Observations from the national gathering of women leaders in health care

September 24, 2018 Deb Canales, EVP, CAO

Recently I attended and spoke at Modern Healthcare’s annual Women Leaders in Healthcare conference in Nashville, TN. I value spending time with my fellow female leaders in health care and at Providence St. Joseph Health (PSJH). It’s so gratifying to network, share career advice, and to be able to just laugh and lift one another up. I was happy to see such good energy being shared in Nashville.

This year’s conference focused on our industry’s response to the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement. I had the opportunity to share how PSJH is responding with a long-term effort we’re calling #NotHere. Far more than a hashtag, #NotHere is our rally cry, our loud and clear commitment to rooting out harassment of any kind. My open letter to my fellow leaders in the health care industry is currently running in print on Modern Healthcare’s website (subscription required). As I shared from the stage at the conclusion of the conference, my hope is that across the entire health care industry, #NotHere will catch on and inspire others to join us in rooting out harassment of all kinds.

I also shared some of the details of my own personal struggle to deal with domestic abuse, an experience that taught me firsthand just how important it is to acknowledge and root out all forms of harassment. I know how hard it is to be in a situation with an extreme power differential. My struggle was at home, and work became a refuge. But if you’re dealing with an abusive or harassing situation at work, especially if you don’t have the financial wherewithal to quit if things get worse, it can be scary. An employer can be a resource to shepherd people to help when they need it. As individual leaders, we may not have the solution to every problem our people face, but we need to recognize when someone is in distress, at work or in their personal life, and guide them to resources via HR, the employee assistance program, the authorities, or whatever it takes.

In Nashville, it felt like there was a recognition that we are in a moment when meaningful action is required of us: moral authority aligned with seizing the moment. I felt blessed to be able to speak to my organization’s culture, which grounds us and sets the principles we follow. I think that played a part in PSJH ranking highly (#8 out of 300) in the Forbes list of the best employers for women. This shows in our PSJH executive team, which is roughly half female.

Another connection we discussed in Nashville is the link between patient safety and creating a safe and supportive workplace for employees. We strive to be a high reliability organization, and provide training so that every employee feels empowered to speak up for patient safety, and to know that they will be heard and supported.  We are embedding these principles to ensure employee safety in our high reliability training and culture. 

We don’t always get it right. We are human. But we are trying.  When we follow our values and are true to the culture our founding sisters established and that 120,000 caregivers are living today, we make it better. I hope all the leaders I had the honor of speaking to in Nashville and all the leaders reading this post are finding ways to seize this moment with courage. It’s our time to make changes that will last.

Recommended for you:

What would the Sisters say about #MeToo?

Standing up for victims of sex trafficking

Health, healing and politics: Why we speak up

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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