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Does Women’s Leadership Make a Difference to Healthcare?

September 20, 2019
Elizabeth Hartney, Program Head, MA Leadership (Health Specialization)
Female businesswoman holding sign with Chief Executive Officer written on it

Healthcare and Women in Leadership 

“Does it make a difference to healthcare if the leader is a woman?” This was the question on Associate Faculty, Doug Blackie’s mind, when he proposed inviting in a panel of women CEOs into our upcoming MA Leadership (Health Specialization) residency, in place of our usual practice of inviting one senior health executive, to spend time in conversation with students in the program. 

“We have a unique point in time when we have female CEOs in all five regional Health Authorities,” Doug explained. “Although healthcare is a female-dominated industry, historically, if you go back ten years, most of the CEOs have been male. So, I’m curious about this change and what influence - if any- gender plays on leadership and organizational culture and performance.”

Doug put out the invitation, and while they are incredibly busy people, we are fortunate that two CEOs have expressed an interest in visiting campus and talking to our students about their experiences – and the growing role and influence of women in executive leadership roles in the BC health care sectorKathy MacNeil, CEO of Island Health and graduate of the MA Leadership (Health Specialization) program, has come in as a guest speaker in previous years. She will be joined by Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health Authority.

RRU Associate Faculty Doug Blackie

Impact of Gender in BC's Regional Health Authorities

So what inspired Doug to propose this idea?  “I have a strong sense of equity and justice” Doug explained. “Those long-held principles of equity and justice and training as a social worker, are definitely part of it. In addition, my work as a scholar-practitioner at Royal Roads has helped deepen my thinking around privilege and gender. So, I’m curious about the gender shift in BC’s regional health authorities. Does it make a difference? Should it make a difference?”. Doug’s observation after nearly 15 years as a health care leader in BC is that “there may have been a tendency to recruit the stereotypical ‘alpha male’ to come in and provide what could be perceived as strong leadership. I’ve always maintained that, from an equity and merit perspective, the best person should get the job, irrespective of gender.”

“Coming back to the original question, from a place of curiosity, does it make a difference that the CEOs are women? I’d like to hear from the CEOs themselves not only ask about their leadership journey, but also, can we talk about whether gender makes a difference in leadership style?”

Doug notes that evidence suggests gender may play a difference in leadership styles and women’s leadership, traditionally associated with nurturance and caring, may be beneficial to create more consensual, team-based, patient-centric organizations. “I’d like to hear from the CEOs whether that’s been their reality – or is there pressure for them to conform to more traditional -and perhaps, paternalistic- leadership models? Or is it something in-between?”

This certainly promised to be an interesting conversation, and as we explore intersectionality in the program, it will encourage students to look inwards at their own values and path to leadership, as well as outwards, to the CEOs as role models for the positional leadership that many of them are seeking through their masters. These women demonstrate that it is certainly possible to break the glass ceiling in 2019.


To find out more about our programs and dates for upcoming information session, visit the School of Leadership Studies website.

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