View From the Top

  • 2017-01-20
  • Psychology Today

When Marna Borgstrom started out in healthcare administration 40 years ago, there were few women at the top of the field. She was regularly accused of being too soft-spoken, and the criticism wasn't unfair. "If I didn't have something close to brilliant to say, I wouldn't put it out there," she says. "At that time, the medical school department chairs were all men. They looked at me like, 'Pat her on the head—she won't be here when she starts having children.'"

Now the CEO of Yale New Haven Health, a $4.4 billion healthcare system, Borgstrom considers her role managing five hospitals and 25,000 employees as akin to that of an orchestra conductor. She rose in the ranks by learning from those above her, holding fast to her belief in quality healthcare for all, and making some personal sacrifices, such as going back to work mere weeks after giving birth. Still, getting to where she is now was more a byproduct of her purposefulness than the end-all goal. "I was never that audacious—I never said, 'I want to be the CEO.'"

And yet, like more and more of her gender, that's what she became. Women have made impressive strides as leaders over the past generation, starting businesses, helming companies, and being elected to public office at unprecedented rates. Their progress has been helped along by a dramatic increase in awareness of the barriers women face, including a lack of adequate family leave, exclusion from "boys' club" networks that still grease the paths to power, and their own socially conditioned tendency to avoid nominating themselves for prominent roles. Statistics confirm their advancement: In 2016, there were 104 women in the U.S. Congress, a number that's nearly quadrupled since 1992. One in six board members of Fortune 500 companies was female in 2013, almost double what it was 20 years earlier.