5 Ways Your Facility Can Support Women in Healthcare

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Written by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Katherine Zheng, PhD, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Women make up nearly 80% of all workers in the U.S. healthcare industry — even more if you include social assistance, a sector closely linked to healthcare. The nursing profession is responsible for the majority of these healthcare roles, with nearly 4.2 million registered nurses nationwide.

Despite their statistical dominance, women in healthcare face gender parity gaps similar to their peers in other sectors. Below, we explore ways your facility can support women in your healthcare organization.

Note: This article will focus on cisgendered women. Although the information provided may also apply to individuals who are trans, non-binary, or elsewhere on the gender spectrum, many of the various issues unique to those groups are beyond the scope of this article.

The Importance of Supporting Women in Healthcare

While efforts are being made to include more men in the nursing profession, it’s essential for healthcare organizations to consider how to support the women in their midst. A quick glance at the healthcare workforce statistics alone is reason enough to support women in healthcare — they’re the primary group responsible for providing health services.

Another reason to champion women working in healthcare? Better outcomes for patients. In fact, studies show that increasing the proportion of female physicians can decrease maternal and infant mortality and improve treatments for cardiac patients.

5 Tips to Champion Women Working in Healthcare

Here are a few key ways you can support women in your facility or residence:

  1. Support women in leadership roles.
  2. Accommodate the pressures of parenthood and household tasks.
  3. Promote medical research to improve body literacy.
  4. Encourage boundary setting to reduce emotional labor.
  5. Address the impacts of intersectionality.

1. Support Women in Leadership Roles

There’s a disproportionate representation of men in healthcare leadership roles. The number of women in healthcare decreases significantly the further you go up the corporate ladder — only about 15% of health system and health insurance company CEOs are women in the United States. There are plenty of women who work directly with patients, but that’s not always the case for management-level positions.

What you can do: To support gender diversity in healthcare management, you could ensure a minimum number of women are promoted to senior positions (including C-level executive leadership roles). Then, you can collect feedback from one-on-one assessments and surveys of women in these roles to identify areas of improvement.

You could also create a committee to ensure issues unique to women remain a priority in your facility. The committee could host general discussions exploring this phenomenon and its impact on your staff, and brainstorm how management can address this issue.

2. Accommodate the Pressures of Parenthood and Household Tasks

Surveys indicate that women in heterosexual partnerships are typically responsible for most household and child-rearing tasks, even when they work full-time positions. Household work is still work. Imagine signing a contract with all the responsibilities included in running a home: chef, cleaner, chauffeur, emotional laborer, grocery shopper, and more.

After busy days at their jobs, women often don’t have the luxury of relaxing. They continue working in a different capacity. Over time, the energy consumed by work and home can be draining.

What you can do: Your facility could offer perks such as discounts or stipends for daycare, housekeeping, and grocery delivery services. You could start support groups for mothers in healthcare. If you manage a birthing hospital, you can offer access to lactation consultants if their schedule permits extra appointments. If you manage a long-term-care facility, you could partner with your current nursing agencies to help find assistance for any elderly loved ones your staff care for outside of work.

3. Promote Equitable Medical Research to Improve Body Literacy

The overwhelming majority of medical research is on male bodies. This means that much of the information healthcare workers are taught to see is actually specific to males. For example, what do you imagine experiencing a heart attack is like? It’s likely that you think of intense chest pain. However, that’s not always the case for females.

The symptoms of a heart attack for women can be more subtle, such as lethargy, indigestion, and nausea. Women are more likely to die of heart attacks, though men are more likely to have them. It’s essential to identify and teach the signs of major health events for women.

This research can lead to more available knowledge related to body literacy — one’s ability to observe and understand the body’s signals to live a more healthful life. A common example of the value of body literacy is understanding the menstrual cycle and making lifestyle adjustments based on where women are in their cycles. This knowledge can help women in your facility know when to pick up extra shifts or prioritize rest.

What you can do: Support investments in medical research that focuses on the representation of women. This not only helps the general public, but also better equips female healthcare workers to maintain much needed self-care practices.

Your company could also offer access to education regarding body literacy. This can include fertility awareness courses, discounts on foods and nutritional supplements, and reminding managers that female employees may consent to extra work during one part of the month and not another.

4. Encourage Boundary Setting to Reduce Emotional Labor

Due to expectations set by gender roles and the resulting stereotypes, women do more emotional labor in their everyday lives. Since healthcare is already an emotionally exhausting industry, female healthcare workers often cope with a disproportionate amount of emotional labor on and off the clock.

Nurses must deal with a range of emotional labors: being present for deaths, working with emotionally abusive patients, repeated exposure to vicarious trauma, and listening to patient fears before invasive procedures. Patients may also have the expectation that women should be more nurturing.

Female nurses may be more likely to experience emotional labor in certain instances, such as female patients choosing to share stories of sexual abuse or assault or patients engaging in emotionally abusive behaviors because they belong to cultures in which women are less respected. The weight of these experiences can add up.

What you can do: Offer workshops or educational modules about how nurses can set healthy boundaries and advocate for their own needs. Also provide access to mental health services through an employee assistance program or through your employer health plan. This could help decrease the emotional baggage weighing on the shoulders of women in healthcare.

5. Address the Impacts of Intersectionality

Despite the commonalities women share, each woman has a unique experience of womanhood. The same goes for women in healthcare. Women can be affected by a range of social obstacles: race, class, immigration status, gender identity, sexuality, the choice to remain child-free or become a mother, and where they are on the neurodiversity spectrum.

For example, women of color are even less likely than white women to obtain a senior position within a healthcare facility. Additionally, autism in women and girls receives far less attention than in men and boys, which leads to a lack of understanding. It’s important to remember that these women can feel overwhelmed by too much external stimuli like call bells and bed alarms.

What you can do: The first step is to learn about your staff. You can conduct surveys, prioritize informal conversations, or use time at staff meetings to learn about the needs of your staff. Then, your managers can make adjustments on an individual basis, like providing earplugs to a nurse sensitive to sound. You can create committees unique to each group to ensure the facility can increase its diversity, equity, and inclusion of various groups amongst all levels of staff.

How Else Can Your Facility Support Women in Healthcare?

Applying these suggestions to your workplace can lead to happier and healthier staff. Continue to grow as a healthcare leader by staying up to date with other industry insights that build upon what you’ve learned from this article. Don’t miss out on the latest healthcare insights and tips from our healthcare experts.