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Event Recap | Where are the Women in Health Care Leadership? | 09.11.20

While the future for women in health care leadership continues to broaden, promising female rising professionals still encounter gender biases, competing priorities, and a lack of access to support and guidance On September 11, The Health Care Council of Chicago (HC3) partnered with CommunityHealth, a member organization, to host a candid conversation with some inspiring women from the health care industry to explore solutions in making leadership opportunities more equitable and why women’s voices matter in providing access to health care. The event was part of CommunityHealth’s 2020 All in Chicago Series (September 2-24).

Featured Speakers

Tiosha Bailey, DrPH, MPH - Executive Director, Susan G. Komen Foundation - Chicago

Kimberly Hobson - CEO, Journey Care

Iliana A. Mora - COO, Ambulatory Services

Anne Marie Murphy, PhD - Executive Director, Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force


Meghan Phillipp, Executive Director, HC3

Watch the Recap | Link to Video


Women in the Workforce

According to some recent surveys, 69 percent of U.S. adults say that women still do not have equality in the workplace, and eight percent do not think equality will ever be achieved. Women leaders are advancing institutional change to ensure that equality is achieved, but the journey to an equitable workplace is long and requires more women in leadership. While women make up the majority of health care positions, they are more often in entry-level or managerial positions. The number of women significantly declines as you move up the ranks. Without women in leadership, decisions are less likely to be made with the needs of women in mind. Women face gender bias and societal pressures that make it more difficult to be in leadership positions, and they often have to think, look, and act differently to overcome them.

Pathway to Leadership

Dr. Tiosha Bailey accredits some of her success to mentorship and sponsorship from people who saw her qualities and leadership potential. She surrounded herself with people who mirrored her qualities and who helped her grow, and her passion for eliminating mortality disparities is what drove her to where she is. “Like many others, I’ve experienced the loss of loved ones to cancer, but also I’ve experienced the joys of survivorship,” Dr. Bailey said, “I want that for more women, and I understand that there is a real gap and a need here in Chicago. That is what fuels me and keeps me going every single day. I won’t stop until the gap is closed.”

Anne Marie Murphy’s pathway to leadership was an indirect, curving one. She started her career working for Senator Durbin, shifted over to run the state’s medical program, and then moved into not-for-profit to improve health disparities. She believes that women need to be driven enough to work hard for leadership positions and to pursue jobs that they may doubt they are qualified for. Anne Marie was driven by a commitment to eliminate disparities, and she worked relentlessly to make sure that everyone has “adequate health care and what they need to stay alive.” As an immigrant she says, “it never ceases to amaze me that the wealthiest county in the world does not really have a health care system. We have a patchwork of payment methodologies for different groups of people, and so many people fall through the cracks.”

Iliana Mora says women have to go the extra mile to become leaders. It takes a lot of hard work, “putting in a lot of hours, and producing really, really excellent work.” She’s driven by her passion for addressing health care inequity, which has been blown up by the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s the communities that we serve, the communities who need us, who may not otherwise have access to services if it weren’t for the organization we work for,” Iliana said.

Leadership and Its Impact on the Health of Women

Dr. Tiosha Bailey believes that leadership is more than just having a seat, a role, or a title. Leadership is using your talents, being a role model to others, and exhibiting qualities that you’d like to see in others. “In order to be successful as a women in leadership, it’s important to really know who you are and not be moved” and knowing and honoring your values will help you overcome challenges and drive meaningful change.

Iliana Mora shared that one way to drive this change is by having diversity in the board room because it makes a difference in decision-making, even for people who think they know certain communities really well because they have worked in them. Diversity in race, geography, and gender all make a difference in strategy, the types of decisions that are made, and how these decisions are communicated. She believes, “The greatest impacted we can have on women receiving health care is to have more women in the board rooms.”

Progress in Combatting Breast Cancer Disparities

Between 1980 and 2007, Chicago went from having no disparity in breast cancer mortality to a 62-68 percent death gap between Black and white women. Black women were dying at a might higher rate despite getting breast cancer less often than white women. In 2007, the Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force (now known as Equal Hope) was established to address this disparity. By 2017, Chicago had gone from being one of the worst in the nation for breast cancer disparity to being number one for reducing breast cancer deaths in Black women. In 2018, Equal Hope found that the residual disparity, which was 39 percent at the time, was highly concentrated among younger Black women and Black women are more likely to get aggressive tumors. Anne Marie believes it is likely that the reason is related to environmental stress and conditions of life for black women, so it is critical to not only address health care disparities but other social determinants of health as well.

Public health efforts have been largely focused on the individual, but Dr. Bailey believes there needs to be a shift to pushing harder on systems that are also driving the disparities we see. Systems need to make modifications to engage with people who are falling through the cracks. Ensuring everyone has access to quality care will reduce health disparities. “All health care is not created equally, and that is something that we really have to call attention to and address as a city,” Dr. Bailey said.

Impact of COVID-19

Because of the pause on elective services at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, women could not go in for mammograms or screenings. Now that facilities are opening back up, Anne Marie is encouraging women to go in for screening, but health care facilities must also ensure that safety measures are taken seriously and communicated to patients. It is crucial to avoid delaying screening because while “we’re all inclined to move [screenings] to a little later, cancer is not moving itself to a little later,” so we must be part of the solution ourselves. Anne Marie acknowledges that this time is significantly more challenges for people with less resources to support themselves. Dr. Bailey suggests that women in leadership focus on how they can alleviate the barriers preventing underserved populations from getting through the door to these services. “All of these challenges are bubbling up, and we know that we need to address them, but it is going to be a while before the state of things really shifts, so how do really encourage those hard-to-reach populations that had challenges before COVID?”

The Importance of Collaboration

Iliana Mora balances her life through an understanding that she is not perfect, and an acceptance of that. She knows that she cannot do it all, and women already tend to put themselves last on the list. Part of the solution to this is redesigning the workplace. “[The workplace] was not designed for us, and every day we try to fit in as much as we can into what we’re trying to work in and be successful in, but we can’t,” Iliana said. Women in leadership roles need to make policy decisions that are very attentive to these problems within their own institutions, but leaders also need to come together on a grander scheme to drive global and impactful change. Women are already stretched very thin, so women in leadership capacities across other organizations need to rely on each other to come up with plans collectively.

Anne Marie highlighted an inside-out approach to organizing, noting that there are not-for-profits that are organizing at the local level to drive change. Progressive ordinances can drive change in Chicago by proving that it is possible to have workplace rules that benefit families. Women can also help drive change by voting so “we can all together push for a collective agenda, one that is good for women and good for families, and therefore good for everyone,” Anne Marie said.

Advocating for All Women

Anne Marie hopes that women in leadership will remember the struggles they and other women face, take responsibility in enacting policies that are sensitive to women, and advocate for other women. Advocating for women gradually makes the workplace more equitable and then shifts the conversations in board rooms. To Anne Marie, “The conversation is usually a little different than if you go in and you are the only [woman] there, so it is important for other women, especially young girls, to see women in positions of power and trust.”

Iliana understands how it feels to be the woman in the boardroom and find it difficult to navigate a system that was designed in a way that disadvantages women. It is easy to avoid putting in the extra effort to prove the benefit of policies that are sensitive to women; however, women in leadership need to have stamina and motivate other women to push for change, no matter how difficult it is.

Dr. Bailey encouraged women to seek mentorship to help them navigate leadership. Even though people generally think of mentors as people who are above them, women can start by examining their own circles for peers that can offer mentorship. It is also important to recognize that the mentoring relationship is not a one-way street. Mentors can help leaders navigate situations that they have had lived experience with. These support networks are important to Dr. Bailey because “being in these seats can be very lonely.”

Final Thoughts: “What impact do you hope to make?”

Dr. Bailey wants to be a role model for other women to take charge of their health. She said, “We tend to see ourselves as caretakers of everyone else and not ourselves, and I really want to make sure that women have the tools and the resources that they need so that they themselves can create wellness in their lives.” She is wholly committed to addressing the mortality disparities between Black and white women, which will require a huge structural change.

Anne Marie’s main passion is addressing health disparities. She believes it can be done, so we should be doing everything we can to work toward that goal. She is currently pursuing an MPH from University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) to aid in her mission of closing health gaps. “I truly believe that everyone deserves an equal chance at a long and health life,” she said.

Iliana’s goal is “empower in every form.” She hopes to encourage, inspire, and motivate all women – when it’s to take charge of their health, complete a degree, or reach any of their goals.

About All In Chicago

The All In™ campaign is a series of events focused on the topic of access to health care for all Chicagoans, hosted by CommunityHealth, the largest free clinic in the nation. The mission of All In™ is to explore how we can make Chicago the first major metropolitan city to have a fully functioning system in place ensuring that everyone has access to the right care, at the right time, in the right place. In order to achieve this goal goal of access to health care for all Chicagoans, we need participation from everyone to make it happen.


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