The Health Tech 2011 Conference, held earlier this month in Boston, featured presentations from startup CEOs in the health and wellness space. The conference had nothing to do with gender issues or leadership per se. Yet the Twitter feed from the conference (#ciht11) contained this:
taracousphd and @ml_barnett reminded us of a painful fact. There aren’t many female CEOs in Health IT. Why is this?
Women certainly aren’t short on content knowledge in health care. In fact, they dominate men in this area. More than 40% of all practicing physicians and 50% of all medical school graduates are women. Women earn nearly 3 times more PhDs in psychology (useful content knowledge for startups in the space covered by Health Tech 2011). Nearly 94% of nurses and 74% of physical therapists are women, and they rule the workforce in public health, social services and pharmacy as well.
The problem–and it’s a big one–has to do with the ‘IT’ part of ‘Health IT.’ In 2008, only 6% of Fortune 500 technology companies had female CEOs and 13% had women corporate officers of any kind, according to the National Center for Women and Information Technology. Among tech startups that raised venture capital in 2009, only 4.3% were led by female chief executives. A recent Business Week list of the ‘best young entrepreneurs in tech’ included 45 people, only 3 of which were women.
Among the many explanations for the gender disparity among chief executives in IT, the 4 that make the most sense to me are these:
Women aren’t in tech, period–Although women hold 51% of all professional jobs in the US, they comprise only 26% of the IT workforce. The number of women in IT actually dropped by 76,000 between 2000 and 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Then again, if the gender disparity in Health IT leadership was a simple workforce issue, we’d expect from the data presented above that about 26% of tech CEOs would be women. Clearly there is more to the story.
Women are undertrained in tech-In 2006, only 15% of the people who took the computer-science AP exam were women. That’s lower than any other AP test. Similarly, only 18% of college graduates with computer science degrees are women, and the percentage of female PhD computer scientists is lower still. The latter statistic is particularly galling since these individuals frequently become entrepreneurs and have grant-writing skills and professional networks that can help them succeed. (more…)