The Evolution of Women in Health IT

by Sarah Sample-Reif on August 30, 2017

The transformation in Health IT has been astounding, since the turn of the 21st century. The vast majority of hospitals and physicians now use electronic health records, while innovations including 3D printed models and 4D imaging give doctors better insight into their patients’ health. Additionally, telemedicine makes healthcare more accessible to consumers, especially in rural areas, while making practitioners more efficient.

There is one place where the evolution of Health IT has lagged: the presence of women.


Increased Recognition

As in other computer science fields, Health IT is mostly dominated by men, but there is increasing recognition of the contributions of women.

Healthcare IT News has a featured Women in Health IT blog and a Women in Health IT resource center, while Modern Healthcare honors women leaders in the top 25 Women in Healthcare on a biennial basis. This year, Health Data Management held a conference on women in healthcare, naming the Most Powerful Women in Healthcare IT.

Most often, the women who are recognized are at the CEO level rather than the CIO or IT level. One notable exception is the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Most Influential Women in Health IT awards. The second round will be announced at its conference in 2018, which includes a full track on enabling the advancement of Women in Health IT.

Adrienne Edens, vice president of education at the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and a judge of the inaugural awards of 2017, emphasized the choice of the word “influential” in these awards, as opposed to “powerful.” She said, “It’s so important for women to understand how influential we are, and how much change we can provoke from wherever we are.”

Compensation Gap

Unfortunately, while the presence of women in Health IT is growing, the pay gap remains. HIMSS’ Gender-Based IT Pay Inequity & the Impact of the Clinical IT Executive in the Health Sector of 2016 found men in health IT earn an average salary of $126,000, while women’s average compensation was around $101,000. In the first year of employment, women in nonexecutive and non-senior management roles earn 80 percent of what their male counterparts do, while women executives and senior managers earn 63 percent of their male peers’ salaries.

Source: Gender-Based IT Pay Inequity & the Impact of the Clinical IT Executive in the Health Sector | ©2016 HIMSS

The survey also found a gap in higher-level jobs, with 3.6 percent of female respondents in executive management roles, compared to 11.8 percent of males who responded to the survey.

We can expect to see more women in Health IT as more girls move into computer science. Outreach seems to be working, according to The number of female students taking advanced-placement computer science exams this year increased 135 percent over 2016. (However, they still account for only 27 percent of all students taking the exam.)

These questions remain: Will these girls find the same opportunities for career growth that boys can expect? Will they be paid fairly?

What We Need To Do Next

As women in Health IT, there are several things we need to keep doing:

Advocate for equal pay and gender-blind hiring practices, as well as better regulation. A good example is the State of Massachusetts, which recently passed a law that forbids companies to ask job applicants about their current salaries, because this can lock women into lower-paid status as they move from job to job.

Mentor other women at all levels of their careers. Take part in formal mentoring programs and also look for opportunities to provide mentoring in your own workplace and in associations where you have membership.

Set the example. Role models are crucial for young women, who need to see women who are thriving in our profession and who, moreover, contribute to the continuing evolution of Health IT.

Let’s be mindful of supporting each other and encouraging the next generation, so that the evolution of women in Health IT keeps pace with technological innovation.

workforce diversity

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