With women making up 70% of global healthcare workers and practitioners, there’s a lot to celebrate in 2022. And if COVID-19 is anything to go by, many of these women are brave, front-line workers who have risked their lives to serve communities across the world.
Over the past several decades, the number of women entering the healthcare and medical industries has grown exponentially. The Australian healthcare and social assistance workforce is comprised predominantly of women, with 79% of workers, while the numbers in the U.S. are similar, with 78.4% of healthcare professionals being women.
COVID-19 threw a wrench in the works for many career women, with schools and childcare facilities closed during hard lockdowns. Women who could work from home had to juggle personal and professional duties, maintaining a home office, sometimes with noisy kids in the background. However, not everyone was as lucky. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.5-million women left the workforce in 2020.
This affected many women in the healthcare profession, and in early 2021, 480,000 women lost their jobs in the sector, as opposed to the 28,000 men. It’s also widely reported that female medical academics are publishing less than they were pre-pandemic. It’s clear that COVID-19 has had an unprecedented impact on women in medical and social welfare positions.
These statistics highlight the global urgency to address other known barriers against career advancement and success for female practitioners, including pay inequality, long-standing imbalances in leadership positions, and the challenges of finding affordable, reliable quality child care in most countries worldwide.
But, how can this be achieved?
Opportunities for Women in Healthcare
Before we jump into the challenges that women in healthcare face and how practice owners can be part of the solution, we need to first look at the opportunities for women in this sector.
Find a Work/Life Balance
As a woman, it’s often impossible to be entirely focused on your career, especially if you are a mother or caregiver. And those who are either have superhero abilities, a ton of support or both. A mom’s life is tough, from feeding and sleepless nights when the children are young to lifts, homework, appointments and a never-ending list of to-dos when they are older. Now, put a job on top of that!
While some women are forced to be away from their children to earn a living, if you’re lucky enough to have some flexibility, there are great healthcare-related career options for women:
- Private practice – Be your own boss and set your own hours. This way, you can determine your shifts, work flexitime, and see clients as frequently or infrequently as you’d like.
- Start your own business – By starting your own business, you can set your hours, and you can elect how hands-on you choose to be.
- Join an established practice – Where you can work shifts that suit your schedule.
Alternatively, you can temporarily reduce work effort to focus on other things when necessary. As long as you maintain your practice and licensing, you can have a rich career while taking some breaks to spend time focusing on family or yourself.
Consider Setting Up on Your Own
As a practice owner, you have the opportunity to set up a working environment that gives you the flexibility you need, as well as create a people-centred space to support your staff.
Here are some fantastic ways to provide a more innovative workplace:
- Allow sufficient and flexible maternity AND paternity clauses by giving all staff an opportunity to spend quality time with their babies. By doing so, you support many new mothers, not just the ones who work for you.
- While you would think it’s obvious, the reality is that it’s still important to promote equal pay for men and women.
- Hire and promote mothers and women! More than half of all working women have said that it’s far more difficult to advance in their careers once they have had children.
- Offer flexible working hours and allow your staff to be there for the special and challenging moments in their kids’ lives.
Select the Right Career Path
If you’re still establishing yourself in your career, you may decide to study for a role that offers the flexibility you desire.
- Academic medicine – Researchers and administrators can work certain shifts or find positions with alternative schedules that may be better suited to your lifestyle.
- Practice administration – These jobs are often flexible and can be shared.
- Physiotherapy and other allied health professions – Physios may have the opportunity to open their own practice. As such, you can earn when you see clients, selecting how many or few you want to see each week.
- Psychology or social work – Another career that allows for private practice and flexible working hours, especially if you are working off a good reputation.
- Physician – Of all the medical doctors, general physicians have the most flexibility as they aren’t dealing with in-patients. Whether you have your own practice or work at an established one, you can usually set your own hours and earn as you see patients.
Challenges Facing Female Health Professionals
The challenges for women in the workplace may seem endless. While men are offered more money after becoming a parent, the opposite is the case for women, with maintaining a career being an uphill challenge.
Even women who aren’t parents face discrimination.
If you are committed to your job, you miss vital moments in your children’s lives, but the opposite is not always financially viable. According to research, 47% of part-time working mothers and 57% of full time working mothers surveyed find it difficult to be good parents.
However, psychologists confirm that whether you’re a parent or not, a work-life balance is instrumental in helping one live a healthier and longer life.
According to a study conducted by the World Economic Forum, women earn 68% of a man’s wage on a global average, with some countries only offering women 40% of a full wage for the same job.
Here are some useful tips on how to battle pay inequality:
- Do your research to discover average salaries for the position you hold and your level of seniority.
- If your salary isn’t on par with industry standards, you must bring this to your boss’s attention.
- Don’t approach your boss with blame or anger, which will likely provoke them.
- If you don’t come right with your direct superior, you may want to escalate the issue.
- Be willing to leave your place of employment if they refuse to offer equal rates.
Unfavourable Policies that Prevent Advancement
Certain unfavourable policies still exist that prevent the advancements of women in the workplace, although things have drastically improved since 2019. Two of the main drivers behind equal representation are hiring with diversity in mind and promoting with equal opportunity.
According to statistics, only 65% of companies will track their promotion rate by gender, and 35% will track promotion rates of women of colour.
For women of colour, there seems to still be a distinct disconnect between commitment to racial equality and the types of microaggressions still faced today. More companies need to challenge these biases and be allies to women, especially those of colour.
How Practice Owners Can Support Women in the Healthcare Workplace
While finding a balance is tough, there are ways that women can be better supported in the workplace. And if you’re a practice owner, you can find some of the best female staff available if you are able to offer a flexible work environment.
There has been a dramatic shift in companies showing a commitment to the concerns of the emotional well-being of their female employees, specifically in COVID-19 times. This includes increasing mental health benefits and support for parents and caregivers.
Women, especially mothers, make excellent employees so, if you’re a practice owner, you can implement the following opportunities to support them and, in doing so, benefit from increased productivity and efficiency.
Reduced Work Hours
Instead of working traditional shifts, offer mothers half-day shifts or a 6 hour day as an option, allowing them to run errands for their kids in the afternoon.
Flexible Work Hours
Depending on the role, allowing your staff members to work any time of the day will make a massive difference to mothers in those roles.
By offering part-time positions, moms can work a couple of hours a week, spending the rest of their days with the family.
Having more than one person who does the same job offers flexibility (negotiated shifts), part-time opportunities and reduced working hours.
Opportunities to Work from Home
Some of your practice staff, especially administrators and assistants, could technically work from home.
You could also take a hybrid approach, agreeing for your staff to work at the practice premises 2 or 3 times per week. When you use Power Diary’s practice management software to streamline your business, team members will be able to access the information and tools they need to perform their roles (including calendars, notes, Telehealth and other flexible features) remotely.
At Power Diary, we’re proud to support many woman-owned and operated practices and are encouraged by the growing percentage of women in healthcare. It is exciting both for the career advancement opportunities for female practitioners that are opening up, and for the women they treat.
No matter your gender or position, it’s vital that we band together as a healthcare community to support women in the sector. And so, this International Women’s Day, we acknowledge and celebrate the significant achievements that women have made towards equality in healthcare, while acknowledging that there is still much work to be done.