Workforce Development: We Need More Women in Senior Leadership Positions

Women in Senior Leadership Positions

On June 10, 2020, UMass Online and Mass General Brigham (MGB) announced a strategic educational partnership to develop a curriculum to address the critical skills gaps within the healthcare industry in order to advance education for MGB’s employees.

As Massachusetts’ largest employer, MGB’s 78,000 employees will have the opportunity to take advantage of this new educational partnership. The new curriculum will be developed specifically for MGB’s workforce to advance their skills within the healthcare sector. 

The healthcare field is expected to grow 14% in the next ten years, adding nearly 2 million more jobs. 

When discussing workforce development, one topic commonly brought up is the need for more women representation in senior leadership positions. A recent survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries found that:

Companies that have women in C-suite positions may be more profitable than those without.

And for the first time since 2010, women outnumber men in the workforce with 109,000 more employed women than men according to Fortune. Add on top of that, the devastating economic impact COVID-19 has had on the U.S. and around the world, workforce development is a national issue at a critical junction with 14 million Americans finding themselves unemployed and at a crossroads.

14 million Americans find themselves out of work due to COVID-19.

As the number one public university in New England educating tomorrow’s leaders, UMass Online’s mission is to provide support to its online students – helping them achieve their educational goals and being there for them every along their journey.

Discussing the Need for Women Representation in Senior Leadership Positions

Addressing the economic workforce needs, UMass Online is teaming up with MGM to openly discuss the disparity of women in senior leadership positions and how organizations like MGB can help close this gap. We interviewed MJ Ryan, Senior Director of Workforce Development & Economic Opportunity at MGB, to share insights on her personal experiences being a woman in a senior leadership position as well as ways MGB is working to address the need for more women representation in senior positions.

UMass Online: 

As a woman in leadership at Mass General Brigham, the largest, private employer in Massachusetts, what does it mean to have more representation of women in senior leadership positions?


This past May, we celebrated the 100th birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Thousands of female nurses, MDs, Allied Health Professionals, Business and Finance professionals, Researchers, Community Health Experts, Public Health Leaders, and countless others come to work every day across our vast system with the united purpose of driving patient-centered care and creating the discoveries that ensure world-class health care now and far into the future.

My role in that united front has shifted many times over the course of my decades-long career; but the contributions for which I am most proud are the ones that have helped individuals access and advance in health care careers, which have helped to create healthy communities by supporting individuals seeking opportunity and family-sustaining careers; many of whom have been single moms, who as we all know, are some of the strongest women out there! I have the honor of leading the MGB Workforce Development (WFD) Team, a group of amazing women whose passion and commitment make a difference in the lives of individuals on a regular basis. So many of those served are women head of households, who demonstrate their resilience and strength and create pathways up and out of poverty for their families through hard work, endurance, and sheer grit.

There is no better reward than in some way assisting these women, from whom we learn much more than we teach!

UMass Online:

Throughout your career, was there a woman who helped support or inspire you? How did this impact your career?


I have been blessed throughout my life by the presence of strong, smart women. Over the past 2 decades, the one who stands above the rest is Dr. Harriet Tolpin, former Sr. Advisor to MGB Community Health and Workforce Development. Harriet was a strong advocate and creative guide for the work we do for many years, and I have been personally blessed to have had her as a mentor and a very best friend. She has, at times, pushed me hard, debated me, caused me to question many things both professionally and personally, and in the end, she has always been the force behind every success I have had in this role.

She may also claim more than a few successes in my personal life and the decisions I have made. There is no way to measure the impact that this amazing woman has had and continues to have on my life. I try to pay it forward when the opportunity arises, and can only dream to make an impact on others that even comes close to the one that Harriet has had on me.

UMass Online:

Equality is a hot button issue when discussing women in the workforce. How is Mass General Brigham working to close the gender gap?


Mass General Brigham has always approached the workforce with an eye for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (D, E & I). Our workforce is made up of a majority of women, which is not as unique as a health care organization with a massive nursing workforce. Nurse leaders have always been recognized and admired. That said, there has been a history of male dominance in MD leadership, as well as administrative leadership. It has been very clear in the past decade that this is changing rapidly.

Our Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, Ms. Dani Monroe, is a nationally recognized leader in the field, having led the C-suites of many Top 100 firms in this area, driving positive bottom-line results. Ms. Monroe has been leading MGB in its efforts to achieve D, E &I since January of 2016, and is making a great deal of progress, which has been moving the needle on diversifying our management and leadership roles throughout the organization, including the development and recognition of women as leaders in all functional areas of the organization. Data drives this work, as do hard conversations and intentional investments, which MGB is willing to have to create change.

UMass Online:

A recent survey of 21,980 firms from 91 countries found that having women in C-suite positions may be more profitable than those without. How can organizations use this information to better diversify their workforce? Any examples of what MGB is doing on this effort?


I am proud to work for MGB, not only based on the innovative, world-class patient care and research that takes place within our organization daily, but also for the fact that much of that work is driven and led by women. With 78,000 employees, MGB is the largest private employer in Massachusetts, and I am very proud to say that in February 2019, for the first time in our organization’s 26-year history, our Board selected Dr. Ann Klibanski as our new President and CEO. Dr. Klibanski, named one of the top 100 most influential people in healthcare (Modern HealthCare, 2019), is a leader in academic medicine and a visionary for the future of our organization.

Dr. Klibanski is not alone in MGB’s “C-Suites.” 7 of our 19 entity Presidents/CEOs are women, including Dr. Betsy Nabel of Brigham Health. Dr. Nabel, a cardiologist, and distinguished biomedical researcher, has been at the helm of Brigham Health since 2010.

I am also proud that our Chief Human Resources Officer is Rosemary Sheehan, formerly a leader within MGB Finance and now a strong advocate and leader dedicated to ensuring that we are effectively utilizing and supporting our most vital resource: human capital. Ms. Sheehan also drives the technology and processes to ensure that all stakeholders have the systems and support they need to provide unequaled care to our patients and families, while also creating the innovations and discoveries needed to envision and deliver the health care system of the future. Ms. Sheehan works closely with our Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Ms. Dani Monroe, to ensure that MGB continues to evolve as an inclusive, progressive organization that will succeed and prosper only by recognizing the voices of all constituents, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation.

UMass Online:

For the first time since 2010, women outnumber men in the workforce with 109,000 more employed women than men. Industries dominated by women are growing and expected to maintain that growth in years to come. Both healthcare and education verticals are adding jobs largely held by women. How can organizations like MGB stay innovative and competitive by taking advantage of this trend? Any examples you can share?


As a health care organization, anchored by our hospitals and provider organizations, MGB has always had a majority of women in our workforce.

The challenge is to ensure that women, a majority of whom enter as nurses or other caregivers, are given access to the resources and supports necessary to advance in their careers and to move into leadership roles should they so desire. It is certainly motivating for all women in our workforce to look up to our current female Presidents and CEOs, as well as our female Medical Service Chiefs, Researchers, and Business Leaders. While we each own our own careers, supports provided at MGB such as Diversity Mentoring Programs, Emerging Leader Cohorts, Professional Development/Leadership Training Programs, Administrative Fellowship Program, and other initiatives help individuals to achieve their goals and progress into management and then leadership roles. 

MGB WFD also helps high potential incumbents in our workforce by providing academic/career coaching and access to higher education opportunities. In fact, our most recent partnership with UMass Online is designed to do just that. By offering stackable credits and a supportive learning environment with flexible/ online options, more of our talented employees can boost their chances of advancement by coupling formal educational opportunities with the professional work experiences, training, and mentorship that MGB offers them in the workplace.

UMass Online:

Mass General Brigham and UMass Online just received a $200,000 grant from Commonwealth Corporation, a workforce development agency established by Governor Baker, as part of a strategic partnership to develop a stackable, competency-based Practice Assistance Training Program (PATP) Certificate program. How does this unique alliance address the workforce shortages of health care workers in the commonwealth?


This initiative will support some of our frontline employees who seek career advancement but may fear the challenge of a full-on 4-year degree program. By offering stackable, relevant credentials to help move individuals into a high demand role like Practice Assistant, the program will help them enter positions requiring higher-level skills which will afford them better wages, and hopefully, increase their confidence along with their competence to truly gain the momentum to spark long term career growth.

MGB has worked on similar programs with other universities, and it is our experience that once the initial hurdle of entering/returning to college is passed, most students do choose to pursue higher academic credentials and many of our employee students have achieved professional advancement.

Stackable, achievable credentials offered through innovative, flexible, accessible models truly serve individuals who may otherwise not take the first step towards academic and professional growth.

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