Moira Forbes Q and A

Women’s voices in healthcare

Moira Forbes speaks on working together to bridge the gender gap.

As we said in the last issue of the HBAdvantage, “it is clear that wom-en’s voices must be heard—and their real-world experiences taken into account—to communicate effectively with those making the decisions.”

In this issue, we bring you one of those voices—that of the remarkable Moira Forbes, publisher of Forbes Woman, a multi-media platform that includes a website, digital community and a variety of forums and live events dedicated to women in business and leadership.

We first got to know Moira last November when she co-hosted an executive gathering for women in healthcare with the HBA and Corporate Partner Medidata Solutions. And we recently caught up with her again for a conversation on how we can all work together to further the advancement and impact of women in healthcare.

How can we influence the conversation around women getting to the top of companies in the life sciences so that we have maximum impact?

Forbes: While women have made significant strides in achieving the highest levels of leadership, meaningful barriers still remain. Having a more inclusive workforce is not just a gender issue, it is a human capital issue that impacts the health and vitality of organizations around the world. Research has continued to show that companies with diverse workforces perform better financially and particularly when with increased female representation at the board and senior management levels.

Every company must commit to inclusion and it must be made a priority starting from the CEO down through all the management ranks. When senior leaders engage, others follow and a sense of engagement and responsibility is established across all stakeholders of an organization.

Once we have made a case for diversity at a company or in an industry, how do we move the needle?

Forbes: There is no silver bullet solution that can drive the type of change that we all hope for in the near future. While we often talk about generalized statistics and bleak trends, we need to be very tactical and specific in our response to them. Action plans must be customized to the company and the industry to best address the root challenges and identify where the greatest opportunities exist to move the needle.

Taking into consideration the culture of both is critical as well. Strategic initiatives will never be successful unless they are embraced and adopted by all levels of a company.

In a company, the charge must come from the top. Senior leaders need to create a culture of transparency and accountability because companies measure what matters.

Companies need to have plans in place with goals and key performance indicators that are easy to measure so you can hold every team and division accountable. You need to demonstrate quarter-by-quarter, year-by-year progress—and have a plan to remedy the situation if that progress is not adequate.

Don’t get stuck focusing on the number of women holding C-suite positions. To have more women ascend to the corner office, its critical to have a robust and meaningful pipeline of talent at all levels.

Start at the entry level and look for leaks in the pipeline. Where are you losing your female talent? Where can you plug those leaks with policies that help women stay in the work force?

For those looking to drive change within their organization, they should align their efforts with where their passion is. Where can you be a champion? Where can you use your skills, your influence, or your voice to start to see more women ascend within the talent pipeline or industry?

What are some ways companies can enhance their culture to create an impact for employees?

Forbes: Flex time and an on and off ramps are few examples. And all levels must use these. Policy fails without cultural change. A policy does no good if employees are afraid to use it.

For example, simply having a generous family leave policy does not change the culture and attitude around employees taking advantage of it. I recently spoke to a CEO who found that many women within her company were hesitant to take advantage of their vast leave benefits. They felt that the time away could derail their career or create the perception that they weren’t on the “management track.” The CEO’s solution: require all of her direct reports—both men and women—to take parental leave when they were eligible in an effort to change that stigma that so many women may have face and give them a sense of permission to engage in the policies so critical to creating a more balanced approach to their careers and their personal lives.

Cultural shifts can also be created with career development plans. Performance reviews, for example, often only look backward. Take the time to develop three- and five-year career plans with your employees. Ask them what their growth aspirations are. Is more family time an aspiration in the future? Have a candid discussion on how their personal plans and goals can be accommodated in their career plans. Be transparent.

For example, an employee may want to remain in their current position for a particular amount of time to accommodate family needs and then choose to ramp back up in their job at a later point. And remember never to assume that women want to pause their careers because they have children. Work is a part of life. The lines are blurred. Most of us are moving toward a seamless integration of paid work and other pursuits from family to fitness.

We’ve talked to business owners who shared that they have had a higher salary in mind than the female candidate asked for, so they paid the lower salary. What advice do you have for women when it comes to compensation?

Forbes: As women, we need to get comfortable raising our hands and asking for money. Know your financial worth and advocate for it. If you don’t ask for a raise, you will not get it and don’t wait for your boss to initiate a compensation conversation or assume that it is top of mind to them.

Reframe the conversation from strictly asking for money to making it about the value you bring to the organization. And never apologize for asking for an increase.

What advice would you offer women to help them advance their careers?

Forbes: Don’t be so hard on yourself. As women, we can often be our own harshest critics. We hold ourselves to nearly impossible standards. Sometimes we need to know that good is good enough.

So recalibrate your expectations. A pursuit of perfection can lead to women to burn out or feel like they can’t take on new challenges or take career risks. We think we can’t do the job perfectly so we get out of the running. We feel guilty about not being the perfect employee, family member or self so we lower our career ambitions.

Get comfortable with the fact that life is messy. Look at your assets as more than the hours you spend at work and don’t sell yourself short when new opportunities arise. Pursue your goals to be a complete you.

Family, fun, learning and downtime all help you become a more complete leader. When you are more complete, you do a better job.

A key benefit offered by the HBA is a supportive professional network. Do you feel that is
critical for women to obtain the same level of achievement in business as men?

Forbes: We need formal programs for mentoring and sponsorship such as those offered by the HBA. Building and maintaining a diverse professional network is critical. “Work” is in the word network. My advice to women is to build a community for themselves, one that empowers them and strengthens their growth.

You must hardwire networking time into your schedule. It is not a distraction. Networking is a very valuable use of your time and efforts, even if you might not always see that value immediately.