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Event Recap: Empowering Women in the Workplace: Equitable Compensation and Well-Being | 3.18.2024

On Monday, March 18, HC3 hosted the most recent installment of the Future of Work Series, focusing on empowering women and advocating for fair compensation and well-being in the workplace in celebration of International Women's Month. The conversation delved into the myriad opportunities and obstacles associated with ensuring not only fair compensation but also equitable treatment for women in the workplace.  Participants highlighted how these intricate challenges affect a wide range of areas, including strategies for hiring, opportunities for career growth, efforts to achieve work-life balance, and the dynamics of organizational culture. They concentrated on exploring methods to influence and enhance overall job satisfaction and professional development positively.


Featured Speakers:

Tara Driver, Senior Career Pathways Manager

Shikha Jain MD, FACP, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology and Oncology, GI Oncology Integrated Practice Unit (IPU) Lead, Director of Communication Strategies in Medicine, University of Illinois Chicago, Associate Director of Oncology Communication & Digital Innovation, University of Illinois Cancer Center, CEO, Co-Founder IMPACT, President & CEO Founder, Women in Medicine® NFP and Founder & Chair Women in Medicine Summit


Meghan Phillipp, Executive Director, HC3


Watch the Webinar


Event Recap

(Responses have been summarized or condensed for clarity and brevity)

Panelist Introductions

Tara Driver (TD): My name is Tara Driver. I am the Senior Career Pathways Manager at Women Employed. In my role at Women Employed, I am charged with relentlessly pursuing equity for all women in the workplace by influencing and shaping policies to make change, expanding access to education and workforce training, cultivating opportunities for women, and advocating for them to have fair workplaces. Women Employed’s mission is to improve the economic status of women - predominantly black and brown women - and to remove barriers to economic equity. Our purpose is to grow the financial power of women in Illinois. We focus our efforts on women who work, are currently in low-paid positions, and/or provide care without pay benefits. Ultimately, through our intersectional efforts, the ultimate goal is to close the wealth gap at the intersection of race and gender.


Shikha Jain (SJ): I'm engaged in a variety of roles, including practicing medicine and attending to cancer patients at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), alongside serving as the Director of Communication there. My deep-rooted passion led me to establish a nonprofit entity, Women in Medicine, along with the corresponding Women in Medicine Annual Summit. This initiative stemmed from my firsthand observations of significant equity disparities within our health care system, particularly affecting individuals with intersecting identities, such as women of color.


The realization that these gaps persistently infiltrate both the workforce and care delivery prompted the creation of our nonprofit and summit. Under the hashtag #WIMStrongerTogether, we aim to combat the prevailing silos in health care that impede progress. Much of our focus lies on fostering real systemic change, nationally and individually, by pinpointing workforce disparities that directly hinder patient care. Despite years of effort, the magnitude of this issue remains daunting, urging us to unite and drive meaningful transformation.


Panel Discussion

MP: Tara, let's delve further into the various programs and initiatives at Women Employed. You play a key role in supporting their Career Pathways program, which has demonstrated notable success in fostering workplace equity, particularly for Black and Latinx women. Could you elaborate on these programs, how success is being assessed, and shed light on the opportunities and challenges you encounter in this endeavor?


TD: We are committed to empowering Black and LatinX women by providing them with educational and career opportunities that not only offer livable wages but also pave the way for economic prosperity. Our advocacy initiatives, including increased MAP funding for low-income students and the implementation of "ability to benefit," aim to support nontraditional students in earning college credit while completing their high school diploma. Our flagship program, Career Foundations, developed in partnership with City Colleges of Chicago, helps adults identify their career paths and gain essential skills. The program's flexibility ensures individuals can embark on their career journey regardless of their current stage, crucial for nontraditional students. By collaborating closely with community partners, we offer support to help individuals develop skills and achieve their goals, addressing the occupational segregation faced by Black and LatinX women and enabling them to access higher-paying, family-sustaining job opportunities.


MP: Shikha, I'd like to turn to you to delve deeper into this topic. Your focus on advocating for gender equity in health care is particularly pertinent, given your expertise in this area. Could you elaborate on your insights, drawing from previous discussions such as the gender moonshot, and shed light on your efforts to enhance and achieve gender parity within the medical field?


SJ: A few years ago, we launched the gender moonshot with the aim of accelerating progress in gender equity. In the realm of health care, the disparities faced by physicians, particularly in leadership awards, pay, advancement, and retention, are glaring. To tackle this, we've implemented longitudinal leadership programs for early and mid-career physicians to combat burnout and promote advancement opportunities. Additionally, our research lab focuses on publishing actionable data-driven solutions to transform health care systems, shifting the conversation from identifying problems to implementing solutions. It's crucial to highlight the positive impact of women in health care—studies show lower readmission rates and better patient outcomes under their care. Yet, many are unaware of these facts or the exodus of women from the field. We must disseminate this information widely, emphasizing that the gender gap in health care affects everyone. Even in nursing, where the majority are women, a persistent pay gap persists, despite factors like maternity leave or part-time work being considered. Anecdotes further underscore the pervasive biases—like a black female ER physician being denied assistance in a medical emergency while a male veterinarian was accepted—reflecting both implicit and explicit biases at play. Our focus is on systemic change rather than fixing women, recognizing the need to empower individuals of all genders to champion change. Moreover, we prioritize nurturing the next generation, particularly women and women of color, in health care, ensuring they enter the field prepared for success.


MP: I'm curious about both of your perspectives around the intersectionality of gender and ethnicity as well because it's also very telling that there are typically not as many women of color at the C-suite level in these positions. They're typically in these supportive roles. So, what are some ways you are championing the future success of people moving up and moving into positions of more influence? And how do we continue to break down some of those barriers and silos?


TD: As Dr. Jain highlighted, women of color contend with the intersecting challenges of gender and racial discrimination within the health care sector, which are deeply entrenched in our nation's history of oppression. Consequently, Black, Latinx, Native, and other women of color encounter amplified barriers to financial stability, often finding themselves overrepresented in lower-paid positions and experiencing substantial gender and racial wage disparities. The repercussions extend beyond individuals to affect their families and communities, emphasizing the urgent need to address these disparities collectively. Our focus is empowering women economically in Illinois by actively seeking systemic solutions and disrupting the existing ecosystem. Initiatives include collaborating with health care trainers, employees, and employers to create pathways for advancement from low-paid positions. Centering the voices and needs of women of color in decision-making processes is paramount, exemplified by initiatives like Chicago Women in Trade and our Intersecting Barriers pilot program for domestic violence survivors. By ensuring diverse representation at the table and amplifying frontline perspectives, we can systematically dismantle existing barriers and reconstruct an equitable ecosystem that serves black and brown women in our communities.


SJ: I agree and would emphasize two points for consideration. First, we must broaden our outreach beyond the usual group of women leaders, who are often over-tapped and risk burnout from representing their communities repeatedly. It's crucial to expand our networks and challenge our implicit biases to include more diverse voices, as demonstrated by my experience of unintentionally forming a steering committee predominantly of Indian women. Recognizing and correcting this bias led to one of the most diverse committees we've had.


Second, the inclusion of men in committees focused on diversity and women's advancement is vital. Given the current power dynamics, significant systemic change is difficult without their participation. In my efforts, I insist on bringing male allies into the fold, recognizing their crucial role in understanding and addressing the issues at hand. This approach ensures a more comprehensive and effective strategy for fostering diversity and empowering women in leadership and decision-making roles.

MP: I'd like to delve deeper into the topic of allyship versus mentorship. While mentorship is essential, I'm particularly interested in discussing allyship and involving men in understanding and addressing gender-related issues. Shikha, could you share your insights on how you identify and cultivate allies? Additionally, Tara, I'm curious about any strategies Women Employed employs to foster allyship. Let's start with you, Shikha. How do you navigate allyship within your sphere?


SJ: Finding allies can indeed be challenging, and while I've been fortunate to have strong allies and sponsors, there have been instances where I've felt unsupported. In such situations, seeking support outside your immediate institution or workplace may be necessary. I've reached out to individuals from other organizations for advice and guidance when I felt lacking in support. Additionally, I've adopted proactive strategies, such as holding pre-meetings with colleagues before important discussions, where I outline my proposals and request their backing during the meeting. Many allies may not realize their potential role or how to assist, so I often provide clear guidance on how they can support me. Instead of waiting for post-meeting feedback, I now engage in pre-meeting discussions to strategize and ensure alignment on objectives. Sometimes, I even bring allies to meetings where I anticipate needing support but lack familiarity with other attendees. Moreover, it's crucial to overcome any discomfort in seeking support within your organization. Women often feel compelled to handle everything independently, but strategically reaching out to experienced individuals for guidance and mentorship can be immensely beneficial in achieving your goals. Their insights and leadership can help identify strategic allies who can support you in accomplishing your objectives.


TD: In my work with various community partners, I emphasize the importance of collaboration over competition, as echoed by Dr. Jain. To enact meaningful change within the ecosystem, we must work together to provide a seamless continuum of services, care, and advocacy. Society's ingrained sexism and racism require us to address deep-rooted biases and attitudes, which can be a time-consuming process. Therefore, it's crucial to ensure that everyone involved is educated about the policies and advocacy efforts we're undertaking. Facilitating open conversations and providing guidance on how to be effective allies and partners are key priorities in fostering meaningful collaboration and advancing our shared goals.


MP: How do people formalize mentorship and look for mentorship, even if it's not formal? And how do we find ways, as people with more influence or managerial experience, to look for opportunities to mentor and support people on their journey upwards?


SJ: I'm passionate about mentorship, but finding a mentor can be daunting, as I experienced in medical school. With the prevalence of social media, reaching out has become more accessible. When approaching potential mentors, I advise against a generic request for mentorship, opting instead for a specific proposal or project you'd like their guidance on. For instance, suggesting a collaborative effort on a project related to addressing disparities in hiring black women in Chicago. Having a diverse set of mentors tailored to different aspects of my life has been invaluable. Each mentor offers unique insights and support, from personal and professional to clinical and entrepreneurial pursuits. I also emphasize the value of peer mentors, as learning can be reciprocal regardless of seniority. In fact, I've gained valuable knowledge from mentees at various stages, demonstrating that mentorship can thrive across all levels of experience.


TD: I completely agree once again; mentorship is paramount. Unfortunately, many women in low-paid positions lack the social capital and networks necessary to access mentorship opportunities. That's why I advocate for every woman to take on the role of mentor, actively reaching out and offering guidance to others. Often, women in these positions are balancing work, family, and other responsibilities, leaving little time or confidence to seek out mentorship on their own. Additionally, systemic barriers such as workplace biases and inflexible schedules can further hinder their access to support. When collaborating with organizations and programs, I prioritize discussions on building social capital among participants, empowering them to find their voices, advocate for themselves, and reach out for mentorship. Whether it's leveraging family members who have professional experience or finding support within their communities, it's crucial to foster the confidence and resources necessary for women to seek mentorship and advance in their careers.


MP: Addressing burnout and prioritizing self-care is crucial, particularly on an interpersonal level. Women often feel the pressure to overcompensate both at work and at home, leading to a high prevalence of burnout. I firmly believe that instead of striving for a traditional work-life balance, we should focus on work-life integration. What challenges do women face in these circumstances? How does Women Employed provide coaching mechanisms to help women recognize when they struggle to express their needs and encourage them to find their voice? Furthermore, how does Women Employed collaborate with employers and advocate for policies that support a holistic approach to address these challenges?


TD: At Women Employed, we acknowledge the pervasive nature of burnout, particularly at the intersection of gender and race, where women of color often experience it at higher rates. We actively address this issue through various avenues. Through our consulting services, we partner with organizations and businesses to provide training on creating non-toxic and equitable workplaces, ensuring compliance with legal standards such as sexual harassment prevention. On a personal level, we advocate for flexible management styles and work environments that support employees' needs, including caregiving responsibilities and fostering safe spaces for open discussions. Recognizing the severe consequences of burnout, including tragic incidents like suicide, we prioritize education and advocacy efforts both organizationally and at the policy level. Recent policy successes in Illinois, such as paid time off and ending subminimum wages for tip workers, reflect our commitment to addressing burnout and empowering women economically.


SJ: I want to emphasize that the concept of resilience often frustrates me. It perpetuates the misconception that individuals are not resilient enough to navigate a system filled with numerous barriers. It's crucial to recognize the systemic issues of racism, sexism, and structural biases within our health care systems, which have begun to be acknowledged more in recent years. We've even published a paper on the cyclical nature of implicit bias, imposter syndrome, and burnout, illustrating how these factors exacerbate each other. Studies have shown that women entering managerial roles are just as ambitious as their male counterparts, but their ambition often diminishes over time due to systemic obstacles and unequal treatment. For instance, female physicians spend more time on documentation and responding to patient messages, not because they lack efficiency but because they receive more messages and often provide more comprehensive care. High rates of burnout and suicide among health care workers are not indicative of individual failures but rather systemic shortcomings. It's essential to shift the focus from blaming individuals to addressing systemic issues that perpetuate burnout and inequality.


MP: Tara, having worked in counseling and talking about people's mental well-being, how are you applying some of your experiences counseling folks to your leadership?


TD: As a coach and counselor, it's integral for me to foster environments and partnerships that align with these principles. When collaborating with organizations, we seek partners who share our passion for coaching individuals, empowering them to have a voice in their learning and development. It's crucial that they're included in discussions about goal-setting and metrics to foster comfort and eliminate imposter syndrome. In my own work environment, I prioritize collaborative efforts with my direct reports, aiming to support them in being their best selves to achieve our collective goals. It's important to recognize that burnout can affect anyone, including myself.


MP: Shikha, I'd like to explore this further, expanding from your personal experiences to the organizational level. Given that you've founded multiple nonprofits, how are you leveraging these platforms as opportunities to amplify and broaden your message, reaching a wider audience through these strategic choices?


SJ: It's fantastic that you brought up this point because our success wouldn't have been possible without our community partners and other organizations. This collaborative approach has truly been the key to our achievements. As the saying goes, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together," and that perfectly encapsulates our approach. During the pandemic, for instance, we swiftly mobilized to address public health messaging and combat misinformation. By teaming up with local community organizations, churches, and nonprofits, we distributed thousands of units of PPE to nursing homes. We administered vaccines to tens of thousands of people in areas with vaccine hesitancy. These partnerships built trust and credibility, enabling us to make significant strides with initiatives like Women in Medicine. I regularly engage in meetings with organizations that might be viewed as competitors in other contexts, but I see them as potential collaborators. I firmly believe there's enough success to go around for everyone, and by working together, we can achieve so much more. Collaborations with entities like the American College of Physicians and Lean In have allowed us to leverage our unique strengths and resources to drive meaningful change. The impact of these collaborations extends far beyond our immediate communities, and I'm confident that the ripple effects will be felt for generations to come.


MP: Tara, you've alluded to Women Employed talking to our legislators, thinking about the different policies that impact us, from family medical leave and the child tax credit to safeguarding paid time off. So, what are some of the kinds of current things on the docket or future things you want to accomplish?


TD: In the career pathway field, we've spearheaded a consortium of partners, notably launching a health care careers program focused on providing black and brown women access to allied health care roles, including basic and advanced certifications. However, we've recognized the barriers many face in advancing their careers, often getting stuck in lower-level positions like medical assistants when their aspirations lie higher, such as becoming nurses. We're undertaking a substantial research project with support from our partners and funders like JPM Chase. This initiative brings together health care providers, our consortium partners (comprising ten or more community-based organizations specializing in adult education and workforce services), the Illinois Student Aid Commission, City Colleges of Chicago, and domestic violence-serving organizations. Our aim is to investigate internal career pathways within large hospital systems, addressing systemic challenges and fostering change. By collaborating with existing initiatives like West Side United and the Chicago Healthcare Workforce Collaborative, we're leveraging collective expertise and research to facilitate upward mobility for individuals within health care systems, engaging both employers and hospital systems in this endeavor.


MP: Shikha, if you have any insights to share, I'd love to hear them. Your advocacy work is truly inspiring. Could you elaborate on the strategies you're considering within your nonprofits or your personal initiatives to advance the pipeline and facilitate progression for individuals?


SJ: We explore various methods for effective advocacy, both professionally and personally, recognizing that many women in health care are eager to contribute but unsure where to start. We've established platforms for these women to learn about advocacy, whether lobbying Congress, influencing policy changes, or crafting impactful legislation. Given the profound influence of health policy on women's health and rights, particularly concerning reproductive health issues witnessed in recent years, this area has become a significant focus. Our efforts aim not just at self-advocacy but also at guiding others interested in advocacy toward meaningful opportunities. For instance, I recently contributed to a discussion in the New York Times on the challenges posed by the prior authorization system in health care, highlighting our broader mission to tackle barriers to care. We're committed to empowering women in health care to use their voices effectively, whether through policy advocacy or other channels and providing them with the necessary resources and connections to make a difference.


MP: As we navigate this and strive towards progress in our careers, what advice do you have for women as you move forward towards, you know, an equitable future?


TD: One of the most crucial actions individuals can take is to engage with their elected officials, understand their policies, and vote for what aligns with their values. Building relationships with state senators and representatives who champion their causes is vital. Additionally, being informed about where candidates stand on key issues is essential. Knowing one's rights is fundamental—understanding what is legally acceptable in personal and professional settings. Our website provides resources on rights, including recent laws and policies we've advocated for, such as paid time off and fair wages. Empowering individuals to advocate for themselves, particularly in closing the wage gap and promoting pay transparency, is key to progress. So, familiarizing oneself with rights is a crucial first step in driving positive change.


SJ: That's all great advice, and I actually want to go even more granular and say you can be an advocate without ever talking to anybody in power. I had a moment of realization when someone pointed out my advocacy efforts, which I hadn't even recognized. Advocacy isn't solely about lobbying or speaking to politicians—it can manifest in various forms. It could be discussing gender equity with family members, writing op-eds for local newspapers, or simply exercising your right to vote. Championing change can take many shapes, and it's about leveraging your voice in alignment with your beliefs. Understanding laws and knowing your rights, as Tara mentioned, is crucial. Ultimately, whether through conversations with loved ones or more public actions like media appearances, every effort contributes to driving change. Remember, your voice holds power, and change stems from individuals at all levels. You have more influence than you might realize.



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