I&D Activity is High, But Impact is Low


We're shedding light on the often invisible factors holding organizations back from advancing more women into leadership roles.

HLTH and Oliver Wyman Health

4 min read

Diversity being good for business is now a mainstream concept. But progress has been slow thus far to ensure that effective inclusion and diversity (I&D) initiatives take hold across the greater workforce.

Regarding healthcare's leadership, for example, there tend to be many more women than men serving in leadership ranks and making key industry decisions. Although some industries tend to be more male-dominated, healthcare isn't one of them. Said Terry Stone, Managing Partner of Oliver Wyman's Health and Life Sciences practice and Global Chair of I&D, there isn’t a women in healthcare problem. There’s a women in healthcare leadership problem.

According to new Oliver Wyman research, women and men have different perceptions of what makes a good leader. For example, when women and men are asked what traits they think defines an effective leader, both genders list confidence in the top three. This is where similarities end, however. Men list being direct and decisive as the other two top traits, whereas women list the ability to empower teams and be collaborative. These differences in how men versus women tend to perceive good leadership create invisible layers of tension.

Said Terry, "Is there any surprise that we probably prioritize different things or act in different ways that don't make sense to the other? Because we don't have a common set of rules or a common way of viewing it, it gets in our collective way and then it's only exacerbated by the fact that [women] happen to work in male-dominated [environments]. Most cultures are implicitly male dominated at the top of an organization, just by virtue of how many men are there. So as a result, it's not surprising they bump up against you."

Added Terry, if we could collectively use the whole of our capabilities and be more explicit about what great leadership looks like and use the full palette of skills leaders might have (not just the ones that are dominant defaults or implicit), more progress will be made.

Terry said one thing she learned from interviewing CEOs in healthcare was that women in the C-suite generally grabble with leading according to what she calls a "Goldilocks" model (not too hot and not too cold). 

"You have to be not too much of one thing, but not too much of the other, because you have to be decisive, but not too pushy because you have to be collaborative, but not too soft," she explained. "What winds up happening is women, by virtue of no choice, end up kind of being forced under pressure and come out like this diamond or the Goldilocks leadership model, which is just right at the right time."

On a related note, only 21 percent of women, according to our research, say they feel completely supported by their company. This number is more than double (50 percent) for men.

Below, Terry Stone and Nicole Fisher, Global Health, Technology and Policy Contributor at Forbes, discuss Oliver Wyman’s research and insights at this year's Women at HLTH event. The below are highlights from Oliver Wyman’s initiative to address inequities and disparities in health presented at this year's “Women at HLTH” panel.

Memorable Moments

  • "Everybody's going ahead of inclusion and diversity. They've got some initiatives about trying to work on gender parity, or race and ethnicity. But the progress seems slow. Usually, when that's happening where people have good intentions but the results aren't happening, there's something going on below the surface — something hidden that people don't see that's getting in the way."
  • "When it comes to men helping fix the challenge of women and gender diversity, they get this halo effect. I call it 'the hero syndrome,' where the male who's really into the idea of 'We need diversity' winds up looking like the hero. Whereas it's almost expected of the woman. It's a little bit like at home, when the dad who goes to all the teacher meetings and schedules the play date, it's like, you're a hero versus no one ever thinks about it if the mom does it. I'm not trying to be overly sexist about it, but that's part of the reason why I think the women feel like more is on their shoulders at work to make change, but they don't necessarily feel as supported in it. I think they also feel like what needs to change is a little different."
  • "[Oliver Wyman] asked both men and women: What are the top three traits of an effective leader? You'd expect there'd be a lot of commonalities, but in the top three, men and women only have one trait they both hold in common, which is confidence. Men's other top two are about being direct and decisive. Women's other top two are about empowering teams and being collaborative."
  • "Most people are over mentored and under sponsored. The words get used interchangeably. At its core, the difference is sponsors advocate purposely on your behalf and sponsors use their own personal credibility and capital to do that. So in some ways, they use their power in the organization or their influence to then influence what happens for other people."
  • HLTH and Oliver Wyman Health