HBA SF Fast Forward Women event recap - Transforming the C-Suite and Boardroom: Approaches to Advancing Women Leaders in Healthcare

Written by Shannon Adkins, CEO, Future State, Inc.
The Fast Forward Women event held on 25 May at PwC in San Francisco was attended by more than 30 senior executive women from across the healthcare ecosystem, plus one connected and committed man, Darryl Robinson, EVP, CHRO for Dignity Health.
The session began with our host, Lindsey Piziali, assurance partner at PwC, providing daunting statistics that still demonstrate a lack of gender parity in executive roles. Despite the important role that women play in healthcare decisions, they represent only 10 percent of life sciences boards of directors, and only 13 percent of the C-suite. Yet evidence now demonstrates that teams with more diversity do better across all core measures of business success.

So the question becomes, how do we bridge this gap? We heard first from Lisa Suennen of GE Ventures, about her newest venture, the 501(c)3 C-Sweetener. This platform provides a matching and mentoring program to connect executive women in healthcare to the mentors that they need to truly advance and achieve gender parity in the boardroom and in the C-suite. Stay tuned to learn more about how the HBA and C-Sweetener will be partnering in the future.

Following this introduction, Lisa Suennen was joined by her C-Sweetener co-founder, Lisa Serwin, as well as three additional panelists, Abby Adlerman, CEO of Boardspan, Darryll Robinson, EVP, CHRO of Dignity Health, and Nairi Hourdajian, VP of marketing and communications at Canaan Partners.

Lindsey expertly facilitated the panel discussion, in which the leaders spoke about their experiences leading up to joining, and from inside, the C-suite and the boardroom, and the tactics and strategies we can pursue to increase the number of women in the ranks.
Abby shared her insights on the job of boards, to ensure adequate governance, provide strategic guidance, and to be accountable for performance. And she echoed the importance of diversity on boards in order to achieve these goals.

Lisa Suennen spoke about the importance of learning by observing and then doing, as she related the story of her challenging first appointment to the board of one of her portfolio companies. In the end, her core lesson is to ‘speak your truth’, and to build, and refine your ability to build, confidence and credibility by doing just that.

Abby built upon this theme, observing that women do not tend to do as well as men at ‘selling themselves’, and rely upon their need to build competence first, when building trust is truly the most important step in building credibility.
Nairi shared the importance of asking for what you want, clearly, and then stopping. Don’t back-pedal. And remember, no one knows everything, so trust your gut, and have an opinion, even if you are not an expert.
Darryl gave excellent tips for how we can go about gathering and benefitting from feedback. It is important to be careful about who you ask for feedback, as not everyone is in the position to provide it. It is important that you be specific about the feedback you are looking for, and genuinely care about the responses. Be resilient in gathering feedback, as it will make you better. That said, not all feedback is going to make it through your ‘filter’ and be truly applicable to your own sense of where you can improve, and that is ok to. He also carried forward the theme of working diligently to build your brand, inviting us to inquire, into all of our roles, whether or not we have learned all that we need to learn, in order to deepen and refine our own brand towards the achievement of our goals – if yes, move on. If not, perhaps stay until you have. But not at the expense of your integrity, self-worth, and passion. 

Finally, we talked about how women can support other women on this journey – we returned to the theme of pattern matching, building one another up to interrupt the status quo and inherent bias that may be present in meetings and boardrooms. For example, amplify the points being made (and possibly spoken over) by female leaders in meetings, and build on opportunities to shine a light on other women through mentorship, giving back, and creating opportunities.
Our time together was both informative and inspirational, and we took away nuggets of knowledge to support us on our leadership journeys.