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The #TimesUp movement is coming to healthcare

50 women in healthcare have come together to launch Time’s Up Healthcare, an initiative to curb sexual harassment and gender inequity in medicine.

The #TimesUp movement is coming to healthcare
[Photo: Luis Melendez/Unsplash]

Hundreds of Hollywood women banded together last January to launch Time’s Up, a sprawling initiative to combat workplace sexual harassment. Over the last year, the group has wielded its star power to gather nearly $25 million in donations for its defense fund, which provides legal aid to lower wage workers who are subject to sexual misconduct; the fund has already dedicated $6 million to 100 legal cases and investigations. Time’s Up has also spawned multiple affiliates that are spreading the organization’s mission to other industries–advertising and tech, for example. Today, Time’s Up is adding another affiliate to its ranks.

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The organization’s latest offshoot is Time’s Up Healthcare, which will focus on sexual misconduct and the entrenched gender dynamics–and inequity–across the industry. More than 50 founding members are leading the charge, including a range of healthcare professionals, from nurses and physician assistants to clinical pharmacists. The group will work to connect women across the industry, provide resources for those impacted by sexual misconduct, and advocate for policies and practices that will help mitigate discrimination.

“We were paying attention to how Time’s Up was supporting women in Hollywood, but specifically how it included women who were marginalized,” says Dara Kass, a steering committee member of Time’s Up Healthcare. “So, when the opportunity came up for Time’s Up to build an affiliate in healthcare, it was really a very natural fit for the work we had already been doing.”

Kass, an emergency medicine doctor, is also the founder and CEO of FemInEM, a blog and conference focused on promoting gender equity in emergency medicine. “Emergency medicine is just one field of medicine,” she continues. “This is a much larger attempt at connecting women across the entire house of healthcare, at every level.”

Healthcare as an industry is said to represent one-sixth of the U.S. economy, and women reportedly account for 80% of healthcare workers and more than 50% of medical school applicants and matriculants. But there’s a significant drop-off when you look at leadership: Only 11% of healthcare CEOs are women, and there isn’t a single woman at the helm of a Fortune 500 healthcare company. None of the healthcare companies in the Fortune 500 have gender parity on their boards or executive teams. And as in other industries, when women do make it to the executive level, they’re more likely to be in human resources, legal, or marketing roles. This lack of representation holds true across healthcare startups, as well, in no small part because women have more trouble securing funding: Just 9% of health tech companies are founded by women.

“Healthcare is not only hierarchical in terms of it having historically been a white, male-dominated profession,” says Monica McLemore, a founding member of Time’s Up Healthcare and an assistant professor at UCSF’s nursing school. “There are even greater disparities when you look at different clinical specialties.” In areas like emergency medicine or cardiology, she notes, the gap widens, and men dominate leadership roles, along with even policy and advocacy work. This holds true even in terms of research and public funding. “Men disproportionately receive research funding and publish scientific papers,” she says. “So, they end up citing each other and determining what science is important to be funded.”

Given the power imbalance and hierarchal structure inherent to the industry, it’s little surprise that 30% of women physicians have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, while 33% of nurses have been subject to physical violence and bullying. And many women in medicine face down sexual misconduct before even setting foot in a hospital: About half of female medical students report being harassed while still in school.

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As Vineet Arora, a University of Chicago professor and founding member of Time’s Up Healthcare, points out, working at a university offers some cover in the way of Title IX and other protections against sexual harassment and misconduct. But that does little to help a nurse or a doctor in a small private practice. “A lot of healthcare is not practiced in academia,” Arora says. “Most healthcare organizations are not affiliated with a university–so what about them?”

That’s why a major objective for Time’s Up Healthcare is reaching and advocating for women in the industry who are most vulnerable. Time’s Up Healthcare has already partnered with a number of organizations, from the American Nurses Association to the Service Employees International Union, that represent a broad swath of healthcare workers, including nursing home workers and home care providers. A handful of medical schools and health systems have joined as signatories, pledging to prevent harassment and gender inequity and protect workers who come forward with allegations.

That also means improving on reporting mechanisms to encourage more women to come forward with instances of  harassment or gender discrimination. (That also extends to patients, who may be even more vulnerable to sexual abuse.) “We want to create infrastructure so that healthcare organizations have accountability around sexual harassment, and that’s not just thought of as your hazing or training,” McLemore says.

Time’s Up has already given many women in healthcare a voice. Of the more than 4,000 cases sent to the Time’s Up legal defense fund, the second highest number of claims came from people in the healthcare industry. Kass hopes that with the launch of Time’s Up Healthcare, those numbers will increase.

The message Kass and other organizers hope to communicate is that Time’s Up Healthcare is approachable and for all women across the industry.

“If we don’t correct the issue for women in every aspect of healthcare, we don’t really correct the issues for women physicians,” she says. “If I go into a room as a woman leader and the director of nursing is a man, I wind up, again, in a room potentially without equity and advocacy. The house of medicine is hierarchical–for certain reasons, and in certain cases, it has got to be that way. But for this issue, it has got to be inclusive and intersectional.”

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About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

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