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Tuesday Oct 16, 2018

A Workforce Without Women? Good Luck, Chuck

At this point in our history, a U.S. workforce without women is hard to imagine -- or at least it should be. Women account for 47 percent of workers.(www.pewresearch.org) Yet some men in leadership positions seem to be living in an alternate reality when it comes to the importance of working women.

[group of female physicians, nurses and staff]

Here I am (center) with the women who work at our federally qualified health center. Women account for 80 percent of the nation's health care workforce.

During the recent Supreme Court confirmation debates, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, was asked why a Republican woman has never served on that critically important committee. Grassley, an 85-year-old man who was first elected to Congress during the Vietnam War, suggested that the workload might be too much for women.(www.washingtonpost.com)

Meanwhile, former pastor Mark Harris, the GOP candidate for a North Carolina House seat, has questioned whether careers are the "healthiest pursuit" for women,(abcnews.go.com) given that our purpose is to be "helpers" for men.

Let's hope for Harris' sake that he never gets sick. I would argue that no industry, no business and no community could continue to function without women, but our significance is especially striking in health care, where women fill 80 percent of all jobs,(www.advisory.com) including 77 percent of clinic staff, 76 percent of hospital staff, nearly 70 percent of physical therapists and 60 percent of pharmacists.(blog.dol.gov)

Although men dominate the physician ranks in the age groups of Grassley and Harris, who is 52, women represent a majority of physicians under 45.(www.athenahealth.com) Last year, for the first time, the new class of medical students was more than 50 percent women.  

Think, for a moment, what your own practice -- your own community -- might look like if women heeded Harris' advice and stayed home.

My office has one male employee, who is a pharmacist. Our two other pharmacists, and our pharmacy techs, are women. I am the only physician in the clinic, and our medical director also is a woman.

Now let's step outside my clinic and consider the rest of my small, rural community. There are two restaurants that are open for breakfast. They sometimes have 100 percent female staffs, and women workers always are in the majority. One of our two gas stations is primarily staffed by women, and it just happens to be the one that is larger and serves food. Our community and senior center has a female executive director and financial officer. Our Meals on Wheels program has male delivery workers, but a woman orders, plans and cooks those meals. Like most areas of the country, our children are taught primarily by female teachers, and many children ride to school on buses driven by women. Our post offices, grocery store and banks are also staffed primarily by women.

In my community, you wouldn't be able to get your mail, your money, your food or your health care without the women who run the businesses and play other vital roles in providing services.

Despite the obvious value we bring to employers, women continue to face discrimination at work. Although abundant data reveal that women are underpaid for performing the same work as our male counterparts,(www.pewresearch.org) plenty of data also show the increased value of a system where women are present. Patients cared for by female physicians have lower mortality rates and fewer hospital readmissions.(www.medscape.org) And the most important point is that the female physicians do all of this regardless of a patient's gender. We are paid less to do a better job taking care of male patients than male physicians do themselves.

Medicine is not the only arena in which women improve outcomes. Jay Newton-Small describes the effect of what she calls a critical mass of women in settings where there is less independent effect, such as on a corporate board or in a branch of government. In her book Broad Influence: How Women are Changing the Way America Works, she outlines multiple scenarios in which women were integral to creating the positive change needed by a group, such as resolving the government shutdown a few years ago. These examples aren't limited to conflict resolution. She also shows the same truth applies to large corporations that are more successful when high-level leadership positions are transitioned from men to women.

Despite all this data across various forms of employment, women continue to face adversity; we continue to be under a scrupulous veil of doubt due to our gender. It is assumed that we won't work as hard as men, and that we will be distracted by our families. According to Newton-Small, women are typically more prepared for meetings and more invested in our duties than our male counterparts.

I value the men in my personal and professional life. Lifting up and promoting the effect women have in society is not a disservice to the men, and more people need to realize that.

A recent social media campaign encouraged women to black out our profile photos to remind people what our society would be like without women. Examining our daily routines and pondering the absence of women in leadership and workplace roles would be a valid exercise for all of us.

Kimberly Becher, M.D., practices at a rural federally qualified health center in Clay County, W.Va. You can follow her on Twitter @BecherKimberly.(twitter.com)

Posted at 04:30PM Oct 16, 2018 by Kimberly Becher, M.D.

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