This Week Health
February 22, 2021

Women Leaders in Health IT, Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling

Advice from the Women Leading the Next Generation of Health IT

Female leaders in the health IT world often find themselves alone.
This can be true at conferences, during company leadership meetings, and in the boardroom.
In a Forbes article calling for more women in healthtech leadership, Ada Health co-founder and Chief Medical Officer Claire Novorol offers a few statistics that support this unfortunate trend:

  • Just 9% of healthtech startups are founded by women.
  • Only 11% of partners in healthtech companies are women.
  • Although women comprise over 70% of the global healthcare workforce—only 3 in 10 hold C-level positions in healthcare and just 13% of CEOs are women.

Although challenges persist, progress is being made. In fact, some predict that women will be the change leaders as health IT moves into the future.
At This Week in Health IT, we speak with female leaders that are affecting change across our industry. Through the years, we’ve dedicated ourselves to amplifying women’s voices as they continue to be champions of innovation and progress.

What we’ve discovered in the process is that empowering women in health IT is both an inside and an outside job. Women need to take responsibility for their careers, be willing to take risks, and step up to the plate to show what they can do. At the same time, those around them must provide the mentoring, opportunities, and support required to give them room to do it.

Here are seven top female leaders who provided key insights into what’s needed for such dynamics to fall into place.

Sue Schade: Create a C-Change 

Sue Schade This Week in Health IT

Sue Schade

Sue Schade

Sue Schade is a Principal at StarBridge Advisors, LLC. A nationally recognized health IT leader, she recently served as interim Chief Information Officer at Stony Brook Medicine on Long Island and at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio.

She’s also the co-leader of a StarBridge Advisors offering called C-Change—which aims “to equip female leaders in health IT with the perspectives, knowledge, skills and support to be an effective leader – her way.” As described on the site, the name aligns with specific strategies and goals for doing so:

  • Sea-Change – (definition: a profound or notable transformation) in health IT leadership.
  • See-Change – seeing the change in leadership style to one that is “power with” and brings out the best in people.
  • C-suite Change – “we want to see women occupy at least 50% of healthcare CIO positions and all the roles along the way.”

When we caught up with Sue at HIMSS19, she had just finished leading a roundtable on the topic of women breaking the glass ceiling to get to the C-suite. Describing the persistent dearth of women in health IT leadership, Sue said, “I am often the only woman in the room or on the phone” in conversations related to the industry. That’s why she feels the C-Change program is so needed.

Noting that one focus of the program is to help women identify and develop their unique strengths, she said the “soft skills” of leadership that women are often viewed as possessing may be mislabeled: “There’s nothing soft about it… And it’s hard to develop those skills.”

However, she said there are some “natural tendencies” she believes women bring to leadership roles, which the C-Change program aims to develop. “But you know, everybody’s different,” Sue said. “Everybody has a different set of strengths and [we’re] trying to leverage that.”


Jamie Nelson: Increase the Pipeline

Jamie Nelson This Week in Health IT

Jamie Nelson

Jamie Nelson

Jamie Nelson is SVP and CIO at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. Jamie was named as one of the Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT in 2017, 2018 and 2019 by Health Data Management and most recently she was named one of Crain’s New York Top Women in Information Technology in 2019.

Discussing her article “Lessons Learned from Shattering the Glass Ceiling,” Jamie stresses the importance of increasing the pipeline at an early stage with a “large bolus” of young women coming through STEM programs.

In a 2018 interview, Jamie said women also need to be willing to take more risks instead of waiting until they feeling completely equipped to step into a new role:
“When women come to talk to me, I tell them, don’t check off all 10 boxes if you can check off, three or four of your qualifications for that next role. Go ahead and try for it because we really hold ourselves back in this way. …The worst that can happen is you fail and then you figure something else out. That’s how you grow.”

“When women come to talk to me, I tell them, don’t check off all 10 boxes if you can check off, three or four of your qualifications for that next role. Go ahead and try for it because we really hold ourselves back in this way. …The worst that can happen is you fail and then you figure something else out. That’s how you grow.”

She also stressed how important it is for women in health IT to advocate for themselves—which she said starts with self-awareness and includes the willingness to step into the conversation when needed: “If you’re able to communicate in a way that you can be heard, that’s really going to help… Again, it’s [about] getting out of our comfort zone …and really learn to kind of defend ourselves as we communicate. But in a respectful way.”


Robin Roberts and Joy Rios: Lift up Other Female Voices 

Robin Roberts This Week in Health IT

Robin Roberts

Joy Rios This Week in Health IT

Joy Rios






Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts is a Co-Host of both the HIT Like a Girl podcast and the Broken Healthcare podcast, as well as Vice President of Operations at Chirpy Bird Health IT Consulting. Robin is a Health IT professional with a focus on innovation, government, and quality program initiatives.

Joy Rios

Joy Rios is a Co-Podcast Host of the HIT Like a Girl podcast and the Broken Healthcare podcast, as well as a Co-Founder of Chirpy Bird Health IT Consulting. She has been a passionate student of value-based care and has written five books on navigating value-based programs.
Describing the origins of the HIT Like a Girl podcast over two years ago, Joy said she finally got fed up with the persistent lack of women on panels at the Health IT conferences she attended:

“[It] really got under my skin. At one in particular, the topic of the session was on women’s health, and it was still all men up on the panel.”

She said they chose a podcast because it’s a great format to support their mission: “We want to highlight women who are making major contributions to healthcare technology and the intersection of health IT—and then amplify them… We want women to feel supported, uplifted, recognized, appreciated, and rewarded for their professional contributions. And if we happen to fix the U.S. healthcare system while doing it, even better.”

She said part of supporting women in Health IT this way is to encourage them “to get comfortable being uncomfortable,” since some women may hesitate to step into the limelight to share their expertise.

Robin agreed that some may shy away from the stage, but said women are great “tech storytellers,” with a unique ability to “run a thread through that narrative and translate it for an audience. I think they do a really brilliant job of bringing vivid imagery to [describe] what’s going on in the industry, especially for patients and others and how this impacts people and communities and families.”

As far as the discomfort some women may feel about stepping into more visible roles?  Robin shares,

“Say yes, and then figure out the rest. When someone gives you an opportunity, you take it and you go with it,”

Kristin Myers: Address the Problem at its Root  

Kirstin Myers This Week in Health IT

Kirstin Myers

Kristin Myers

Kristin Myers is the Senior Vice President in Information Technology at the Mount Sinai Health System. For the last 15 years, Kristin has led the transformation of the Epic clinical and revenue cycle implementations with impressive success.

Kristin is a great advocate for diversity in Health IT leadership, including having a leadership team that reflects your community’s demographic. This includes women, along with other intentional diversity in hiring. She notes that diversity is needed to enhance problem solving and to ensure that the population being served is adequately represented:

“…we need to have different opinions at the table in order to solve really complex problems. As you know, in healthcare and specifically in [healthcare] IT, we’ve got a lot of complex problems to solve.”

She also covers the importance of:

  • Starting with a talent pipeline that offers diversity.
  • Engaging men in leadership diversity efforts to gain their support.
  • Building an effective mentorship model to support emerging female leaders.


Kristin says that hiring women in leadership positions requires active efforts beyond looking at resumes. Here, she explains where men and women alike can step in to fill the gaps.


Sherri Douville: Prepare for Bullies

Sherri Douville This Week in Health IT

Sherri Douville

Sherri Douville

Sherri Douville is CEO & Board Member at Medigram and is a sought after expert in mobile technology and the medical industries. Sherri currently helps to lead technical trust and safety standards for the industry through IEEE and is also a member of the MIT Technology Review Global Panel.

Sherri shared many pearls of wisdom with us, including the fact that “innovation doesn’t discriminate,” and that in order to be successful in the current startup and healthcare environments, “we kind of have to incentivize people to be ready to be wrong instead of wanting to defend being right.”

When asked to share her advice for female leaders who aspire to the CEO role in Healthtech, Sherri said she recommends that they don’t position themselves “as the genius in the garage or the end all be all.” Instead, she said it’s important that “We position ourselves as people who can build teams, who can enable people, who can develop people.”

Additionally, Sherri emphasized the need for women to “listen to their own voice,” have empathy for the reactions of others to their choices, and remember that negative reactions from others are more about them than the person they’re directing them toward.

“Much of the time, if there’s a negative reaction, it really has nothing at all to do with me. It has more to do with the person, potentially their insecurities,” Sherri said.

She emphasized that negative dynamics like those are being amplified during the pandemic: “One big message I want to get out today, especially with the pandemic is that there’s a huge resurgence of bullying, just everywhere. …So the one thing that really took me by surprise, was really hard, and that made me a better person, was dealing with the bullies that came out. Be prepared for that.”

Her response to handling these negative experiences was to create a resource for others on the topic, “Toxic Jerk Meeting Prep Guide,” which was well received online.

Sherri also described the need for young women to ensure future support by building their own “team” of personal support early on and taking responsibility for their own journeys: “We have a lot of different stakeholders that have either different expectations or different insecurities that they may try to project onto us. It’s really up to us to define our path.”

Judy Kirby: Believe in Yourself

Judy Kirby This Week in Health IT

Judy Kirby

Judy Kirby

Judy Kirby is a Healthcare, Information Technology and Cybersecurity Executive Recruiter and CEO at Kirby Partners Executive Search. She has been CEO of Kirby Partners since 1994 and now has over twenty years of experience in healthcare information technology and cyber security executive search.

When asked what advice she’d give to female leaders in health IT who are aspiring to executive roles, Judy said it’s important to take risks by applying for roles even if they don’t feel fully equipped: “When a position is open, there’s been a study that men will apply for it if they meet about 50% of the criteria. Women wait to apply for it until they reach virtually a hundred percent.”

She said in this light that she’d counsel women to see if there are positions available that “might be a stretch, but you could really sell your ability to go in there and be successful.”

Overall, she believes women are doing a better job of taking responsibility for their careers by doing things like going to CHIME bootcamp and getting master’s degrees and “really deciding where they want to go, how to get there, and doing it.” Underscoring the need for confidence building, Judy said it’s important for women to look around and say, “Yeah, I can do that too.”

Noting that a fear of rejection sometimes holds women back, she said “you have to be rejected along the way to get to where you want to be. So just keep plugging away and keep going for those positions. I think we’re seeing more female CIOs, we’re seeing more female CEOs. So, I’m really happy we’re making progress. We still have a lot of progress to make, but we’re getting there.”

Listen as Judy offers more great advice about finding the next role.



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