Love what you do. Empower your colleagues. Ask the tough questions. Use your experience to guide others. Lead from behind. Simple anecdotes like these can paint a detailed picture of what the journey to success looks like from a woman’s perspective in a male-dominated field.
We pooled together insights from HIMSS Women in Health IT community members who are leading the change they want to see on the front lines of the field and beyond. Embedded in their insights were five common themes that tell the story of their journey as women in the field.
1. Be the Leader You’d Like to Work For
Everyone wants to be a leader, but how do you show your colleagues you have what it takes? How can you execute a new leadership role – for instance, one that has never existed, or one where you’re the first female, historically, to do so? Or, what if you’re a leader lacking the title?
"Operate consistently within your sense of fairness and consideration for others. Your colleagues and bosses will recognize this leadership trait in you, and you will be valued not only for your job performance, but as a role model."
– Diane Carr, HIMSS Most Influential Women in Health IT awards judge
“For people in roles with ‘situational leadership’ – where you might not be a leader on paper, but are one in reality – cultivate your kitchen cabinet. Have people you know you can call and bounce ideas off, who will call you out when you’re overdoing it or haven’t fully thought things through. Whether they’re in or outside of your agency, know the people that have your back and will be there guiding you – not just in the job you’re in now – but throughout your career as peers, as mentors and as mentees: the full 360.”
– Jessica Kahn, HIMSS Most Influential Women in Health IT awardee
“One of the things I’ve tried to do is lead from behind. For me what that concept means is that the best way for me to shine and be effective and support my organization as a leader is to make my team shine. So I focus on supporting my team in a way that builds up trust and enthusiasm.
My advice to other women in health IT leaders: stay organized. It’s helpful to your team if you appear in control of what’s going on. You don’t let emails or meetings rule; you take the time to coach, mentor, or have that conversation.”
– Judy Murphy, HIMSS Most Influential Women in Health IT awardee
2. Be the Team Member Who Always Takes Initiative
Working in a field where gender disparities increase with rank, rising to the top can be a challenge. How does a woman in the health information and technology field set herself up for success? By starting the conversation and taking those first steps to get the job done.
“When I have responsibility for any effort – for example, a technology implementation, or development of a strategic plan and budget, or daily operations of a large department, I connect at every level of the organization. I let them know how the project will impact them. It is impossible to ‘over-communicate’!”
– Diane Carr
"Often the way to get considered for new assignments is to ask questions and to show an interest in other areas of the organization. Early in my career, my organization began to move into the managed care market. I didn’t know a lot about managed care, so I asked the new director of the organization if I could meet with him and have him brief me on what he was working on. He ended up doing a whiteboard walkthrough of the key aspects of managed care, and was impressed that I was so interested in his work. We ended up working together on selecting and implementing a system to support his organization. Moving forward, I was more valued as an executive in my role as a CIO, because I had a good understanding of this part of the business."
– Adrienne M. Edens, Most Influential Women in Health IT Awards judge
"Take that first step. If no one does, things get pushed off to the side or don’t get prioritized, and then everyone goes on to the next initiative of the week. Start the ball rolling, make that first meeting, pull people together. Stand up and be a leader."
– Ann O’Brien, HIMSS Most Influential Women in Health IT award recipient
3. Practice Resilience
Resilience: a powerful demonstration of strong character for health information and technology professionals and beyond. How you acknowledge, address and react to ever-changing circumstances in the workplace can and will shape people’s perception of you as a leader, so bend it into a shape your team members can understand, identify with and appreciate.
“Don’t promise the impossible; people will respect you more if you are truthful and direct in your dealings. You may not always be able to get them what they want, but frequently, you can get them what they need.”
– Diane Carr
“My 'keep-moving-forward' spirit is greatly inspired from my dad's indomitable will and his strong sense of purpose. My father instilled in me the values to persevere, never give up in the face of adversity, and stay focused on the goals. His strong sense of purpose for his family inspired me to have my own purpose, my own 'why' in a way. He had a famous poetry verse that he used to share with me all the time that roughly translates to, 'We all have the power within ourselves to rise above and overcome any hardships and positively impact our destiny.' These lines have stayed with me and have now become my own hallmark. You have to believe in yourself first and stay on path.”
– Aashima Gupta, HIMSS Most Influential Women in Health IT awardee
“We all need people around us who can listen, give advice and give feedback – who can help us solve a problem or think through a strategy, or just to talk with when we’re feeling challenged. Being a resilient and creative leader depends on having a network of people who can step in to offer advice and assistance. And we can offer the same level of support to them.”
– Adrienne M. Edens
"Be centered enough in yourself so that you’re not reactive with others. That means taking care of yourself as an individual; for example, coming to the table after a nutritious breakfast and eight hours of sleep so you can be your best self. Things will happen; work on your ability to be resilient. We all have things in our lives happen that are unexpected. Some leadership principles that have helped me throughout my career: curiosity, collaboration, compassion, courage, and resilience."
– Ann O’Brien
“One person alone can’t do much – but together we are stronger, more creative and resilient. In my career, I have consistently bridged the gaps that separate tech innovators, patient advocates, healthcare providers, policymakers, funders and other actors. Health and healthcare are complex, and we absolutely have to collaborate to find ways to improve them. Plus, it’s more fun that way!”
– Lygeia Ricciardi, HIMSS Most Influential Women in Health IT awardee
4. Pursue Your Work with Passion
To be impactful, your work must be rooted in both passion and purpose; that’s what ‘impact’ is made of, and that’s how you influence your team for the better: through caring about your work wholeheartedly.
“Participating in so many aspects of the healthcare tech field allows me to have a unique perspective on what the future holds based on the current goals and progress being made. The diversity of my healthcare experience has afforded me a rare combination of technical expertise and a deep understanding of healthcare opportunities from many different vantage points – from pursuing my passion to positively transform healthcare via digital health, to championing APIs and interoperability across healthcare, and now scaling my passion to digitally transform healthcare globally.”
– Aashima Gupta
"This is relevant to both men and women – pursue work that puts you in your zone. There’s a Japanese phrase associated with this idea called ikigai. Imagine a visual with overlapping circles that include what you’re passionate about, what you feel is a mission, what you’re really good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. Right there in the center of that is your wellbeing; it’s your zone. So the great advice that I got, and pass on, is to think about that in terms of your career choices. Find those things that put you in that zone, right in the middle of all those elements ... I try to bring my whole self to work. Bring your sense of humor, ask people about your family and hobbies and talk about your own. Be personable and model the way you want to be treated. For women, that’s especially important. Sometimes we can channel ourselves just into trying to fit into a very narrow model in the workplace instead of celebrating what’s different about us."
– Jessica Kahn
“Be passionate about what you care about, and take initiative to move it forward. For example, if you’re at an organization and are most passionate about mental health and you don’t feel that’s getting enough attention, then move forward, write a proposal or speak to your boss. Work on things that you’re passionate about; it also helps feed the soul.”
– Ann O’Brien
“I’ve spent nearly 20 years at the intersection of health and technology, with a passionate commitment to consumer empowerment – supporting people to live their healthiest, best lives. It’s my North Star. I’ve pursued it in the federal government, the foundation world and the private sector, now in a startup. I love working within a community of people and organizations building toward a shared vision in which people are genuinely at the center of their own health and healthcare, supported by human caregivers and digital tools.”
– Lygeia Ricciardi
5. Get Involved and Support Other Women
Most Influential Women in Health IT award recipient Judy Murphy said it best:
“Look beyond your own reality in the singleness of your job, and get involved with something outside of that. Pick your head up, poke it around and say, ‘What else is going on in the industry that I might get involved in?’ What’s rounded out me as a person is the volunteer work I’ve done outside of my job as well. Join an organization like HIMSS; get involved in a committee, write an article or participate as a reviewer at the next conference. These are all ways that you can get engaged and not only expand on your own knowledge by participating, but also expanding the knowledge of the people you’re working with outside of your organization.”
The views and opinions expressed in this blog or by commenters are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of HIMSS or its affiliates.
Women in Health IT
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Originally published July 3, 2018; updated April 1, 2019