Interview with Dr. Cortney Baker
What got you interested in empowering female leaders?
When I started conducting my doctoral research I came across some startling statistics that I couldn’t believe: The healthcare industry is approximately 75-80% female; however, at the top levels of leadership, only 11% of healthcare CEOs are women. As a female CEO in healthcare, that was puzzling to me and I wanted to research to find out what challenges women faced when advancing their careers in healthcare. But, then I found that the healthcare industry is actually ahead of the curve—in the S&P 500, less than 6% of CEOs are female.
Then, digging further, I stumbled across two additional statistics that affirmed that something had to be done:
- A NYT headline from 2012 that said, “Fewer women run big companies than men named John”; and,
- If we continue on at the rate of progress we’ve been on from 2012-2015, women are more than 100 years away from gender parity at the C-level. (research conducted by McKinsey & Co. along with LeanIn)
I knew, at that point, I had two choices: I could sit back and wait for someone else to come along and fight for change, or I could do it. I have two young daughters at home, and for me, that choice was easy. I am committed to ensuring that they, and future generations of females, have a better future.
As a result, now I speak globally about women, leadership, and strategies to support the advancement of women in leadership roles. I also mentor women to help them navigate the maze of their careers.
What misconceptions do you think exist with respect to female leadership?
My research identified four main challenges women face when advancing their careers. Those challenges aren’t industry-specific; they are gender-specific. One of the four challenges women face is gender-based discrimination, which is comprised of three factors.
The first factor of gender-based discrimination is the dynamics of power between men and women relationships.
The second factor of gender-based discrimination, though, is often overlooked, and that’s the dynamics of power in relationships among women. Women very often are reported as being the worst enemies of other women. I know from my own experience that I faced women attempting to sabotage my advancement. I heard from numerous women that they, too, had faced women holding them back from career growth.
The third factor of gender-based discrimination in leadership is referred to as the double bind—women are damned if we do, damned if we don’t. This factor is fueled by stereotypes of how leaders are expected to behave with agentic characteristics, or traits that are deemed more masculine (i.e., strong, dominant, assertive, etc.); whereas women are generally expected to behave with more communal traits such as being nurturing, caring, considerate, selfless, etc. When women demonstrate agentic behaviors, they are behaving in contrast to their societal expectations, hence the double-bind. This misconception is also often overlooked with respect to female leadership.
What do you think lies in store for the future of the workplace?
Because of the #MeToo movement, workplace dynamics are being analyzed more closely; we are definitely in an interesting time. I think that, coupled with millennials being in the workforce, will now result in some much-needed transparency in corporate operations.
Women are finding power in their voices and standing up for things that would have, in the past, been dealt with in secrecy (if dealt with at all). The tides are turning, for the better, and because women are finding empowerment by standing up for themselves, things like sexual harassment and unequal pay will no longer be accepted practices of employment. Granted, change won’t occur overnight, but incremental steps in the right direction make big progress.
How do you prepare for speaking engagements?
When preparing for an upcoming speaking engagement, I spend a lot of time researching the event that has so graciously asked me to share my knowledge. Speaking to an audience is a privilege, a gift—and I don’t take that lightly. I want to know the audience, know what their challenges are, know what they’re facing, and know how I can best serve them. By speaking to the meeting planner to find this information out, I tailor my presentation to fit their needs.
Describe yourself in 3 words