roles because it is part of their daily experience.”

Additionally, a more purposeful reason for this steady growth is that companies are recognizing the value of having more women in healthcare, STEM and leadership roles. As more and more females enter the non-traditional space in HIT, they are able to share a unique perspective and dialogue. To capitalize on these benefits and draw more women to their organizations, companies have created development programs, like women’s networks, for which there are actual management commitments to the programs. Employees are no longer being evaluated on pre-assumptions about their gender, but about the talent they can offer.

Finally, while there is still a clear gap in pay inequality, there has been a movement towards a reduction of stereotypes in STEM and healthcare fields. Whereas women traditionally acted as nurses and secretaries, they are now in more diversified careers along with their male colleagues. As told by Liz Quam, executive director at CDI Quality Institute, “Now the nurses aren’t just the people on the floor or the people taking care of the front desk at a clinic. They’re the ones who are running the quality committee at the hospital, they’re the ones who are pushing for more improvement, and they’re the ones in Washington testifying. They’re not just more vocal, they’re seen as more integrated into the care team in all settings, not just hospitals.”

A day in the life of a woman in healthcare

The health IT market has seen unprecedented growth over the past few years, making it an exciting time for women at all levels to get involved in the industry and truly see the positive change they can create. Looking at the bigger picture, some women feel that one of the most motivating aspects of working in healthcare is knowing they bring a unique viewpoint to the table, which often works hand in hand with helping to humanize the HIT field. Furthermore, women in HIT recognize that their contributions to technology expand far beyond what takes place in a lab. “We are not dealing with just software applications and the supporting hardware, we are potentially impacting a human life. Whether it is helping the clinician desperately trying to find an answer to why a patient is not doing well or welcoming a new baby into the world, HIT can either support or hinder decision making,” says Joseph.

These achievements have not come easily, and many feel that there are challenges they have had to overcome along the way. A testament to this, some women concede that the greatest obstacle they’ve had to confront came from the assumptions and biases not just from the people around them, but also from themselves. In the past, men and women alike made presumptions about where women’s careers in the healthcare space should progress. However, what I have realized is that being confident in your own abilities and recognizing that women are entitled to the same opportunities as men can make all the difference in achieving success.

Advice for those looking to join HIT

Whether you’re a college student looking towards a career in HIT, a professional already in the industry, or someone considering a career switch, here are a few pieces of advice to consider:

  • Be your own salesperson: Don’t be reluctant to promote yourself; you’re your own best advocate. When promoting yourself and your advancements, be conscious of behaviors you need to overcome, including a risk aversion to taking positions outside of your comfort zone or learning new skills.
  • Remember the possibilities in STEM/HIT are endless: Audrey Veitas of Merge Healthcare hopes that young women will remember that you don’t have to be a coder or engineer to build a great career in an exciting technology field, and you can have a successful profession in the healthcare industry even if you can’t stand the sight of blood. “The possibilities in STEM are endless, but a career in HIT lets you apply cutting-edge technological innovation to the challenge of saving lives,” Veitas says.
  • The field is broad—so take a walk in someone else’s shoes: Since the healthcare business has such vast options, finding a mentor (or two) can help you determine which part of the industry you’ll fit in best. From meeting with nurses to radiologists, getting an expansive view of the types of careers out there may surprise you.

Looking towards the future

Assessing the anticipated growth of the healthcare field shows that the best has yet to come. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment in the healthcare industry has been steadily growing for years. In fact, it projects that healthcare employment will grow by 26% between 2012 and 2022, culminating an increase of 4.1 million jobs. However, of those in the industry, research also finds that women are making only 78.3% of what male healthcare practitioners and technicians are earning[1].

While the industry is in the midst of an employment growth period, now is the time for women to continue pushing the barriers. Riding the coattails of a movement towards a greater number of women in the healthcare field, there’s no time like the present to push for pay equality and continued leadership opportunities.


[1] Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2016). Women’s earnings 83 percent of men’s, but vary by occupation. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2016/womens-earnings-83-percent-of-mens-but-vary-by-occupation.htm.

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