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HIMSS16: Building Leadership in Health IT, One Woman at a Time (Part 1)

HIMSS16: Building Leadership in Health IT, One Woman at a Time (Part 1)

This post is the first of two parts; read the conclusion here. Above: #HealthITChicks Tweetup at HIMSS16, photo courtesy of HIStalk Digital Diva Jenn Dennard.

Recently, I was catching up on unread Tennis magazine back issues, and found an article (Sept/Oct 2014) about Maria Sharapova titled “For the Love of the Game.” This, of course, was long before she revealed she took the banned drug meldonium. One particular section caught my eye:

There may be something sexist about praising a woman athlete for continuing to compete despite having all the money and fame she could want. We don’t applaud Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, let alone LeBron James, for doing exactly the same thing. Perhaps, even after all these years, people still have a hard time believing that a woman can love the competition, the work, the grind, as much as, or even more than, any man.

At HIMSS16, I attended both a #HealthITchicks Tweetup and an educational session titled “Shattering the Glass Ceiling: Lessons Learned for Aspiring Female Executives.” Both events focused on what Sharapova was talking about: The challenges for women in the male-dominated field.

The elephant in both rooms was unequal pay. Both groups cited the 27th annual HIMSS Leadership Survey, which revealed that women respondents earned $101,000 annually on average, compared to $126,000 for men. Women HIT executives earn 63 percent less than men in their first year in the position, and take 15 years to catch up to the same pay level as their male counterparts. (For more detail on this, HIMSS broke out stats on gender compensation differences into a report of its own.)

At the Tweetup, moderated by Dennard, three accomplished health IT executives offered insights on a panel-style presentation with significant audience participation. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT’s (ONC) Chief Nursing Officer Rebecca Freeman, RN; Dana Sellers, CEO, Encore Health Resources; and Sue Schade, interim CIO at University Hospitals Health System in Cleveland left attendees with an important takeaway: It’s important to encourage young women to go into technology and management, and – as leaders – we can be part of the solution. If we pigeonhole ourselves, we will never affect real change. To close that wage gap, women must be armed with good data about the role under negotiation, and the appetite of that role, in the industry.

Everyone agreed that technology enables us to take better care of our families, but the panel and many audience members eagerly nodded their heads at the notion of the challenges women in the “sandwich generation” face. There was also agreement on the point that women must find role models whom they can trust and will not be judgmental, and whom they can watch and learn from. They should also find someone else to be a “sponsor” – someone who will help actively promote their career.

On the point of being a good leader, to do so, one must understand and appreciate different perspectives. I might note that it was refreshing to see this at the Tweetup. One attendee stood up to ask boldly, “What can men do to help change the conversation?” The audience applauded wildly, and the unanimous answer was, “Show up, support and do not tolerate the status quo!” This statement emphasized that we all need to support one another and treat people equally – within and across genders.

During the show, I had the good fortune of sitting down with Cindy Dullea, former U.S. Navy Rear Admiral and current Experian Health chief marketing officer. That is a combination of careers I don’t see every day.

In addition to talking healthcare, Dullea shared stories about her days as a nurse in the Navy. I asked Dullea what was the best advice she ever received about working in the military, healthcare and/or tech sector. She said, “It is important to lead from the front, take care of your people and be transparent. She punctuated that statement with, “It’s not about you.” Dullea said that women should leave emotion out of the equation when working their way up the ladder in an organization, and “always approach issues with logic.”

In part 2, we’ll reveal further insights from the “Shattering the Glass Ceiling” session and comments from the field.

It’s never too early to prepare for HIMSS or any trade show. If you would like to talk with us about conference planning and PR activities, feel free to contact Davida Dinerman or Doug Russell at 781-684-0770 or,

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Davida Dinerman

Davida Dinerman

Account Director at MSLGROUP

A member of MSLGROUP since 1996, Davida has been entrenched in the agency’s healthcare IT and tech practice groups. She earned her MBA from Babson College and her BA degree from Dartmouth College.

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