I was reading my local Sunday newspaper this weekend while on the beach. Reading the Sunday newspaper use to take at least one hour but now I can do it in twenty minutes or less. Change has wreaked havoc on this particular mode of communication.
This particular Sunday, however, there was an insert recognizing local “Women of Influence” complete with photos and brief biographies of each woman. My old organization’s three female senior managers were among the honorees. I was very happy to see that. Each has immense responsibility and was worthy of that recognition. As I wrote to them, the only change I would have made would be to call them “People of Influence”.
Reading about my former colleagues got me to thinking about the female senior managers who had influence on me or whose skills as managers impressed me and made my job as CEO easier.
I first thought of a woman who was an Assistant Administrator (now we call them Vice Presidents) at the hospital where I had my first administrative position. She was a graceful, experienced manager who was old enough to be my mother. I was a twenty-three year old senior manager (in those days it was possible to be hired into a senior management position right out of grad school) who had more opinions than wisdom. She tempered my opinionated self even though she was technically my peer.
One day, I was carrying on about an assistant administrator at the rival hospital in Berkeley whom I did not like simply because he was at the rival hospital. That made sense to me but not to her. She brought me up short and told me about how community-oriented that person was and what a great person of integrity he was. That person I did not like later became a colleague and even later a valued consultant to me. He remains a friend to this day. Thank-you, Margaret, for educating this ignorant young person.
A few years later, I became the chief operating officer of that hospital and the nursing function was part of my realm. We had just recruited a new chief nursing officer who had a strong academic background and even stronger views about what a professional nurse should be. She challenged me, not in a disrespectful way, to learn about the nursing profession. In a story I have told many times, she early on asked me why are people admitted to hospitals? I fumbled with my answers, finally saying it was a place for doctors to do their work. Wrong answer, she emphatically replied. Patients are admitted to hospitals because they require nursing care. As I thought about it, I realized she was right. One more woman of influence in my professional life. Thank-you, Geraldine.
When I became CEO at the place where I would spend almost thirty-six years, I brought the lessons I had learned in Berkeley. I was blessed over the years at the new organization with strong managers of both genders, most of whom did not hesitate to confront me if they thought I was wrong about something. Given my opinionated ways, there were many such discussions.
That first year as CEO, I had only one senior manager who was female. She was not particularly welcoming as she had hoped one of the other existing seniors managers would be named CEO by the board rather than an outsider. She was tough on the me, making it clear I would not have a reserved parking space. Never having had one it was no loss although I wondered who was the CEO in this relationship. As we developed a relationship which would always be a little rocky, I appreciated the zeal she brought to her job and the loyalty she earned from others. Thank-you, Alison for making sure my head size did not grow.
As the years went by and my organization grew, so did the number of senior managers until one day, I realized that half of my senior managers were female which was at the time unusual. It was not because I was somehow enlightened. It was simply a process of elimination during the recruitment process—the best got the job.
That group of female senior managers were the key to what became an explosive era of growth. In the process, they became role models for other women in the organization. Most had a long tenure; two were with me for thirty years or more and they were all fantastic managers. Thank-you Deborah, Elnora, Kathy, Margy, Bridgit and Pam.
The three female senior managers recognized this week joined the organization in 2014-15. They inherited a culture that they have made better. They walk in the shoes of some great senior managers of both genders but each in her own way is putting her stamp on the organization. Thank-you Aimee, Traci and Nicole.
When I read about the glass ceiling women face in other industries, I have to laugh. How backward is it to think that women are not as capable as men? Healthcare proves that wrong everyday.