Despite the disproportionately high numbers of females in the healthcare and life-sciences industries, and the fact that women are the main decision makers when it comes to family health, there is still inequality in pay and career progression. Carla Smith gives us the stats and explains why equality in the health sector just makes sense. 

We need all genders engaged in this effort because this is a family, economic, and business issue.


It’s finally happened.  For the first time in my 34-year professional career, I’ve been told that my gender is an asset.  Funny how things change. Back in 1994, an executive – in a sincere effort at career guidance – vehemently urged me to be gender-neutral because being a female was a deficit.


I look forward to a time in which gender is a non-issue – neither an asset nor a deficit – because we have achieved pay equity; and, we’ve figured out ways to mitigate the impacts on a person’s career progression when they step back from work to focus on raising children or caring for ageing parents. I have yet to meet a spouse or life partner who wants their female partner to earn less, or have less career opportunity, because of her gender.  Our families need every penny we bring home.


According to a 2008 study done by the World Health Organization, in many countries, women make up over 75% of the healthcare workforce.  However, they are mostly congregated in lower-status jobs. And, are a small minority in highly-educated and high-status health sector positions.  In the life sciences field, a 2017 UK study shows that 42% of science professionals are female – down from 2016 levels.  And, the percentage of women in life sciences leadership positions is very low.


Women account for 85% of all consumer purchasing, and 80% of health purchasing. And, women make most of their families’ health-related decisions. Plus, thanks to the same Department of Labor study, we know that women are more likely to be the caregiver when a family member becomes ill.


Women are buyers of health services. Women are health decision-makers. As a result, it’s in a health company’s best interests to involve women employees in the development, sales, and servicing of their products and services.


For example, we know that companies on the Fortune 1000 perform better financially if they have women on their Boards of Directors.  And, thanks to a 2017 study done by the Center for Talent Innovation, we have an idea of what types of programs are most likely to attract qualified female workers:

  • A demonstrable commitment to pay equity
  • Opportunities to connect with female or minority consumers
  • Manager training on empathy, integrity, or inclusion
  • Mentorship programs for women
  • Leadership development programs for women


There are numerous outstanding programs to help women achieve career success in the healthcare and life sciences field.  For example, Scientista is the largest network of college and graduate women in STEM.  Women Business Leaders in Health is a peer-oriented group of women helping women across the health ecosystem.  C-Sweetener is a mentoring service helping to propel women forward into health sector leadership careers. And, a very new offering is C-Change, a group mentoring program for women who aspire to leadership positions in health IT.


We need all genders engaged in this effort because this is a family, economic, and business issue.  Many share in our joint goal of pay equity and career opportunities. I urge all managers to do an analysis of how direct reports are paid in relation to each other and, if discrepancies appear, take action to mitigate those differences.  Review employment policies and career pathways with diversity in mind. Explore how a more diverse workforce can help the business thrive. Together, we can create a new reality.