Celebrating CIE’s Trailblazing Women During Women’s History Month

Annie Lee
President and. CEO
Colorado Access 

Tell us about your thoughts on Women’s History Month.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, it’s important to recognize the significant progress women have made while also acknowledging the challenges we continue to face. While women hold 10.4% of leadership positions at Fortune 500 companies, there is still a significant gender gap in senior leadership positions. Women are underrepresented in many fields, and pay disparity and discrimination, most strikingly for women of color, continue.

Having women in leadership positions is crucial, especially in the health care industry. Women’s unique health care needs and experiences require representation at every level of the health care system. Without diverse perspectives and voices guiding policies, practices, and research, it becomes challenging to address the holistic needs of women effectively. Women, and all gender identities, need to continue to advocate for policies that promote gender equity, support work-life harmony, and combat discrimination and bias in health care settings.

There is a spirit with which we can celebrate Women’s History Month that I think is captured by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s words, “People ask me sometimes, when — when do you think it will it be enough? When will there be enough women on the court? And my answer is when there are nine.”

Where do you see progress with female leadership and impact?

There is incredible progress. In the health care industry, the representation of women has increased across all levels compared with last year, with notable advancement in senior vice president positions (seeing an increase by up to ten percentage points). At all levels, women’s representation in health care remains higher than in general corporate America. In politics, women now hold more than 125 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, the highest number ever. Additionally, there are a record number of women serving as governors and mayors in the United States.

In STEM fields, women are making significant contributions in a variety of areas. For example, women are now earning more than half of all bachelor’s degrees in biological sciences and social sciences. Additionally, women are increasingly becoming leaders in STEM fields, such as Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College. Everywhere you look, women are taking on big challenges and leading charges into important new ground.

Where are we still challenged as women in leadership?

After having just mentioned the great progress we’ve made with women in leadership in health care and STEM, we are still seeing and experiencing the impact of women being excluded in major areas, like medical research. Due to the vast under-representation of women in health care research, general disease treatments have been shown to be less effective in women, or have severe side effects; moreover, in cases where diseases are women-specific, there may be no treatment at all as the disorders have been ignored.

While I’m not sure I see many areas that we are not still challenged as women in leadership, I am deeply grateful to the many remarkable, pioneering women who have blasted through barriers so that the women who come after them don’t face the same level of challenges. While we have yet to see women leaders in all the places we belong, there is progress every time we have a first or second or third woman (and so on) in leadership roles to help further establish and pronounce that a society with women in leadership positions is a better society for all.

 

Jamie Villarreal-Bassett
Director Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Pinnacol Assurance

Women’s History Month is one of many opportunities we have around the year to remind ourselves of the tremendous women who have come before us and paved the path for our journey. I owe a tremendous amount to the women who challenged the status quo and continue to do so. From the women who blazed a trail loudly on a national platform to those who quietly day in and day out challenged the norms in their homes, workplaces and communities, to them, much is owed. Women’s History Month is an opportunity to give credit where credit is due.

For me to hold a leadership position as a Mexican-American woman in an industry that has historically not been diverse from a variety of aspects, I know it was not by luck to be here. The fortitude of others has given me and many others an opportunity to shine. Progress has been made in many ways, including in leadership roles, pay equity, and the expansion of gender norms and roles. And as much progress has been made, there is much more work to do. Daily, we have opportunities to know better and do better, so with each passing generation, we are proud of the progress we have made and not content knowing we have much more to do in our efforts to ensure all who identify as women are seen, honored, uplifted, valued and have the opportunity to be exactly who they want to be.

March 15, 2024