Time’s Up Healthcare — an affiliate of the national organization dedicated to curbing discrimination, harassment, and inequity in the workplace — named a new executive director Monday to steer the group’s efforts to tackle those issues in the health care industry.
One of her main messages: Tackling inequity isn’t just important for health care workers — it’s crucial for patients, too.
“This is really an opportunity to change the face of society for the next generation. Doing that [will] impact not only the women who work tirelessly in health care, but also the patients who depend on them,” said the incoming executive director, Lauren Powell, who currently serves as the director of health equity for the Virginia health department.
Time’s Up Healthcare launched in February to address rampant harassment and inequities in the field. A landmark report released last year found that sexual harassment and gender discrimination are widespread in academic medicine. In one survey, nearly half of female medical students reported being harassed by faculty or staff. And while women make up the majority of the health care workforce, studies suggest they hold only a small fraction of leadership positions in hospitals, health care companies, and scientific organizations.
More than 50 organizations have signed on to support the work of Time’s Up Healthcare, including the Mayo Clinic and the medical schools of Yale, Brown, Drexel, and the University of Wisconsin.
Powell, a social epidemiologist by training, spoke with STAT about her goals for the new role, which she’ll step into on Jan. 15. This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
How do health inequities affect how we give and receive health care?
If I am a health care provider and a woman of color or just a woman, and I experience inequities that make me feel discriminated against, that really impacts the quality of care I can provide to patients.
Health equity is something I’m extremely passionate about. Members of my family have passed away far too early and have died from chronic diseases that could have been prevented. Health equity is a big buzzword right now. It’s really hashtag-able. People like to drop it in grants or namedrop it.
For me, it’s more than a word, it’s a mission and a movement.
How do you begin to address those issues?
We address health inequity by making a concerted effort to [address] the conditions that create unequal opportunities for people to live their healthiest lives. So that’s everything from income inequality to discrimination in housing to gentrification to food insecurity and educational inequity. We won’t reach health equity until we can reach social equity. That’s also what Time’s Up Healthcare is about. It’s about creating the conditions where women in the workplace can achieve equity.
What are your goals for Time’s Up Healthcare next year?
I’m really looking forward to making this a movement that is accessible to all people who are interested in working with us. That is inclusive of men. That is inclusive of women on all professional levels in health care settings. That is inclusive of a broad definition of health care. That is specifically also inclusive of women of color and trans women.
How do you plan to reach those groups and bring them into your work?
The most impactful way to engage those populations is to invite them, to talk to them, to understand their lived experience and how that may differ from other women working in health care, and to understand how we can support them. Time’s Up Healthcare is very early in its inception and the sky is truly the limit in terms of what we can accomplish. I look at it more as what are we most well-equipped to tackle right away, versus what may take some time for us to plan.
It’s been a little more than two years since the MeToo movement really started to gain widespread traction. Where do you see the most progress — and where do you see not enough?
Sexual assault, sexual harassment, and blatant bias towards women are front-page discussions now more than ever. Growing up, I was surrounded by women — by black women in particular. I watched how they were not given promotions when they were the hardest workers and how they were never fully paid what they were owed.
So to be in a moment like now, where this is a front-page discussion, and it’s not something people can turn away from and ignore — and if they do, it’s to their own deficit — that is monumental. That is the foundation of a movement.
With every movement, there’s room for potential improvement. I think it’s of paramount importance that this movement goes the extra mile to message and embrace its inclusiveness to ensure that — unlike movements focused on women historically — this one encompasses and embraces and uplifts the voices of black women, Latinx women, women of color broadly, and trans women. If it’s really a movement rooted in equity, then it will be inclusive of all these voices.
There are multiple layers to working to achieve safe, dignified, fair, and equitable conditions for women. That it is something that must be inclusive of men. This is not an issue that women alone can solve. It’s important that policies are changed and that [doing so] helps guide culture change.
Several major professional scientific organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, have changed or are reconsidering how they handle sexual harassment. What kind of impact do you think those changes can have?
I think that’s of grave importance. I don’t, however, think that’s where changes in policy should end. These organizations are leaders in certain sectors, so it’s tremendously important. It would be phenomenal to see more of those organizations make those changes. But that also has to trickle down to the workplaces where physicians, nurses, administrators, and others work every day.
Sexual harassment policies [in the workplace] should be revisited, as should the standards and methods for reporting. There are also policies specific to family leave and flexibility in work schedule, especially for women who are mothers, that I certainly think are important. Policies that are specific to discrimination — especially for women of color, who are marginalized times two in dealing with sexism and racism — those are important as well. And it’s most important that when policies are written, they’re actually enforced.