Priorities for Women in Acute Care in 2023

As we have all seen, the healthcare industry and the people working in it have undergone unprecedented stresses over the last few years. For the women working in the industry and dedicating their time to caring professions, these challenges are a gendered issue as well. To continue attracting and retaining top talent, even as many individuals choose to exit the industry, it’s important to understand some of the top priorities for women in the workplace and how to address them.

Women Are Seeking Career Advancement

A report from Gartner reveals that 47% of HR leaders are prioritizing employee experience in 2023, with a particular focus on career development. In today’s challenging healthcare labor market, it’s critical for organizations to have clear career paths and a commitment to long-term development.

Women still tend to face a more challenging journey to leadership. A study from McKinsey and LeanIn revealed the challenges currently facing women who wish to pursue a leadership track:

  • 41% of women of color say they want to be top executives, compared with 27% of White women.
  • Women lose out at the “first rung” on the leadership ladder, or first-step management roles. For every 100 men who are promoted to manager positions, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted, creating a pipeline problem at higher levels.
  • Women in leadership are leaving their companies at a rate of 10.5%, the highest level in years.
  • Women are more likely to have colleagues imply they are unqualified for their roles and/or be mistaken for someone junior.
  • These factors are exacerbated for women of color, LGBTQ+ women, and women with disabilities, all of whom report increased instances of microaggressions, demeaning behavior towards them, and a lack of support for their advancement.

Women in the acute care field face many of these challenges, along with long-embedded perceptions about gender in the caring professions. As a result, women in today’s acute care niche will prioritize working for organizations that demonstrate a clear commitment to reducing barriers and providing career development from early on.

Women Are Seeking Flexibility and Coverage

It is difficult to overstate the intense stress and pressure faced by healthcare workers over the last few years. Individuals have been leaving the field at high rates, which in turn often leads to coverage crises, more stress on current staff, and more burnt-out workers leaving in a vicious cycle. When combined with the caregiving stresses women typically face outside the workplace, it’s a recipe for frustration – but it doesn’t have to be.

Remote and hybrid work have been booming over the last few years, but for acute care professions, that’s not necessarily an option. The good news is that remote work itself is not the top priority for many women, but rather flexibility. Women with more flexibility and control over their work arrangements are 20 points more likely to be happy with their jobs (81% versus 61% of those without flexibility) and feel like they have equal opportunities (67% versus 47%).

For office-based jobs, this could mean setting one’s own hybrid schedule. For those working on the floor in acute care, flexibility means having adequate coverage so that individuals can take time off to deal with their own health, with personal commitments, or just to avoid burnout from too much pressure and overtime. Building a team-based culture, where employees are encouraged to take care of themselves and others (and where leadership actively supports those choices) can introduce some degree of choice and flexibility, even in roles where in-person work is required.

Women Are Seeking Balance and Well-Being

Acute care is about taking the necessary steps to ensure immediate and long-term well-being, but that doesn’t always extend to employees, and staffing numbers are making that clear. In December 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported approximately 575,000 healthcare workers quitting their jobs, or about 2.7% of the workforce. A general sense of exhaustion, overwork, staffing shortages, inadequate compensation, and potentially-hostile public interactions have all combined to lead even the most passionate workers to exit the field temporarily or permanently.

Meanwhile, 17% of women leaders who have changed jobs in the past two years said that their organization’s commitment to well-being was a key reason to switch.[5] Put these trends together, and a picture emerges of a profession on the brink and of how it intersects with the extra burdens that women already shoulder. There is a sense of burnout, with employees asked to take on extra responsibilities to compensate for short staffing, and pay, recognition, and career advancement are inadequate to reflect these responsibilities. Frontline workers bear the heaviest load, and it’s critical to build a culture that offers assistance and support.

Women who enter the healthcare field often do so out of a deep-seated desire to help people in need. They’ll go above and beyond in times of need, but they also require that same care given back to them. In today’s healthcare world, with so many open roles, employees who don’t get what they need in one organization can easily find a position elsewhere. To ensure continued success and excellent care, organizations must understand and address these concerns with solid, ongoing plans that allow women to do their best work while feeling confident that their personal and professional well-being is being prioritized too.


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