Lifting up women leaders during Women’s Equality Day and beyond

August 22, 2021 Swedish Health Team

Key takeaways:

  • Women are underrepresented in healthcare leadership positions despite making up a majority of the healthcare workforce.
  • Swedish is implementing equitable practices to ensure female caregivers and administrators have the tools they need to advance their careers at Swedish.
  • Women in leadership roles bring a lived experience that connects them with the community and demonstrates they can – and will – succeed at Swedish.

[3 MIN READ]

The incredible achievements of women that have paved the way and the hurdles of which they overcame, help to propel all of society forward. On this Women’s Equality Day, we honor the work of the women before us and acknowledge the challenges we still have ahead: from closing the pay gap to elevating more women in the workplace; and to ensuring we champion and protect all women’s rights and experiences – regardless of race, class, sexual orientation or gender identity.

As Swedish’s inaugural chief diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) officer, Mardia Shands, M.A., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, lists one of her key responsibilities as empowering women in the workplace and ensuring they have the resources, tools and support they want and need to succeed.

We recently spoke with Shands about her role at Swedish and why it’s critical to ensure women have a clear path to a seat at the leadership table.

Read an excerpt of our conversation below.

What is your role as chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer?

Shands: At Swedish, our very mission is to improve the health and well-being of each person we serve, so as our chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, I work in partnership with chief health equity officer, Nwando Anyaoku, M.D., to ensure equitable health outcomes for the patients that entrust Swedish with their care.

Internally, my aim is to help Swedish continue advancing on its commitment of being an organization that reflects the communities we serve. This requires us to look at our current culture, climate, practices and standard operating procedures through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), which then leads to the development of strategies that can help Swedish achieve its goal of inclusiveness.

What is the difference between equality and equitable?

Shands: Equality is providing everyone with the exact same thing.

Equity is providing people with what they need to succeed based on where they are and their individual aspirations. Equity is an intentional action. It is an action we take in order to provide people with what they need.

With equality, history has shown us that even if everyone is provided with the same resources at the beginning of a race, certain people in our society will win because of their background or advantages. 

With equality, history has shown us that even if everyone is provided with the same resources at the beginning of a race, certain people in our society will win because of their background or advantages. The harsh reality for some is that their starting line is virtually non-existent based on their life experiences. Equity says, ’What do you need to get to the starting line?’ It’s need-based and an action. Continuing the race analogy, maybe they have a need for shoes to run in or a meal to provide energy for the competition.

Even then, when people make it to the starting line, many will fall behind once the race starts based on societal disadvantages, systemic racism and discrimination. Dealing with those issues, on top of running a race, makes competing that much harder. We know that it is essential to provide people with what they need when they need it. 

Success is achieved by being intentional at providing people with the things they need.

Why is it important for Swedish to create an equitable work environment for women?

Shands: Women play a significant role within health care in the U.S. Mothers make 80% of healthcare decisions for their families, and according to the U.S. Census, women account for approximately 75% of year-round health care workers today. This includes both nursing and physicians.

Women may make up the majority of the health care workforce, but they represent a small percentage of health care leadership positions.

Women may make up the majority of the health care workforce, but they represent a small percentage of health care leadership positions. Swedish recognizes these opportunities to ensure equity and representation of women at all levels of the organization.

How do women in leadership positions benefit the community?

Shands: Representation matters because there is a diversity of thought and lived experience that women bring to every space and conversation.

When women are seen in executive leadership positions, it signals we care about the voice and experiences of women. It shows that it is possible and encouraged for women to lead in our organization and it’s something they can – and should – strive for.

Personally, as a mom and woman, I know my voice carries weight. I can ask, is this choice something that is representative of women?

Women holding leadership positions at Swedish also signals to other women who are making health care decisions that their needs are represented here. Our lived experience adds nuance and other dimensions that are critically important. Personally, as a mom and woman, I know my voice carries weight. I can ask, is this choice something that is representative of women?

What steps is Swedish taking to put women in leadership positions?

Shands: Swedish is committed to looking at how to create equitable pathways to leadership roles. In our hospitals and clinics, that includes having women physicians in leadership roles, such as executives or medical leaders of divisions. On the administrative side, that includes women chief executives of hospitals and department heads. 

We have to be intentional with our programs to create those pathways, including creating leadership development programs. That’s where equity comes into play.

Our measurable steps and processes for equity give women the resources and support they need to succeed at Swedish. 

Our measurable steps and processes for equity give women the resources and support they need to succeed at Swedish. It may include career development, leadership training or assigning an opportunity to lead a project. It may also include training to improve financial or business acumen.

How does Swedish’s leadership team reflect this commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion?

Shands: We have been intentional in changing the demographics and dynamics on our board and in our executive leadership team. We have a considerable number of female executives – four have been added in the past year. Our CEO, Guy Hudson, M.D., has been focused and committed to these efforts.

Dr. Hudson was recently featured in an article from the American Hospital Association about diversity, equity and inclusion. Read that here.

What advice do you have for women on this year’s Women’s Equality Day?

Shands: Women should continue to push and speak up and out. We need to use our voices and influence in whatever space we occupy. We need to show up and be represented in our space. We need to demonstrate our talent and be unapologetic in sharing what we need.

Women add so much vibrancy to any space we occupy. We belong everywhere and we will be heard. We will lend our talent, treasures and voices to these efforts that make our organizations and society better.

I say to all women: Stand up. Rise up. Continue to do the work and demand the space and platform.

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Mardia Shands, M.A., SPHR, SHRM-SCP, serves as the inaugural chief of diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) at Swedish. She will develop and direct programs that increase workforce diversity, improve equity in hiring and employment practices and ensure an inclusive workplace for all Swedish caregivers and providers.

Shands brings a wealth of experience leading (DEI) programs. Most recently, she was the chief diversity officer at TriHealth, a seven-hospital health care system in the Greater Cincinnati area.

 

We’re in this together

Swedish invites you to join our Patient Advisory Council, a forum where you can volunteer your time to help improve the way we provide care.

Additionally, if you are interested in a healthcare career where you will be supported and given growth opportunities, search for Swedish job openings here.

Related resources

Working toward more compassionate and inclusive care for the LGBTQIA+ community

Let us continue on the journey toward equity and justice

Swedish names inaugural chief diversity, equity & inclusion officer

Dr. Nwando Anyaoku named first chief health equity officer

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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