By Patsy McNeil, MD, Women’s Initiative Chair, USACS Diversity and Inclusion Council

When US Acute Care Solutions was created almost 3 years ago, a clear focus for company success was the women who work here. Prioritizing the participation of women at every level was a foundational goal.

As we looked at the market place, however, one thing was clear. Female EM physicians were being underutilized in our industry. 40% of graduating EM residency classes are women, but when examining acute care medicine, the gender disparities are striking. In comparison to men, women are poorly represented on the boards of the large acute care companies, are Directors of EDs at markedly lower rates than men and are academic chairs at EM educational institutions in numbers that are vanishing. The gender disparity in leadership is simply abysmal. This needs to change.

It’s well known that USACS has the most robust parental leave policy amongst the top acute care staffing companies. This was a key first step, but women are so much more than their ability to have children. As the head of the team that wrote the parental leave policy, I knew that a fantastic parental leave policy was key but that it also wouldn’t be enough. We needed more.

An even playing field was also key. We could not assume that everyone would be on board with gender equity, cultural and ethnic diversity and inclusion. Making that assumption would be a mistake. We guide managers with formal education in gender bias and diversity issues. Further, in recognizing that a lack of mentorship and sponsorship for women can be a detractor to moving up the leadership ladder, we are working on programs to support them in that regard. I am proud of the work we have done and continue to do to make our group a destination of choice for women in emergency medicine.

It’s still not enough. We want to build a company culture that supports women in joining leadership. Simple goal. Not so simple to do in practice.

Creating a Place for Conversation

At USACS, we think that it is extremely important to secure a place to have a conversation about the issues that are important to women. To that end, we have started three “Dialogues”

  • The USACS Women’s Dialogue Series at ACEP, now in its third year
  • The USACS Regional Women’s Dialogue, launched last year
  • A brand new internal “USACS Women’s Dialog Series Podcast” focusing on women’s issues

These dialogues are designed to generate places for women to have a conversation about owning the ability to be whatever they want to be within emergency medicine.

Our National discussion forum at ACEP, the “USACS Women’s Dialog Series,” invites anyone in our industry to meet, socialize and hear from nationally known women who have been bold trailblazers in their fields. Though the industries may be different for each chosen speaker, many approaches to having a bold career are universal.

The USACS Regional Women’s Dialog Series is our second avenue to have these important conversations. The Regional gatherings pull local company women in different areas of the country together to discuss, learn, promote and celebrate. It generates fellowship and solidifies culture on a multitude of levels.

Lastly, our podcast continues to do some of that same work creating a place to talk about interesting topics. We focus on the accomplishments of women within the company as well as on individuals doing interesting work on the behalf of women often around the world. The podcast is a place for ideas meant to enhance, promote, teach and encourage.

The Barriers

What exactly are the barriers to women going into leadership? What have we gleaned so far from our “Dialogues”? We know that many women work full-time or grow into leadership positions no matter what their life circumstances. We also know that some women choose to work part-time to focus on their families. At USACS, we want there to be room for any choice a woman wants to make with her career. We also want those choices to be celebrated and any progress into leadership to be barrier free.

There are two large hurdles that are known. Surprisingly, the first is really convincing women that leadership is a plausible path. Anyone who can successfully run a household and maintain the successful relationships with the ‘village’ required to do this well can certainly run both an ED and far more. We need these kinds of skillsets in leadership and studies agree. Studies by Gallup, Harvard Business review and others confirm over and over that women make better leaders than men. Not equivalent. Better.

The other challenge is communication. Our group is nationwide, and as emergency physicians we work shifts around the clock. With the amount of work to be done, often it’s hard to pull our heads up and see what else is available. Our tendency is to shoulder forward, working against the wind. As a business management strategy, it is the responsibility of those of us in company leadership to steer the hard work of the well skilled to focus on additional goals that may be an even better fit. Often that better fit is to progress into leadership. It’s a new day. There is work in the realm of leadership and management that is purposeful in ways they may not have considered, and it’s there for the taking. We are actively looking for those who want to walk through the door of opportunity.

The Leadership Revolution

If the rest of this article hasn’t made it clear, the executive leadership at USACS is actively encouraging women to step forward into leadership positions. We know the studies about how it improves company performance and there have been strategic moves made to transparently open positions to ensure that everyone in our company can easily apply.

Our work isn’t done and we invite you to join us. We have no intention of slowing or stopping. We just need individuals to be bold and step through the doors of leadership within our company and continue to participate in the revolution. We currently live at a time in our culture where there is momentum for change and we plan on taking full advantage of this. Join us.