Women’s Organization Aims to Grow Numbers, Influence

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Cassidy (right) and HBA Executive Advisory Council member Rupal Thanawala (third from right) lead a HBA luncheon on "The Power of Networking." Cassidy (right) and HBA Executive Advisory Council member Rupal Thanawala (third from right) lead a HBA luncheon on "The Power of Networking."

An Indiana organization is embracing the momentum of the national movement to level the playing field for women in the workplace. Determined to create change in the Hoosier state, the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA) Indiana chapter is working to increase membership, expand its reach and crank up the volume of the female voice in the local life sciences and healthcare industries.

“There are hardcore statistics that show companies that have a more diverse work group—including women—are more successful, period,” says HBA President Catherine Cassidy, who is also senior director of clinical pharmacology, strategy and operations at Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Company. “Bringing that to light, talking about it and not brushing it under the rug has really made a difference in a lot of women’s journeys. There’s still a long way to go, obviously, but at least we’re talking about it.”

While the HBA acknowledges that women are making progress, expansive gaps in female leadership still exist. The Center for American Progress says women account for 78 percent of the labor force in healthcare nationally, but only 15 percent of executive officers and 12 percent of board directors.

“We’re good about talking in the context of statistics, but what I think we still need to work on is, when it happens in real-time, what are we doing about it?” says Cassidy. “There are many things that still happen on a daily basis with women struggling to have a voice—making sure they can influence and are seen as influential in decision-making. That’s one of the biggest struggles right now; feeling comfortable doing that without ramifications.”

The HBA is aiming to empower women in larger numbers than ever before, and Cassidy believes the national conversation about gender parity is providing a springboard. The Indiana chapter’s membership climbed nearly 20 percent in 2016 and 2017, and it’s working to grow from about 190 women to 300 by the end of the year.  

While the organization has several goals, mentoring and career development are critical focuses. Members are connected to top executives on the HBA Board of Directors, executive council or within the organization’s membership to provide career guidance. Cassidy says mentors were critical in her climb to the high ranks of Lilly, so she gets “jazzed about giving that back.”

“Mentoring really makes a difference; it’s when you need that hard conversation, somebody to look you in the face and say, ‘I know you, and here are some things that you may not see,’” says Cassidy. “You may be blind to certain things in your life or your career. It’s somebody to encourage you and give you different options that you may not see.”

HBA events throughout the year aim to give women a stronger voice and address their unique challenges. HBA Vice President Blythe Logan says a common concern is how women can “have it all” in their work/life balance.

“Women are the main ones responsible for the personal care of their kids, husbands and parents, depending on where they are in life. How do they manage that and also continue to break through some of the career ceilings that may be out there?” says Logan, who is also a healthcare specialist at Konica-Minolta. “There are still some stigmas around women as they continue through their career progression, whether that’s age, or kids, whether or not they’re going to have kids, are they able to travel—these questions that are still in the minds of people who are making these leadership decisions. And it’s not always men; women have these stereotypes too of other women.”

In addition to growing the number of members, the HBA is looking to diversify the sectors that are represented. The chapter was founded in 2003 by a Roche Diagnostics executive, and membership has traditionally been clinical and pharmaceutical-heavy.

Aiming to give women a stronger voice than in the past and help them make career-changing connections, the HBA is on a mission to grow its numbers and its influence to make waves for working women.  

Cassidy says one of the biggest challenges for women is being seen as equals and being willing to speak up when they’re not being treated that way.
Logan says mentoring is a flagship of the HBA.
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