Closing the Gender Gap From the HLTH Conference


Bill Russell / Carolyn Magill

Carolyn Magill Aetion This Week in Health IT

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We caught up with Carolyn Magill the CEO of Aetion at the #HLTH conference to capture some of her talk on the things smart companies do to close the gender gap.  She shares pragmatic steps companies can take to address this pervasive problem in #healthcare and #healthIT.  I hope you enjoy.

Bill Russell: 00:00 welcome to this week in health it events where we amplify great ideas with interviews from the floor. My name is bill Russell. Recovering healthcare CIO and creator of this week in health it. A set of podcasts and videos dedicated to developing the next generation of health leaders. We want to thank our founding channel sponsors who make this content possible, health lyrics and VMware. If you want to be a part of our mission to develop health leaders, go to the home page this week and click on our sponsorship information this week we’re at the health conference in Las Vegas and one of the things that the conference did extremely well was to highlight the women of the industry. Lisa Suennen a recent guest and the industry leader captured it really well in a recent blog post, and this is what she had to say last year, there was some controversy at the, at the conference because there were 428 speakers and only 18% of them were female.

Bill Russell: 00:54 It caused a definite kerfuffle. That’s an exact quote and people are the female persuasion were justifiably frustrated, however, you have to appreciate it when people make mistakes and then not only learn from them, but double down on correcting them. I’ve been very impressed with health efforts to commit to diversity this year and they have instituted a dedicated track and multiple conference events supporting women in healthcare. They’ve also improved the female speaker ratio at the main conference to about 38%. That is a marked change in behavior and one to be recognized and lauded. And so I think she captured it extremely well. And one of the benefits of that was there was a lot of great women leaders to, uh, to speak with. And there were some great sessions and great talks. And since this is such a pervasive problem within healthcare and health, it as well. Uh, I decided to, uh, uh, sit down with Carolyn Magill, the CEO of Aetion, who shared a phenomenal talk with, uh, insights on the things that smart companies do to close the gender gap. Uh, I’ve learned a ton. I hope you, uh, get as much out of it as I did have a lesson and I hope you enjoy

Bill Russell: 02:06 here we are from the health conference with another one of our interviews. I’m here with Carolyn McGill, the CEO of Aetion and welcome looking forward to the conversation. So, um, we’re going to go into the gender gap, which within health it, which is a lot of our audience. Um, I know within our health system we didn’t have a gender gap problem within the health system or within health it. We had a significant challenge that we were always sort of struggling with. So I’m looking forward to the conversation, but I want to hear a little bit about you. So tell us about you, your career path and how you got to where you’re at.

Carolyn Magill: 02:37 Absolutely. So I’m the CEO of Aetion. We have a tech platform that sifts through large amounts of healthcare data. We call it real world data. So any healthcare data collected outside of a controlled setting, like a clinical trial to figure out how well clinical interventions work for specific patient populations. And we do that with what’s called real world evidence. So the of jargon in the industry is to transform real world data into regulatory grade real world evidence that help us make decisions about whether drugs are safe and how much we should pay for them and how will they work for specific subsets of the population.

Bill Russell: 03:15 Pharma is primarily your client or is it other outside of pharma?

Carolyn Magill: 03:21 So pharmaceutical manufacturers, life sciences clients have licensed the platform to do analytics and they’re doing studies to look at how safe a drug is as an example or whether a secondary indication would be appropriate using data to assess rather than doing a clinical trial payers and at-risk providers and large employers, they benefit from the platform where their specs of figuring out which medications different patient populations should be taking

Bill Russell: 03:49 is the competitor. Sorry, I can’t help I, we’re going to get into the other topic, but is the competitive advantage of the data sets that you have or is it the technology platform?

Carolyn Magill: 03:57 So technology, so we actually are not a data aggregator. Our pharma clients purchase data just as you know, for their analytics. Our payer clients or provider clients, they have their own datasets because it’s their own patients and members that they see. So we analyze those data sets in addition to data from registries as an example, our secret sauce is what we consider to be regulatory grade analytics. So as we create a longitudinal patient view, we are experts in the causal implications of a clinical intervention. So we apply epidemiology and say, yeah, we can be certain that it’s affect you to this medication that led to an improvement in this clinical outcome and not a bunch of other things that were happening to you at a given point in time.

Bill Russell: 04:43 That’s fascinating. Wow. Um, all right. So that’s what the company does is for you to do. So you, uh, gave a talk on the things that companies or even departments in my case, so we had a 700 person it department and I think our metrics were there were awful. I’m not even sure I want to share them. They were, they were that bad. And um, and I’m pretty sure I did a lot of the mistakes that a company would do. So I’m curious, so you shared some of the things that a company, a smart company would do to close the gender gap. What are some of those things?

Carolyn Magill: 05:13 So I think there are a number of things, and I should mention, I’m also on the board of two nonprofits. So I’m on the board of, which is endeavoring to encourage organizations to interview at least one woman for the highest levels of organization of leadership in their companies as well as on the board. And then I’m also on the board of an organization called Nash P the national Academy for state health policy, which consists of state health policy makers. Effectively

Bill Russell: 05:42 that’ll work. So I’ve talked to companies who have said, we’ve taken the parity pledge, that’s, that’s what it’s called. And uh, yeah, those were interesting conversations about, so some of that is, is what they do in the.

Carolyn Magill: 05:54 So there’s, there’s one, um, and the first thing I would say that could companies do to ensure diversity is to make the commitment and make it public. So let your entire organization know that you believe this is important. Why you believe it’s important and have that be something that you talk about.

Bill Russell: 06:11 You mean transparency works. So I say from now on, I’m going to endeavor to have, you know, one, at least as many female interviews as male interviews. That’s really hard to do by the way.

Carolyn Magill: 06:24 Well, or at least say maybe it’s not the same number of interviewees, but uh, but you would say if I’m interviewing for a position, I need at least one woman to be part of the candidate slate. And you know, it’s interesting, we were also talking about what some companies don’t do as an example. Some companies don’t really, some companies don’t, some companies don’t necessarily make that commitment. And it’s important to say that this is, this means something to us and then ensure that everybody throughout your organization appreciates that you’ve made that commitment.

Bill Russell: 06:57 Yeah, it’s interesting. The, so that the, uh, our HR or we didn’t necessarily make it public and so you could almost, you could hide. Um, but even though our HR department said, okay, we have to start, uh, to have tried to balance out the candidate pool, which I think is one of the things that the parity pledge talks about. Uh, gosh, our recruiters have struggled with it, are uh, uh, all the firms, if they just, it’s like they haven’t been pushed in this way before.

Carolyn Magill: 07:26 That’s right. I actually had a recruiting firm for a CFO tell me that they could not find a qualified woman for me to interview or CFO. Yes. I let them go for CFO. It was, it was so ludicrous. And of course we found another, um, another recruiting firm and they surfaced a number of qualified women. So sometimes it’s about not just making that known, but then standing firm. And then I think we also need to, especially as leaders in the organization, we also need to lead by example. So in hiring my leadership team as an example, uh, choosing women and hiring women who set the tone for the kind of executive that we want. And then also for other people that we hire throughout the organization.

Bill Russell: 08:13 And I think that was one of my bigger mistakes, to be honest with you is, is, you know, I, I would look at, you know, a candidate pool, but we still tend to hire in our own image even though we don’t think we have that bias.Oh be like, well, that’s the best kid at it and you almost need. Um, and one of the things I started to do later on in my tenure was I actually had a group of people doing the interview and making the recommendation to me now, I was still the veto power of saying, no, you know, we’re hiring for an executive position and I’m the executive in charge. But it was, but it was good to have that diverse group saying to me, now you’re not seeing this. Right. Because I don’t know my own biases. A lot of times they’re blind spots. So

Carolyn Magill: 08:53 do you know what else we’ve tried to do on our leadership team is to choose people who have different communication styles and working styles so that we have some introverts as an example, we have some extroverts, we have some people who prefer to analyze a bunch of data and then think about it for a couple of days before they come back with their assessment. We have others who, you know, you give them just a small percentage of the information and boom, they’ve made a decision. And I think including them in the interviewing panel as an example is also helpful because now we get those different perspectives in the decision point.

Bill Russell: 09:27 So did we cover one or multiple at this point?

Carolyn Magill: 09:29 So I think we covered multiple. I think that taking the parity pledge is a good place to start. So making your commitment known. I think leading by example is a second. And I think making it clear to your recruiters that this isn’t just a nice to have, but it’s actually critical to your relationship with them. It’s a requirement is also quite important.

Bill Russell: 09:50 Have, we created the, uh, frameworks, the mentoring frameworks to help, um, to help. So I know that as, as a, as a male leader, I had a ton of different mentors frame, uh, just things that helped me to get to the next step. Does that same thing exists for women

Carolyn Magill: 10:11 to varying degrees? I think it depends on the company. And actually that would’ve been the fourth thing that I’d mentioned is that it’s not just about recruiting in the right women as an example. It’s about giving them the support that they need to progress. And as we think about leaders in the organization, we don’t just always want to hire from the outside. We would love to promote people from within as well and have that balance. And so providing mentoring relationships and support. And for us, it’s not just about the fact that you have a mentoring program as an example, but it’s about the substance. So how are you counseling these women as an example to advocate for themselves? Or how are you ensuring that you’re giving them the opportunity to get exposure to a new area of the business or to take on additional accountability for something that those are the ways that they start to get the skills that make them qualified for the next level of promotion. And so if we don’t think about that from the time they’re an analyst or more junior roles in the company, then they might never progress to where they have a significant leadership.

Bill Russell: 11:13 So I’m going to go back. I’m going to go in two directions here. Let me think. So the first one is how can we get in front of this a lot earlier? Um, because one of the conversations that I’ve had with, Jamie Nelson, we were talking about, uh, C CIO for a health system and she was talking, she, we were talking through this article where essentially said that if there’s 10 criteria for CIO job and a guy, a man has three of them, he goes, I could do that job. But if a woman has eight of them, she looks at it and goes, I’m going to work hard and get those last two before she applies. When in reality she’s much more ready for the job. Um, how, I mean, how do, how do you encourage women to say, Hey, you know, what, take the risk.

Carolyn Magill: 12:03 Well, I think there are a couple of things. One I think is to listen to women when they speak right? And I think oftentimes, uh, we don’t, or we think we speak for them. So I’ve had men as an example come to me advocating on behalf of women who they believe deserve a promotion. Another approach would be to empower that woman to advocate on her own behalf. I had a mentor at United health group many, many years ago who was prepping me to have what was a very difficult conversation to me at the tough for me at the time, it was about advocating for a raise for myself. And I was kind of petrified. And what this gentleman said to me was, you’re just having a conversation. And the worst they can say is no. And if they say no, then the best response is, okay, if not now, then when and how, what are the things that I need to do between now and then to help demonstrate that I am worthy of the additional compensation or I’m worthy of this promotion?

Carolyn Magill: 13:02 And that means that you turn the conversation away from a shame based conversation like, Oh, if you don’t give me this raise or you don’t give me this promotion, then I better just take my blocks and go home, or you don’t like me or I have no future here. Right? There can be some, um, some sort of downward ways to interpret and instead saying, Oh, wait a minute, I deserve a seat at this table. And maybe you don’t see it yet, but I believe in my skills and I can demonstrate it. Or you tell me the things that you think are required. And I think what, no, that’s not, that’s not what I want to do, or I don’t agree with him. And now I have better information myself about whether this is the right company for me.

Bill Russell: 13:41 That’s awesome. So how have you implemented some of these things at your company? I mean, you talked about some of them, you’ve modeled it and you probably parity pledge.

Carolyn Magill: 13:50 We have taken the parity pledge, we talk about it, we talk about it at at meetings. We make it known to people who are recruiting, uh, both managers who are hiring as well as outside firms that we use. We also try to support our women. So we have, uh, groups like women at a town is an example who are working to bring some of these conversations to the floor with outside speakers to the extent possible, or even just amongst ourselves. And then in meetings that I’m in, I also try to demonstrate behaviors and call behaviors out that I think might be detrimental to the progression of women. So if I notice a man repeating something that a woman just said or I noticed that someone maybe is looking to say something and hasn’t necessarily been able to break into the conversation, then ask them to speak and encouraging others in the organization to do the same. And so that we start to make it a systemic and systematic approach to supporting women and their advancement. And it becomes very part of our culture.

Bill Russell: 14:53 So what about kids? I mean

Carolyn Magill: 14:55 we, Oh, that’s another great aspect. We actually have a very generous, uh, health and wellness benefit. Um, we have family and medical leave act as an example where we support new parents through parental leave. We give four months and this is for both men and women and we find that that’s a way to both attract and retain. Yeah. You’re hired, you’re a or yeah.

Bill Russell: 15:19 Although I’m not having any more kids

Carolyn Magill: 15:23 because the ones you have are wonderful.

Bill Russell: 15:27 Um, well that’s a phenomenal benefit. I mean, cause you’ve, you’ve taken away the stigma or you’ve taken away the, the cha, I mean, quite frankly, I, I was, I was talking to not on an interview so that this won’t come up with somebody who was with the company long. They finally got their sabbatical, they got, uh, two months and they only took two weeks off because they didn’t want to be away from work. And, and I was like, so I can only imagine that was, you know, it was interesting to talk to that person. That was definitely not a millennial that was a millennial. It’d be like,

Carolyn Magill: 15:59 well, we hope so. We’re, we also have instituted a sabbatical program after a certain number of years with us, uh, as part of Aetion and we want people to take it. We think it’s as good for them. Well, but that’s where we have to model. So that’s where we need senior leaders of the organization as an example, rockstar members of the team to take that time. And then you start to, just like with our paid time off, just like with our vacation to demonstrate that, Oh, this is something that becomes a theme for the organization. And if it’s okay for our CFO to take this time, then it must be okay for me. If the CFO goes on vacation and he’s working the entire time, then he models to his team that that’s what he expects them to do.

Bill Russell: 16:40 And you also, I mean, John wouldn’t want, say the team with the best players usually wins. You want the best players when they hear about these benefits, they go, that’s, that’s a company I want so you can attract the best.

Carolyn Magill: 16:53 Absolutely. And then we also support people in flexible work. So we don’t have a set time that everybody has to show up to the office as an example. We want them to get their work done and be thoughtful about the schedule that makes the most sense for them and their family.

Bill Russell: 17:05 And that works for you. Cause we, we started to implement it. Okay. So traditional healthcare system, a hundred some odd years old and we said okay for it, we’re going to start to let some groups do this. It was really hard. I mean, first of all, it’s a break, a cultural model that had been there. Uh, people struggle to have meetings. Sometimes people weren’t there and they, you know, weren’t used to video and that kind of stuff. Is this because you sort of instituted from the beginning that it’s, it’s culturally easy or was it hard to get something like that?

Carolyn Magill: 17:36 I think because we effectively instituted it from the beginning. And also keep in mind that we have a lot of women in STEM as an example, right? We have a technology team, we have a science team, researchers. We have a really strong across the country as well. We are primarily in New York city, in Boston. We also have an office in LA. And then we have people who work remotely. And because we have people who are so adept in their respective fields, it’s easy for us to tap into their expertise and also maybe to be clear about when and how we need them to contribute. And I think it, you know, it’s a sort of really nice culture of people wanting to support each other. So if I wanted to work from home and I know my team wants to meet well then I need to make sure that I can connect with them.

Carolyn Magill: 18:21 When is it effective for the team? We are also very adept at video and it’s something we use all the time. And, and we do it in a way that, uh, where we have really good a equipment in people’s homes, we have ways to connect that really feels like we’re present with each other. It’s important. Yes, absolutely. Well, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate it. Is there anything else I should ask that I haven’t asked at this point.

Carolyn Magill: 18:46 I don’t think so. It’s a fun conversation and I’m glad you’re asking these kinds of questions because it’s exactly the kind of conversation that we need to be having. I appreciate it. Thank you.

Bill Russell: 18:55 I hope you’ve enjoyed the conversation. If you’d like to recommend a guest or someone to be on the show, you can do that from our homepage, uh, recommended guesses about three quarters of the way down on the homepage. Please check that out. And don’t forget to please come back every Friday for more great interviews with influencers. And don’t forget every Tuesday we take a look at the news, which is impacting health It, the show is a production of this week in health it for more great content. You check out our website this week, or the YouTube channel, which you can get to from our homepage as well. Uh, if you get a chance to take a look at our newly redesigned guest page, I think you’ll find it a fantastic, I love the way you can navigate through the content. Special thanks again to our sponsors, VM-ware and health lyrics for choosing to invest in developing the next generation of health leaders. Thanks for listening. That’s all for now.