Health & Family

Charlotte hospital systems make strides in promoting women to executive ranks

As executive vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer for Novant Health, Tanya Blackmon is one of three women on the system’s executive team. She has been with Novant since 1992 and has served as president of Huntersville Medical Center and chief operating officer of Charlotte Orthopedic Hospital.
As executive vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer for Novant Health, Tanya Blackmon is one of three women on the system’s executive team. She has been with Novant since 1992 and has served as president of Huntersville Medical Center and chief operating officer of Charlotte Orthopedic Hospital. dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

Look around any hospital, at all the nurses and nursing assistants, and it’s not hard to believe that about 80 percent of the workforce is female.

But when it comes to top executives, most are men.

In Charlotte, Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health are working to change that.

Both systems have formed leadership teams focused on promoting and hiring women to the “C-Suite,” business slang for the group of senior executives whose titles tend to start with the letter C, as in chief operating officer.

In 10 months as CEO of Carolinas HealthCare, Gene Woods has hired or promoted 14 women for leadership positions in the system’s Charlotte-area facilities. Debra Plousha Moore, recently promoted from chief human resources officer to Woods’ chief of staff, is one of two women on the system’s eight-member executive team. Overall, 38 percent of system executives, from vice president up, are women.

At Novant Health, 48 percent of the system’s executives are now women. CEO Carl Armato recently expanded his executive team to 10 members and increased the number of women from one to three with the promotion of Denise Mihal, Tanya Blackmon and Janet Smith-Hill, who have been with Novant for many years in various positions.

“It makes a lot more sense to have those voices in the room,” said Armato, who has been top executive of the Winston-Salem-based system since 2012. Because many of the female executives have backgrounds in nursing and social work, he said, “it really keeps everyone focused on keeping the patient at the center of the conversation.”

During his first months at Carolinas HealthCare, Woods spent time walking the halls and talking with employees. “I didn’t set out with a minimum or maximum number of women to hire or promote… but along the way I discovered the significant wealth of talent we have throughout the organization, including among women leadership.”

Making women comfortable

Hospitals aren’t unique in having few women at the top, said Jill Flynn, managing partner of Flynn Heath Holt Leadership, a Charlotte-based workplace consulting firm. Women typically hold 15 percent or fewer executive jobs in large companies, she said.

Ideally, Flynn said, women should make up at least 30 percent of executive teams and boards because research shows that, the more women at those levels, the better a company’s profitability and ability to innovate. She recalled a joke that made the rounds after Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008: “If Lehman Brothers had been ‘Lehman Brothers and Sisters,’ they would still be around.”

Sometimes, she said, the barriers for women are based on “systemic issues,” such as the belief that “this is just the way things have always been done” or that “people are more comfortable with people like themselves.”

But sometimes the problem is “the women themselves” because of the way they’ve been brought up, Flynn said. “In this culture, women are conditioned to wait to be asked.…We have trouble articulating what we want and why we should be considered.”

Flynn said male executives have told her that women often show reluctance when asked to consider a promotion, questioning whether they’re prepared. But “they’ve got men asking for a promotion that they’re not even ready for.”

“We work with high-potential, high-talent women so that they feel comfortable and confident about taking on these roles,” Flynn said. “.…Almost all of our work is helping women get rid of a lot of the negative messages and build their confidence.”

Flynn, who has been hired by both Charlotte health care systems to guide their women’s leadership programs, praised the organizations for demonstrating commitment to women executives. “They’re not only talking the talk,” she said, “they’re walking the walk.”

‘Deliberate intervention’

Even before Woods’ arrival at Carolinas HealthCare, Plousha Moore had received the blessing of former CEO Michael Tarwater to create a leadership development program targeted at “high-performing women.”

Sixteen women – all assistant vice presidents or above – began meeting in October to network and learn more about the path to becoming executives. They hold diverse roles across the system – from patient care to administration.

“It was a deliberate intervention,” Plousha Moore said. “We’re advancing the ball, and we’re looking for diversity. We wanted to prepare women for C-suite roles and promotion in the future.”

Plousha Moore, who came to Carolinas HealthCare as the chief of human resources in 2008, said women often advance in companies only to find that “certain ranks within an organization can become choke points or barriers.” The goal of the women’s leadership program is to identify those barriers and “prepare women to work through them,” she said.

Flynn, the consultant, said a key aspect involves matching women with “sponsors.”

“The saying goes that women are over-mentored and under-sponsored,” Flynn said. “The difference is that a sponsor is a person who has clout and influence in the organization and will use that influence to help move people along.”

Several of the group’s participants have received promotions already. For example, Dr. Alisahah✔ Cole, a family physician who was director of the family medicine residency program at Carolinas Medical Center, recently became the first medical director for community health for the system, with authority over programs at 13 hospitals.

After meeting with Cole last year Woods said he concluded she should be groomed for a higher-profile spot in the system. He spoke to Dr. Roger Ray, the system’s chief physician executive, about making that happen.

Without a deliberate effort, Plousha Moore said, “women could very well be overlooked for the most senior roles. We’re making progress…but there’s still work to be done.”

‘Being courageous’

Novant Health is launching a program next month called LIFT – Leveraging Internal Female Talent – to help women reach top leadership.

Tanya Blackmon, who recently joined the C-team as executive vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer, said the program grew out of discussions with Armato about finding ways to promote more women.

Twenty-four women from across disciplines will participate in the yearlong program that will include coaching on subjects such as “building confidence,” “being courageous,” and “succeeding as a woman in the workplace.” Like their counterparts at Carolinas HealthCare, the participants will be paired with other Novant executives who will be their sponsors.

Blackmon, a social worker who rose to become president of Huntersville Medical Center and chief operating officer of Charlotte Orthopedic Hospital, said Armato was among her mentors. But she added that “I had to be assertive in my own learning.”

Having a more focused, formal LIFT program “will help people in an accelerated way,” she said. “Carl said he wanted to take it to the next level.”

Denise Mihal, who joined Novant Health in 2000 as director of nursing for Presbyterian Hospital, said she was able to move up the ladder without ever applying for another job because Armato kept offering her new assignments.

“If you had told me 25 years ago, as a nurse coming from New Jersey, that I would be the president of a major hospital in North Carolina… I would not have imagined that to be possible,” she said. “But I don’t say no to Carl. He knows just how hard to push you and when to help you.”

She had barely finished opening the new Huntersville hospital in 2004, she said, when Armato asked if she’d like to move to Brunswick County to oversee purchase of the local hospital and construction of a new one. She accepted and took two other women along as chief nursing officer and chief financial officer.

Some Brunswick county officials questioned their ability, Mihal recalled. “They said there’s not enough testosterone in the executive office to make this happen.” But five years later, when the new hospital opened, she said, “We fulfilled our promise.”

Last year, Armato promoted Mihal to the C-team as executive vice president and chief nursing and clinical operations officer. While she attributes some of her success to “being in the right place at the right time,” she’s pleased that Novant now has a more formal process to help women succeed.

“It’s more intentional,” she said. “There will be a more concrete pathway.”

Karen Garloch: 704-358-5078, @kgarloch

Novant Health

Novant Health has 130 executives at the level of vice president and above, with 63 females and 67 males. The 10-member executive team has three women. The Winston-Salem-based system owns 14 hospitals, including four in Mecklenburg County.

Recent promotions:

▪ Denise Mihal, to executive vice president and chief nursing and clinical operations officer

▪ Tanya Blackmon, to executive vice president and chief diversity and inclusion officer

▪ Janet Smith-Hill, to executive vice president and chief human resources officer

▪ Kim Henderson, to chief of staff to CEO (in addition to president of Novant Health Foundation)

▪ Karen Daugherty, to vice president of the tax office

▪ Sheila Parker, to vice president of information technology services and strategic growth

▪ Janet Bright, to vice president and chief nursing officer, Forsyth Medical Center, Winston-Salem

▪ Nancy Pearson, to director of nursing and chief nursing officer, Thomasville Medical Center

▪ Paula Vincent, to president and chief operating officer, Presbyterian Medical Center, Charlotte

▪ Kelli Sadler, to chief nursing officer of Presbyterian Medical Center

▪ Kirsten Royster, to president of Medical Park Hospital, Winston-Salem

Recent hire from outside the system:

▪ Katherine (Kathy) Friend, vice president of development

Carolinas HealthCare System

Carolinas HealthCare System’s primary enterprise (including 14 hospitals in the Charlotte region) has 204 executives at vice president or above, with 79 females and 125 males. The eight-member executive team has two women.

Recent promotions:

▪ Debra Plousha Moore, to executive vice president and chief of staff to CEO.

▪ Amy Murphy, to vice president, corporate communications, marketing and outreach

▪ Jami Herzberg, to vice president, workforce relations

▪ Rebecca Chassie, to vice president, operational performance improvement/revenue cycle

▪ Lindsay Durgin, to vice president and strategy executive

▪ Lisa McCanna, to vice president and facility executive, Behavioral Health Davidson

▪ Elizabeth Popwell, to vice president and strategy executive

▪ Janene Sutphin, to vice president, managed health resources

▪ Dr. Alisahah Cole, to vice president and system medical director for community health

▪ Kathleen Kaney, to senior vice president, operational chief of staff

Recent hires from outside the system:

▪ Lorraine Lutton, president & CEO of Roper St. Francis Hospital in Charleston

▪ Kinneil Coltman, vice president for diversity and inclusion.

▪ Ruth Krystopolski, senior vice president for population health

▪ Rebecca Schmale, vice president, learning and organization development

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