XX in Health: Let’s bring in women mentors from all fields

As part of Rock Health’s Women in Health Week, we’re talking to one of our own leaders, TEDMED Chief Marketing Officer Shirley Bergin, about how to get more women to the top in health and medicine.

Q Do you think that there has been more of a buzz recently about women leaders in healthcare? It seems that we have a unique opportunity here.

SB Absolutely. Healthcare is a dynamic industry to be in right now, period.  It’s an area that is personally interesting to many women, and once you start working in an area that you’re passionate about, one that includes making real contributions to the world today and in the future, that translates to success. I sense that women are starting to see a field in which they can come together and leverage their personal experience and perspectives to make a difference.

Shirley Bergin at TEDMED 2012

On the flip side: To date, women comprise 73% of medical and health service managersbut only 4% of CEO’s.  What’s up with that?  What do you see as major hurdles?

SB  I spent some time with Halle Tecco and her team at Rock Health this week and was surprised to hear that in their recent survey the number one obstacle according to women interviewed was a lack of self-confidence. This, we can overcome. There’s no reason to settle for any kind of pre-defined limitations. Knowing that kind of effect is happening is the first step toward changing it.

We also need to connect talent across fields. Mentorship is critical to seeing more women CEO’s and senior leadership in healthcare, and until that strength is widespread within this industry, we’ll need to tap top leaders from others. At TEDMED we strongly believe in a horizontal approach to better understanding the challenges we face in health and medicine today. We believe that connecting people from diverse fields who would not normally meet leads to great things. Using this same approach toward mentoring young women is a must. Women leaders across all industries should support up-and -comers in health, medicine, life sciences and the like. The results will be amazing.

Q What are some of the unique attributes women bring to healthcare?

SB Women are able to apply their personal journey and experiences to the way we view and address challenges in healthcare. I don’t mean that we’re soft or overly emotional; it’s just that we wear many hats, and not only as business leaders. We’re mothers; we’re daughters, we’re patients; we’re caregivers. Women make 80% of the healthcare decisions in their families and are the majority of caregivers. We’re deeply engaged in health.

Women are sensitive to working together to achieve shared goals, they are team players, strong collaborators, multi-taskers and good listeners. And sure, we tap into our innate nurturing abilities. When it comes to an industry that’s all about healing, that can only be a good thing. We’re just as energetic when it comes to nurturing new ideas and businesses.

Left to right: Halle Tecco and Leslie Ziegler of Rock Health, Shirley Bergin, and Clare Wylie of Rock Health

Q TEDMED had more women speakers than ever before in 2012 and half of the Great Challenge Advocates were women. Is this a conscious effort to promote diversity?

SB  We are making an effort to include more diverse perspectives in our program and our community, and women are part of that. With challenges as complex as we’re facing in healthcare today, there are no easy answers and straightforward solutions. We need every point of view we can get. Having Rebecca Onie talk about ground-up solutions like getting volunteers to help patients with basic needs – that’s the kind of upheaval in thinking that we need.

Q  Which female TEDMED speakers have particularly inspired you?

SB TEDMED has been fortunate to have a number of amazing women grace the TEDMED stage. I’ll never forget Billie Jean King calling women “she-ros.”  Diana Nyad making the most of every second of her life.  Frances Arnold talking about designing new DNA to do miraculous things. Reisa Sperling trying to head off Alzheimer’s before it starts. Freda Lewis-Hall saying, “I don’t want any more ideas. I want some i-doers,” and Sheila Nirenberg’s amazing work on neural coding and treating blindness.  Powerful women doing incredible work!

Q You’re a healthcare exec; you’re a wife, mother and daughter.  How do you manage to accomplish it all?

SB That’s a loaded question! At the end of the day my family is happy and healthy, and I’m doing work that I’m passionate about and that makes a real difference.  I’m collaborating with smart, talented, inspiring people.  Life is good.

–Interviewed by Stacy Lu

For more about women in health, join the conversation at Rock Health for reports and features all this week – and be inspired by the video below: