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Leveling the Playing Field for Women in the Workplace | 9 Takeaways from Our Recent Webinar with Kaiser Permanente

December 23, 2019 Emma Brooks

When it comes to advancing women leaders, we know that there are more educated and driven women entering the workforce today than ever before, yet most organizations still struggle with retaining and developing their women leaders. The time to change this trend and see the impact of gender parity in leadership is now, and organizations like Kaiser Permanente are ahead of the game and already making major strides to level the playing field for women. 

How can we rise to the challenge of gender parity at our organization? How are leading organizations working to attract, advance and retain high-performing women leaders? 

In our latest webinar, we tackled these questions as Linkage’s Vice President of Consulting, Susie Kelleher, sat down with Ije-Enu Nwosu, Executive Director of Impact Spending at Kaiser Permanente, for a candid conversation on the advancement of women in the workplace. As an organization we’ve partnered with, Kaiser Permanente is rising toward this important challenge, and thanks to their internal commitment and passion surrounding this cause, they are well on their way toward making gender parity their reality.   

Ije began the conversation by sharing the staggering statistic that in the health care industry, “generally 80% of the roles in health care are occupied by women, however, only 20% of the executive positions in health care belong to women.” At Kaiser Permanente, 40% of their executive positions are held by women, and even though they have a much higher level of gender parity than other organizations in the industry, they admit they still have work to do. 

The conversation between Susie and Ije uncovered several valuable takeaways: 

1. Understand the data. 

Understanding the facts behind the data at your organization is a critical first step to begin advancing your women leaders. You need to understand what your promotion rates are, and where they begin to drop off for women, which will help you look at your equity rates by level. As Ije states, “It is really critical to spend time in this space understanding the needs and the wants of the women in your organization, but not just for the sake of doing it, it’s for the sake of driving business value.” Once you understand the data, you can begin to socialize it, and that’s exactly what they did at Kaiser Permanente. “In socializing that data, we were really able to uncover what are those underlying challenges. And understand the solution set we’re driving toward.”   

2. Start the Conversation. 

While this may sound easy, it’s the step that both men and women struggle with. Sharing that data across the board and asking what your company is going to do to create an inclusive culture that supports the advancement of its women leaders can be daunting. Ije reminds us that “when you go into the space of gender equity, it’s uncomfortable, and people don’t know how to respond.” Despite the discomfort we may face, it’s a conversation that must be had, and it can be as easy as asking, “What’s important to you? Let me share what’s important to me.” At Kaiser Permanente, it was all about creating exposure. “We brought in leaders from across our organization to meet with them and that was key, it gave them exposure, it gave understanding, it reinforced the things they were thinking, feeling, experiencing, and it gave them a voice and a platform that perhaps they may not have originally had. So for us, part of this was intentionality and making the ask.” 

3. Organizations need to be willing to be vulnerable. 

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to solving it, and while we know that can be extremely difficult, it is critical to moving closer to parity. All the data is not pretty, but we’re looking at it and we’re addressing it and saying it’s okay to not be perfect because we’re on this journey to get better, and it’s about getting better. This was one of our favorite insights from Ijebecause opening your organization up to the idea that women do not have equal opportunities is difficult to do, but it’s a necessary step before you can begin the journey toward improvement. 

4. Make it easy to do the right thing. 

Once you’re ready to start the conversation, you can make the ask. “You’ve got to make it easy to do the right thing, remove the hurdles, remove the barriers, get your champions in place. The power of the ask is phenomenal. One of the biggest learnings for us was the ask, said Ije. “We went to our leaders and said we need you to come and champion this if you’re a believer.” And they did. 

5. Executive buy-in is key.

Having executive support for creating gender parity is critical to making it a reality. Luckily, at Kaiser Permanente, they had that from the start. “If it was not for these allies leaning in on this journey with us, we would not have been successful, but we created an environment where we have a coalition of willing allies at all levels of the organization. It really started at the top and that’s what has driven this forward, said Ije.   

6. Men need to be allies in this effort. 

Creating male advocates and allies at organizations is another key to success when striving for parity. Oftentimes, men don’t know how to begin this conversation, and rather than saying the wrong thing, they don’t say anything at all. It’s important to realize this, and not make assumptions about who your allies may be. As Ije reminded us, “don’t make the assumption that because it’s a male-dominated organization that the men don’t care.” 

7. Women are not the same, and neither are their goals. 

While the ultimate goal for many organizations is to create gender parity, we need to remember that all women are not the same, and their aspirations can vary greatly. Kaiser Permanente discovered that “yes, there are women who want to skyrocket to the C-suite, and there are others who want to maximize where they are today, and there are others who want to try something new without sacrificing. Our focus was we want to help them reach their full potential wherever and whatever that is.” Not every single woman wants a promotion, it’s important to discover what their long-term goals are, and help them get there. 

8. The effects of advancing women leaders are long-lasting. 

Ije brought up so many wonderful benefits that had come from Kaiser Permanente’s partnership with Linkage, specifically the value behind creating an inclusive culture where everyone felt they could express their ideas and opinions. “When you have inclusive leadership, when you have people at the table who feel like they can bring their whole selves to the table, you get that diversity of opinion, that diversity of thought, you get better business value, you are more successful as an organization, and that’s what we’re feeling, that’s what we’re starting to experience because people are bringing their A game to the table because they feel safe to do that.” The other huge benefit she brought up was retention and recruitment. “These women are staying, you don’t want people staying just for the sake of staying. There are people who are now vocal advocates for Kaiser Permanente, they are living and breathing this organization and know the value that we have, and therefore, are bringing others into the fold. They’re the biggest voice of recruitment going forward, and quite frankly, our Net Promoter Scores have gone up, and we’re changing our culture.” 

9. Parity is an ongoing commitment. 

It’s important to constantly reevaluate your organization as a whole. Continue the conversation, continue to assess your progress, keep asking what you can do to move closer to parity and grow opportunities for the women at your organization. As Ije put it, “This isn’t a one and done.” 


We hope you found these takeaways valuable, and if you’d like to hear the entire conversation between Ije and Susieyou can find it here. When asked if there was any piece of advice she’d like to leave our listeners with, Ije replied, “It only takes one person to make a change, it just takes that one to create a ripple. Be that one.” 


To learn more about the products and solutions we offer to advance women leaders at your organization, visit our website. 

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Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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