Dr. Elizabeth Garner, US chief scientific officer, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, and president of the American Medical Women’s Association

WBLF Expert: To Improve Women’s Health, Women Leaders are Needed

More women have been heading large corporations over the past decade, but Dr. Elizabeth Garner, US chief scientific officer, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, and president of the American Medical Women’s Association, says women still have a long way to go in becoming top decision makers in the corporate, academic, or political worlds. More importantly, this lack of top leadership directly impacts women’s health.

Garner, who was among the many TED-style-talk speakers at NJBIA’s two-day Women Business Leaders Conference, held in Newark from Sept. 27-28, presented staggering numbers on the increase in female mortality rates during pregnancy and childbirth.

According to a report released jointly by the World Health Organization, other United Nations agencies and the World Bank, there are nearly 800 pregnancy or childbirth related deaths on a daily basis throughout the globe. That is the equivalent of a woman dying every two minutes.

Additionally, the US maternal mortality rate has increased between 2002 and 2018, with Black women three times more likely to die from a pregnancy related condition. “We are like a developing country when it comes to maternal mortality,” Garner said of the dilemma.

One solution for this problem is having more women in leadership positions. “I am talking about CEOs of healthcare systems, pharmaceutical companies, academic health centers, insurance companies, and investment firms … all the parts of the entire healthcare [universe],” Garner said. “My hypothesis is that with more women at the top, we will be able to deal with some of the key [health] issues women deal with on a daily basis.”

Though the number of women CEOs at Fortune 500 companies has improved, consisting of more than 10% of the recent list’s total, “there are still 10 times as many companies run by men as compared to women, and we are 50% of the population,” Garner said. “When it comes to women of color, only four have ever been a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.”

She also pointed out that of the top 10 US pharmaceutical firms, only one has a female CEO, and that only 15% of healthcare systems and insurance companies have women CEOs. The numbers are equally low for investment banks, venture funds and academic medical institutions, Gardner added.

She is optimistic that things will turn around, but said that women must speak up about their healthcare concerns and issues. “If we continue to be as silent as we are, how can we expect the decision makers to pay attention?” she said.

“The good thing is that women are starting to talk about their problems. There is a change happening. We are starting to see a growing number of investment firms being founded by women that are focusing on women’s health. We are seeing a lot of women [healthcare] startups, mostly on the [medical] devices side. We need to see more on the therapeutic side. … All I can say is that I am optimistic.”

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