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Dartmouth Health CEO Joanne Conroy on developing female leaders: ‘Tell women that they’re ready’


In a conversation at the American Hospital Association Leadership Summit, Conroy encouraged leaders to provide women with opportunities to rise in healthcare organizations.

Seattle - Joanne Conroy is hoping to see more women take leadership positions in hospitals and health systems.

Conroy is the president and CEO of Dartmouth Health, and she’s also the chair-elect of the American Hospital Association’s Board of Trustees. She sat down for an interview with Chief Healthcare Executive® at the AHA Leadership Summit in Seattle.

While most of the discussion focused on the challenges facing rural hospitals, Conroy also talked about the need to get more women into leadership roles in healthcare organizations.

“We need to accelerate the presence of women in leadership roles in in the board rooms of all of our healthcare facilities,” Conroy says.

At the current pace, it’ll take “about 100 years” to get gender parity in hospital leadership positions, she says.

At the AHA conference, a panel of women hospital leaders said that too many women don’t apply for leadership posts, even if they’re very qualified. Conroy concurred with that assessment and wants to see women go for those posts.

But Conroy says women may need more encouragement to apply.

“If a guy has one quality out of 10, he's like, ‘Okay, this job is made for me.’ And if a woman has nine and they require 10, she goes, ‘I'm not ready.’ Of course, you're ready,” she says.

Only 15% of healthcare organizations are led by women, according to an analysis published by Jama Network Open in November 2021. More women are moving into leadership positions, but there is certainly room for more progress.

Some of the women executives who spoke at the conference stressed that hospital leaders have a responsibility to train and encourage promising women in their organizations. They said it’s vital to give women projects and opportunities to test themselves.

And they added that leaders should suggest that women apply for leadership posts, rather than waiting to see if they’ll throw their hat in the ring.

“It's just important for people that are mentors and sponsors and advocates to tell women that they're ready, and you know, if they don't get the job, at least they've had a great experience,” Conroy says.

She recalls applying for some posts earlier in her career and falling short, but even going through the interviewing process can be worthwhile. She says she gained experience from pursuing other positions “that made me better prepared for the next job.”

In fact, Conroy says there is value from applying for a post that may not be a dream job.

“I tell people before they get serious about going to the next job, I say, ‘Go ahead and interview for a job that you maybe don't want.’ And that kind of gets you think in a very different way,” she says.

Conroy offers some advice for women who are wrestling with applying for a leadership position but struggling with doubt.

“Just go for it,” Conroy says. “Do not believe that you need to check every single box before you apply for that next job. Take a chance apply and really appreciate that it all makes you a better leader.”

Read more:

How women can improve their chances of becoming a CEO

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